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Monday, February 6, 2017


Well, I have had a night’s sleep here in Paris and taken my morning walk [Jean Gabin and Yves Montand were not at their usual station in the row of Batobuses – I think they have gone south for the winter] so it is time to offer my reflections on the state of play after just over two weeks of the Trump presidency.

One thing is now clear.  Trump is a feckless, incompetent authoritarian would-be dictator, guided and manipulated by a quite competent, determined neo-Nazi.  Bannon seeks to destroy the relatively stable post-World War II international order and replace it with a Russo-American hegemony by the preemptive use of major military force.  This, in my opinion, would be dramatically worse than the existing American hegemony, which is terrible enough.  Domestically, he and the Republicans seek to undo every hard-won gain liberals have made in the last three quarters of a century.  Those who, quite understandably, were impatient with the caution and hesitation of Obama can now take a close look at what real implacable unrelenting bigotry looks like.  It is too early to tell whether the Courts will save America, but I agree with the thrust of Tom Cathcart’s suggestion that the elevation of Gorsuch to the Supreme Court might have the effect of pushing Chief Justice Roberts to the left.  Remember that Gorsuch will replace Scalia, leaving Kennedy as the swing vote.  It is the next appointment that brings devastation with it.  That is why Ruth Marcus wrote a plea to Kennedy not to retire.

What hope is there in the current situation?  Clearly, the answer is the unprecedented and apparently unrelenting mass mobilization of opposition to Trump.  The outpouring of people into the streets and airports is astonishing and greatly encouraging.  These demonstrations are stiffening the spines of elected representatives and giving us hope for a wave election in 2018 that will take back the House and perhaps even the Senate.  There is evidence that Trump cares excessively about polls and other public demonstrations of his popularity or lack thereof.  The demonstrations at Mar-a-Lago, for example, enrage him.  Keep it up.  Every evidence of opposition to Trump has value politically.

However, the demonstrations could badly use a leader, a focal point, someone in whom tens of millions of people can put their trust and behind whom they can rally.  I think it is clear that Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren or Sherrod Brown or Keith Ellison is not that person, admirable as each ne is.  Like it or not, the only person in the United States currently with that sort of mobilizing star power is Barack Obama.  For that reason, I was very much cheered by his statement, issued through a spokesperson just nine days after the Inauguration, calling into question Trump’s attack on immigrants and Muslims.  Do not be misled.  Cautious, precise, restrained as the statement was, the issuing of it by the outgoing president so soon after the Inauguration was an extraordinary event.  I think it is quite possible that in the weeks and months ahead, Obama will slowly emerge as the titular leader of the revolt.  If that happens, I think we can win the House, perhaps win the Senate, win state houses and state legislatures, and mount a real progressive movement that will eventually go well beyond what Obama himself might endorse.

Well, Paris seems to have restored some of my natural optimism [even though it is cold and rainy here.]  Do not despair.  This is a fight we can win, and the winning of it will do more than restore the Status quo ante, it will definitively move us in a progressive direction.


s. wallerstein said...

I agree with you about Obama's star power and that he is the best bet to lead a movement in opposition to Trump.

However, what happens if Obama's heads the anti-Trump movement? Will beating Trump with Obama in charge do more than restore the Status quo ante, as you claim?

Obama is a prudent compromiser: that's the way he works. I'll try to see things from his point of view. Thus, Obama makes a deal with the "sane" Republicans in congress to impeach Trump (that may be the correct move, by the way). Part of the deal is that the new president, Pence, gets rid of the crazies in Trump's cabinet, Bannon and Betsy De Vos, etc., and replaces them with "sane" Republicans (people like Condolezza Rice, etc.) and with neoliberal Wall St. and Silicon valley executives, people who don't foam at the mouth (like Bannon) and who support immigration (especially of qualified technical people from Muslim countries) and free-trade (which means free flow of capitals).

So with good luck we get the status quo ante and maybe we can't get anything more under the circumstances, I concede that.

Enjoy Paris. It's an incredibly beautiful city, as you well know.

ES said...

Would anyone here see Wallerstein's picture as an improvement?

Currently the left's best cheerleader is not Obama but Trump himself. Nobody has been able to rouse people against himself like he has. A return to more status quo conservatism (that strange US combination of church and capital) would probably change little in policy. It would look like some mix of Obama neoliberalism and total Trump racism, sexism etc.

But that's might prove a big problem. Regular conservatives are much better strategists. They know to be hush hush about Trump-like discriminatory policies while pushing them through anyway. Who does that give the left to boo against for the next 4 years? Pence is certainly more religiously Conservative but doesn't seem to lack common decency. Obama's involvement as mediator (assuming he ever would, rather than returning to Hawaii and opening a t-shirt shack like he really wants) might have adverse effects in the long run. And it's precisely the long run which Prof. Wolff rightly focuses on.

