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Sunday, July 1, 2018


I have been so troubled this past week and more that it has been difficult for me to focus my mind or regain my equilibrium.  More and more, I can see the United States slipping into a form of fascism.  I have always been a happy warrior [a phrase used, I believe, to describe FDR], but now my shoulders sag, I heave sighs, and an air of depression hangs over me, rather like Joe Btfsplk, the old Al Capp L’il Abner character.  So, on this blazing hot Sunday here in my comfortably air-conditioned retirement home, I am going to try to achieve some perspective on my world.

The central fact on which I must focus is that despite the Republicans controlling every branch of government, we are in the majority and will, as the years pass, be more and more in the majority.  The Republicans have lost the popular vote in six of the last presidential elections.  Six of the last seven.  With the exception of George W. Bush in 2004, after the 9/11 attack, the last Republican actually to win the popular vote for President was George H. W. Bush in 1988, thirty years ago.

And the Republican disadvantage will only get worse.  Right now, a majority of Americans sixteen years old and under are not white.  Therefore, in 2020, a majority of Americans 18 and under will be not white, and as the years go by, that racial divide will advance inexorably.  The Republicans have lost the non-White population and are losing the youth of every race. 

Republican Gerrymandering and sheer political malpractice on the part of the Democrats have together enabled the Republicans to seize control of state governments, but that can be changed by Democratic voters willing simply to come out and vote.  In 2018, and again in 2020, we need to turn out in sufficient strength to take back state legislatures in time for the 2020 census.

There is anecdotal evidence aplenty of enthusiasm on the left for progressive candidates.  That enthusiasm must be turned into a cheerful, friendly hostile takeover of the Democratic Party.  Let us heap honors on Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the rest, and then put them out to pasture.  The Clintons can enjoy their scores of millions.  They have earned it, and I for one am happy to let them wallow in it so long as I do not have to see or hear them anymore.

It is unimportant who the new Democratic Party leaders will be.  There are more than enough fine candidates for national leadership.  What matters is who the local leaders are who will emerge at the city level, the county level, and the state level. 

I place no great store in the emergence of folks calling themselves Democratic Socialists.  It is pleasing to the ear, but for the most part they are just New Deal Democrats.  Sufficient unto the day …


David Palmeter said...

I find myself simply turning away from political issues. The news is so unremittingly bad and there’s nothing concrete that I can do, other than my small contributions to the good guys. I feel powerless. Kennedy’s retirement is a cause of my gloom in two ways--first, the obvious fact that another severe right-wing justice will be appointed, someone who will be on the court for the next 30 or 40 years or more; second, because things have gotten so bad that the retirement of someone like Kennedy could be a cause for gloom. In most of the years of my 80 year life, Kennedy would have been on the far right of the Court. The fact that the retirement of someone like Kennedy is depressing simply shows how far to the right the country has gone.

Health reasons prevent both my wife and me from even going to rallies, and, for those of us living in the District of Columbia, they’re probably a waste of time anyway. We don’t have a vote in Congress and the city is 96% Democrat.

Mornings I quickly scan the front page of the Washington Post, check the Tom Toles cartoon, see who has written the op-ed columns, then go to the Metro section and spend more time reading the weather report than I did on the front page or the editorial page. I rarely even read the columnists I’m most attuned to: E.J. Dionne, Eugene Robinson, Dana Milbank, Ruth Marcus; I’m more likely to read an anti-Trump column from George Will or Michael Gerson simply because I get more pleasure in reading a conservative who is appalled than someone whose views I more broadly share. I think I get some sadistic pleasure out of the fact that they are suffering more than I am.

The Supreme Court has me worried now more than anything. The Federalist Society et al. have a long and deep agenda that includes not merely cutting back on Federal regulations, but in holding that the entire idea of federal regulation unconstitutional. The authority that Federal agencies, such as EPA, possess is Congressional power delegated to them by Congress. Congress enacts broadly-worded statutes, leaving the details up to the agencies. The growth of Federal agencies during the New Deal led the Court to hold much of this regime unconstitutional. FDR’s court-packing plan was born out of his frustration with the Court’s decisions.

Retirements eventually gave Roosevelt a chance to change this balance. But the next Democratic President and the next Democratic Congress, will not be able to overcome a Supreme Court decision which guts the fundamental constitutional justification for the Federal regulation that could make our lives better--from EPA to consumer protection and everything in between. And there won’t be enough retirements to permit a Democratic president to change the balance as FDR was able to do. Indeed, I believe the two oldest justices now are Ginsburg and Breyer, not a good sign.

Anonymous said...

"I place no great store in the emergence of folks calling themselves Democratic Socialists. It is pleasing to the ear, but for the most part they are just New Deal Democrats."

Yes, but surely there is quite a symbolic victory in the fact that now in the US it is politically possible to get oneself elected while tagged in any way as a "socialist". That in itself represents quite a step forward.

marcel proust said...

I have always been a happy warrior [a phrase used, I believe, to describe FDR], but now my shoulders sag

Apparently, FDR used the phrase in his nomination speech for Al Smith in 1924.

It was later repurposed for HHH. Think back to the 1968 election and his "politics of joy".

David Palmeter said...

Ah, yes. The 1968 election. I remember it well. Many McCarthy supporters, outraged at the nomination of Hubert Humphrey, felt that there was no difference between him and Richard Nixon and, in their purity, voted for neither. There were, however, many differences. An important one, highly relevant to today, is that Nixon named William Rhenquist to the Supreme Court. Humphrey would have done no such thing.

Something similar occurred in the 2000 election. Many felt there was no difference between Gore and Bush. Offhand, I can think of three: (1) war in Iraq; (2) John Roberts on the Supreme Court; (3) Samuel Alito on the Supreme Court.

A good case can be made for the proposition that stay-at-home leftists, feeling as much contempt for centrist Democrats as for right wing Republicans, have pretty much put us in the place we’re in today. Just think how the world would be today--even with Trump in the White House-- if a Democrat had been able to fill the seats that went to Rhenquist, Roberts, and Alito. And how many people would be alive had we not invaded Iraq.

Paul G. said...

Professor Wolff, I've got to say: I'm a bit disappointed in your dismissal of democratic socialism--I'm assuming you're referring to the recent victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in the NY congressional primary. Ocasio, unlike Bernie Sanders, is a member of DSA. DSA is an explicitly Marx-positive group. Membership certainly contains multitudes, but if you go to meetings you're surrounded by Marxists of various stripes. So she was elected, coming from that political community. You really think that's just New Deal Democratic politics? Consider also that the recent electoral successes of open democratic socialists has been by women of color who voice a class politics that does class right: namely, critiques racism as a species of *classism*. Considering that among the weaker links in the New Deal chain was the unstable approach to racism--genuinely raising the station of many Black Americans even as the coalition depended on Dixiecrat ghouls--I think it's a pretty important advance. Also: today's self-identified socialists have an explicitly anti-imperialist ethos. Another major departure from the brutal FDR-Truman-Johnson regime.

Ocasio certainly hasn't said that we need to expropriate the means of production from the capitalists. But her political community, DSA, whose views she presumably is sympathetic toward, given the effort they put in to her campaign, does think that. And the sort of social democratic reforms she's talking about amount to considerably more than social security. Single payer health care is, in effect, a socialization of an industry for human need over private profit. Anyhow, all this has got me thinking: what's your take on the relationship between social democratic 'reforms' and socialist (re: Marxist) ones. Are those politics in tension? Can we put them together somehow?

On a semi-related note, I've got to say--maybe this is my youth speaking, so I'd be happy to hear some wisdom--I don't get the unmitigated gloominess. Trumpist politics, as I think Corey Robin persuasively has been arguing, represents a historically weak moment in post-Reagan conservatism. It also represents an impending political realignment. One that portends, given the politics of demographic trends, serious gains by the left.

Anonymous said...

Prof Wolff said: "Let us heap honors on Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and the rest, and then put them out to pasture. "

Great idea. We need new leaders, new ideas.

Of all the recent democratic political leaders, Schumer has turned out to be the biggest disappointment since Joe Lieberman.

Utopian Yuri said...

"Right now, a majority of Americans sixteen years old and under are notwhite."

If I am not mistaken, I think the statistic is that *non-Hispanic* whites are the minority. The numbers I'm seeing are about 49% white non-Hispanic, but 25% Hispanic of all races. As long as more than 4% of Hispanic children are white, whites are still the majority of under-18s.

Why does it matter? Because white Hispanics can be reclassified as white, as white Italians, Irish and other ethnics have been historically. That could mean white Hispanics becoming Republican voters in the same proportion as other white ethnics.