Unless. Unless such a 'conspiracy from the inside' turns the mass of discontented voters away from the GOP and toward e.g. Sanders.

On that note, why do you think neither Sanders nor Warren (I don't know enough about the others) could be the face of that resistance. To me, Warren especially has been that all along.

David said...

Allow me a little local pride in praising the work of Washington State Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his team. We in Seattle get a lot of flak for living in a liberal bubble (which is more like a snow globe today), but if it weren't for the bubble, I wonder whether Ferguson, backed by State Solicitor General Noah Purcell (BA Philosophy, University of Washington) and Governor Jay Inslee, would have had the confidence to file the suit that is now under consideration at the Ninth Circuit.

DML said...

I like Warren but I wonder if she's cut out to be a presidential candidate. She seems better suited for the Senatorial attack dog role. I can't help but think that we will see an under-the-radar leader emerge for the 2020 election. These are strange times, and it seems that nothing is off the table. Perhaps a charismatic, progressive mayor?

Chris said...

"Obama will slowly emerge as the titular leader of the revolt. If that happens, I think we can win the House, perhaps win the Senate, win state houses and state legislatures, and mount a real progressive movement that will eventually go well beyond what Obama himself might endorse."

But most those seats at state and federal levels were lost under Obama....

Chris said...

Tom Cathcart said...

The common thread here seems to be that the zeitgeist hasn't clearly declared itself yet. In the meantime, let's make sure we keep up the noise. It's too energetic for them to outlast or defeat. It can only hasten the day. BTW, if you missed Melissa McCarthy as Sean Spicer on SNL, check it out on YouTube.

Chris said...

Tom my wife and I watched that last night. Comedy gold! And Alec Baldwin is a perfect Trump!

Howard said...

Here's Trump's problem and our cause for hope: Trump is a neo-Nazi lacking any movement or broad support for Nazism trying to impose a Soviet style dictatorship.
Essentially a hostile takeover of the country and government. Even many of his voters don't want a Soviet style regime. There is an element of nativism but not a movement.
Protectionism won't work. And advanced economy and free society and even a government can't work as a command society that he pursues.
Is he charismatic or smooth enough to pull it off?
Can he rather than a Soviet style regime remake our country in the image of Putin's Russia?
He is a fire breathing rash and irrational and vengeful demagogue- but he is not God, Nazi or otherwise, and he is no Putin.
We have it in for us, but we have our work cut out for us.
We can beat this schmuck. Even if we fall short of doing everything perfect

Tom Cathcart said...

Chris, my favorite line in the Alec Baldwin sketch was: Trump to Angela Merkel, "I'm writing a memoir called 'My Struggle'. What would that be in German?" These guys have become truly subversive. Maybe they can help save us.

Chris said...

On a slight side note, Melissa McCarthy did a sketch on SNL called about 'PJ at a women's group' some years back, that is also exceptional:

Anonymous said...


Only a Leader will save us?

I don't understand this rush to self-limit the opposition. Why not go on encouraging, as you have been doing, a many-sided resistance? Why not leave space and time for leadership to emerge--leadership that would recognize it was beholden to some degree to the many who elevated it to prominence? A Leader prematurely imposed will define, too too narrowly, I fear, the limits of the possible.

Tom Cathcart said...

Chris, very funny! I welcome the escapism! Now back to plotting the overthrow of the Trump presidency!

levinebar said...

President Obama would indeed bring needed star power to the opposition (dare I invoke Teddy Roosevelt trumpeting the case against William Howard Taft?) and since he's ineligible to run again, running the opposition need not distract from organizing a presidential campaign for 2020.
Now that he is out of office and free to speak his mind, I would dearly like an explanation for why he never directed his DoJ to prosecute either the Telecomms who violated the FISA statute and our 4th amendment to tap citizens' phones without warrants or agents, officers and contractors of our CIA who--he concedes--"tortured some folks". Those explanations would buy him a lot of cred as a speaker of truth who is beyond the partisan game.

Unknown said...

Although I voted for Obama three times, I think he did a mediocre job as president. Did a poor job of demonizing the Republicans, and they are truly demons. He is a great speaker, and I am at a loss as to why he didn't use this talent against the one note negativity of the Republicans. But a true leader must be capable of being president. I do think he would make a great Supreme Court justice.

Jerry Fresia said...

In my humble opinion, we need a social movement, much like all the major ones of the last hundred years, that extends well beyond and originates outside of the Democratic Party - not star power and certainly not Obama. Dave Lindorff summarizes
our situation well, I would argue: