Tag Archives: Leitzen 2020


In the latest example of bafflingly contradictory takes regarding Millennials, these two articles appeared independently of each other a scant two days apart. This isn’t the first time this has happened to somewhat comedic effect, as this screenshot I took in 2014 shows:

So why does this happen? Why are things so topsy turvy? Why does nothing make sense? Well, I’d argue, it doesn’t make sense because it’s not supposed to, and it’s not going to.

I’m a substitute teacher. In today’s school climate, it’s not exactly the high rung on the ladder. Today’s schools barely resemble the ones of ten years ago, let alone the ones I trained to teach in almost twenty years ago. Things change quicker than ever, and trying to rely on anything taught to you by a middle-aged professor in 2003 is an absolute joke. The classes, the student, the buildings themselves, everything has changed and you either change with it or get left behind. You either embrace the madness or get consumed by it. As a substitute, this is actually easier as I don’t have lesson plans, year-long curricula or delicate student & staff relationships to manage. If I don’t like a school, I just don’t come back tomorrow. A lot of full-time folks don’t have that option, and so it’s a lot harder to embrace the madness for them.

There are far fewer rules in today’s schools. Gum? Allowed. Drinks? Yep. Food? Sure. Only the biggest grumps in the teaching world hold a hard line on things like gum or wearing hats, and when you do it’s a constant struggle to keep that authority, and it is draining. But let’s go further: shouting for no reason? Happens daily. Throwing things? Almost daily. Swearing, sexual harassment, homophobia, racism, casual violence? It wouldn’t be a day at school without it in the average American school… and that’s not even getting started on school dress codes, if your particular school hasn’t long ago given up on them.

For someone who went to high school in the Britney era and saw administrators try to cut back on exposed skin, this used to be hard to deal with. I used to rail against it, decry the downfall of society, imply parents and students and communities to have more decency and police themselves and everything else that might have sent me down the alt-right path of skulls and swastikas… if it were not for my return to subbing in 2013 after a break of a few years. I resolved that this time, I would not let the students “get to” me, that I’d let it slide off my back, that I’d force myself not to care… and something amazing happened. I didn’t stop caring, but I started seeing the bigger issues at play and realizing that everything I’d believed about the world up to this point was at best misguided and at worst a malicious lie. I was subbing in rural areas now, and suburban ones, and I noticed the same issues happening there as in the urban ones I was sure was more poisoned than the sainted ones of my youth… but the same problems persisted. Why?

There’s a systemic issue, a larger issue in society that no amount of self-policing and gumption will solve. These students, first in the urban centers and now into the suburbs, are seeing how broken the system is as they see a woefully outdated educational model fail to prepare them for the nightmarescape they see every night on the news. Band-aids over gaping wounds appear all over the country in mass-shooter drills, means-tested tax incentives, and half-measures on basic needs like healthcare. One day in class, after a presentation on the students’ future career prospects, I waited until the full-timers had left the room and then scrawled on the whiteboard “DO YOU FEEL PREPARED?” and not a single student answered “yes.” It was then I started down a path where I realized it wasn’t parent v. child, teacher v. student, middle class v. lower class… it’s everyone that is suffering under the system v. the system itself

But what does this have to do with all these articles about Millennials? Well, it all comes down to the concept of alienation.

No workers are substitute teachers in the school of life. We’re immersed in this madness up to our necks, and on the daily. And embracing the madness of our current psychocapitalist system when you can’t just check out at the end of the day is damn near impossible. The students in the urban areas, some of the least powerful people around, experienced this alienation first: it doesn’t matter what we do, the system doesn’t care, so you disconnect from it. As psychocapitalism digs further and cuts deeper in pursuit of yet more profit, the same feelings start to spread into more affluent and privileged areas. Any futile attempts to mitigate the situation, as good-hearted as they may be, only serve to further highlight the flaws in the system and drive people further away. We soon see two sides of each generation: those who are alienated from society, and those who are not. In the interests of keeping their current comfortable situation, thought leaders and decision makers take an obvious course: one of these groups must be celebrated, the other demonized, and this is how we wind up in the even further alienating phenomenon of contradictory coverage.

When you see two articles that say “you should be having kids” and also “you shouldn’t be having kids” what’s being said is “certain people we approve of should be having kids, and it’s your fault if you are not those people, and you should feel bad about it.” When two articles say “Millennials are relying too much on late-stage capitalism gig economy to avoid adulthood” and also “Millennials are literally selling their future earnings to investors upon reaching adulthood” what’s being said is “the good ones are spending their money this way, and if you spend your money this other way you are one of the bad ones” Whether any of this is sound or helpful advice, however, is irrelevant as most of the generation has either checked out and embraced the madness or been consumed by its misery. It becomes another front in an age old war, where the elderly do their best to stand athwart history yelling “stop” and delude themselves into thinking this time, as opposed to when they were the youth of tomorrow, the adults will surely win.

There’s a certain… finality to our current psychocapitalist system. We’re getting to the point where we just are running out of things to sell, buy, market and exploit, including our very own habitable planet. We’re running out of areas for growth in a system that demands constant growth, and without that growth collapse in inevitable. There’s a distinct feeling that those at the top, knowing the party is almost over, is simply speeding full bore into that inevitable nightmare, because the faster it all goes before the crash, the more money they stand to make which will come in handy when it all hits the fan.

The big question now stands as to how much the rest of us will allow them to pillage or hoard when it all comes crashing down and the alienated are finally given a place back in a society that doesn’t treat them like a replaceable machine part but as a valuable and meaningful human being. The longer we wait, I fear, the harder it will be to pull folks back from that alienation: we’re already seeing some folks so deep into the alt-right and the rising neo-fascism worldwide that it ay be very hard, even impossible, to show them a better way in possible. Time will tell, but the key is action. Do something, say something, get out there and let anyone and everyone know that a better world is possible. A world without greedy bosses and hoarding CEOs but a world of cooperation and mutual understanding, a world without efficiency and profits at all costs but instead shared prosperity where no one is king, but everyone does okay. A world without alienation from work, life, love, and society where people not only feel prepared to survive, but know they can thrive… but it can’t exist while an oligarchy repeatedly siphons all the money, power and prosperity to the very top.

Leitzen 2020

2018 saw a lot of highs for Minnesota as a whole, but in Greater Minnesota the story is still not a rosy one. The time is now to begin to think about our slate of candidates for 2020, and this is me officially throwing my hat into the ring for consideration. I’m a substitute teacher, father of two under five, and recession refugee from Scott Walker’s Wisconsin who knows what it means to have to struggle to make ends meet. In my 33 years I’ve been a teacher, city clerk, 3rd shift bakery packer, office manager, tourism director, and pumped the toilets on boats. I went to high school in Mabel, MN, and after my college years in Chicagoland, when it came time to find a place to raise my new family, I knew it had to be in Bluff Country. In my time working with kids, workers, and every day folks, I’ve seen first hand who gets the worst part of this broken, psycho-capitalist system that puts profits over people, and its time the folks around here had a regular guy like them willing to fight back, willing to say what needs to be said, and willing to do whatever it takes to bring back prosperity to the region.
The question remains: where do I run, and if there is a better candidate, where do I apply my talents as a writer, speaker, singer, and Bluff Country ambassador?
A race against Greg will be entertaining, I guarantee, but it’ll also be a bareknuckle back alley brawl from the word go. Someone needs to send a message that there’s a new breed of progressive running that won’t play by the old rules where we adopt a conservative frame on everything. I challenge power wherever I go and I’ve been fighting bullies since I got in a fistfight with Nathan Shaw in the second grade because he bragged too much on the football field. The campaign will be honest, simple, and brutal: This man has been in office since I was six years old, nothing has gotten better for the people of his district, and I am ready to lay that blame squarely at his feet.
A race against Jeremy will require a little more finesse. As much as it pains me to say it, I think the key to defeating Jeremy in this district is to compare him to Hillary: wishy-washy, milquetoast and ultimately unconcerned with issues affecting the real folks in the district. We need to critique his voting record to the punctuation marks. We need to call him Jeremy Clinton. We need to hand out free “Jeremy Miller Nothingburgers” at county fairs that are just empty paper plates with his failures on them. Most importantly, we need to run someone who doesn’t necessarily care if they win or lose, but can see the big picture. This candidate needs to be a bowling ball thrown at Jeremy’s ankles as he starts running for governor, and I am more than willing to be that hired gun.
Hagedorn is still in the planning stages, but here’s something to chew on: Walz won his district by fewer and fewer votes every cycle, and it finally broke with Feehan. Running the same old same old won’t work anymore, but there is an opening for Minnesota to have its own “AOC” to run on popular, lunch-pail, classical Farmer-Labor issues and score an upset over the big money and big corruption. We have been investing in the top 1% for as long as I have been alive (33 years) with tax cuts and deregulation on the idea that it would pay dividends. Instead, they took the money and ran. Any investor would be crazy not to ask for their money back, and that’s the sort of campaign I want to run. It’s time to Soak The Rich and Get Your Money Back to fund your town, your schools, your roads & bridges, your life. Wendell Anderson ran on such a platform and won every county in the state, and the DFL could do so again if it embraced its progressive roots. Whether it’s a slugfest with Greg, a throwdown with Jeremy, or a revolution against Hagedorn, I’m willing to be on the front lines and do whatever it takes to bring this state, and this country, back from the brink.


Eric M. Leitzen


So… rich people have a LOT of money right now.

Like, “a lot” alot.

Just for perspective, the ratio of CEO to worker pay in the 1950s was 20 to 1. That was about $3500 per year for the average worker in 1950, which is just under $25k a year, according to Stanford. Now once upon a time, I went to school to be a History teacher, not a Math teacher, but I know my basic arithmetic. Sometimes, only knowing the basics can be really helpful in economics, a place sometimes way too in love with its own complexity. So:

$25,000 x 20 = an average CEO pay of 500,000 (in 2000 dollars)

Now, let’s take a look at some recent numbers from January 2018, where it shows that the CEOs of the 350 largest firms make 271 times more than their average workers… and that’s not even the worst! From the article:

“Although the 271:1 ratio is high, it’s still not as high as in previous years. In 2015, CEOs made 286 times the salary of a typical worker and 299 times more in 2014. Compare that to 1978, when CEO earnings were roughly 30 times the typical worker’s salary.”

According to a report from the Economic Policy Institute, the average CEO pay is 271 times the nearly $58,000 annual average pay of the typical American worker.

So let’s take that 58,000 and multiply it by 271, shall we? That nets us somewhere in the neighborhood of 15,718,000.

Let that sink in.
You get 58,000

Now, a new article from the fantastic folks at Dissent Magazine detail a proposal to reduce this disparity…. somewhat.

“In 2010, trade union leaders presented elites at Davos with a proposal for a ratio-based maximum wage—something proposed in the United States by Amalgamated Transit Union President Larry Hanley. Hanley’s version would mandate that a top executive’s pay be no more than 100 times the salary of the company’s lowest-paid worker. In other words, if the receptionist or janitor makes $35,000 per year, the CEO would take home no more than $3.5 million. To raise his or her pay further, the boss would have to bring up the bottom as well.

While a 100:1 gap comes nowhere close to rigidly enforced equality, it would break from current norms in the United States, where a CEO in one of the country’s largest 350 firms earns an average of 271 times that of a typical worker, according to theEconomic Policy Institute.”

Reduce the gap to 100 to 1 as opposed to 271. That’s quite a harsh cut for the richies, isn’t it? I mean, that’s, what, a 158% reduction? Downright savage… until we run the numbers. Let’s take that $58,000 average income again, and this time multiply it by 100

58,000 times 100 is… $5,800,000. Over five and a half million dollars, PER YEAR, for the bigwigs at the 350 biggest companies. Speaking of 350 companies…

5,800,000 for 350 companies is… let’s take that 15 million and subtract the five and a half million… that’s a difference of $9,918,000 that could be used to, say pay people a living wage or give them healthcare free at the point of service… especially when you take that nine million saved and multiply it for all 350 firms…

3,471,300,000. Three billion four hundred seventy-one million three hundred thousand. Per year. And that’s only the 350 biggest firms in the country, and that’s even with the fairly tame expectation of cutting the ratio to 100 to 1. What if we cut it back down to the 1950s level?

58,000 avg income times 20 = 1,160,000 for the CEOs.
Do we dare subtract the 1,160,000 from the 15 million from the 271:1 ratio?
14,558,000. Per year to spread the wealth while the CEOs at the top 350 firms still get to make over a million a year. Oh, and if we take that 14 and a half million and multiply it by 350?
5,095,300,000. Five billion ninety-five million three hundred thousand. Per year. From only 350 companies. Money to be used for small towns, schools, roads, bridges, healthcare and, most important, money that could, and should, go into your pocket as realistic wages for the job you do.

I don’t know about you, but that could sure help a lot of people.

The Election Day Column

This column was considered unfit to run in the Fillmore County Journal as a commentary article for the 11/5/18 issue.
I think I’ve made it pretty clear that I’m not too happy with the top brass in the Democratic party not choosing to run on a revolutionary economic platform that puts food on your table, jobs in your community, safe water in your tap, no-worry medical care, and so on… but I’ve got to say I am absolutely baffled by the strategy being taken by the Republicans. Not at the national level, of course, that’s stuff isn’t exactly hard to figure out, but the state and local approach by the GOP is just plain flabbergasting.
Flabbergasting? Does that count? Spell check says yes, so…
Jeff Johnson, what are you doing? Do you even know? Does your campaign? Both your website and signs I’ve seen around (and we’ll get to that later) claim that a vote for you is to “overthrow the status quo,” but last time I checked the GOP controls both the Minnesota House and Senate, so wouldn’t overthrowing the way things are result in DFL majorities in Congress? Additionally, I haven’t seen too many DFLers out there putting out particularly radical proposals, so what exactly are you proposing to overthrow? As if this wasn’t confusing enough, I later saw an online ad in the local paper saying, and I quote “Tim Walz wants to radically change Minnesota.” Mr. Johnson, wouldn’t overthrowing the status quo actually BE radical change? Is your campaign threatening to overthrow the radicals, who aren’t in power, and, um… start a revolution by keeping everything exactly the same?
Because let me tell you, Mr. Johnson, what overthrowing the status quo would really be: massive taxes on the wealthy, universal healthcare, guaranteed jobs, homes and income for everyone, and local co-ops as far as the eye can see where once stood mega-corporations… is that what the GOP wants? If you’re looking to overthrow the status quo, Jeff Johnson, I suggest you try socialism, because that’s the opposite of what we have now. Because that’s what your sign seems to say… and that sign does happen to be red, the color of socialism… what exactly is up your sleeve, Jeff Johnson?
And speaking of signs… you guys at the GOP really need to re-think your optics. I recently drove to the cities for work, and there was at least a 1:5 ratio of DFL to GOP signs on massive, empty pieces of land, horse farms, or McMansions with four or five new cars out front… none of which are places a guy like me making 30k a year is able to even rent. If you’re looking to sell yourself as the party of the little guy, this ain’t a good look. At this point, putting GOP signs in your lawn might as well be the same as wearing a top hat and monocle, especially when Minnesota Republicans are quoted as saying they’re scared that immigrants are going to take their fancy cabins they spend a quarter mil on and only live in a couple of months out of the year. Where’s YOUR toy house, peasants? I guess you just didn’t work hard enough like I did when I inherited the money to buy this cabin… and now, thanks to the Estate Tax cut, I can pass on even more money to my kids so they can buy bigger cabins!
But don’t think I’ve forgotten about the local level: Greg Davids, what is up with your newspaper ads? All these lame, non-specific policy points and saying they should vote for you because you’re the name everyone knows… why on earth are you taking pointers from the Hillary campaign? Because, last I checked, running ads like that didn’t work out super well for her. Just saying “this is who has been in power” is not only the sort of thing Hillary said in 2016, but it’s also the exact opposite of what Jeff Johnson’s signs are saying. What gives?
This is some really weird messaging, you guys. I’m really not sure what’s going on at the GOP these days: I mean, it’s not like you’re completely bankrupt on ideas that will actually help regular people, and all your policies only seem to make the rich richer, so you try to cover your campaigns in slogans that mean nothing and, weirdly, disprove your other slogans… that can’t be the case, right? Because if that were the case… why would anyone vote for you tomorrow?

Throwing Your Money At The Problem

Those of us on the left often get accused of being “tax and spend” types who just “throw money at the problem,” but the more I dig into the policy of the last 30-40 years, the more something starts to appear to me.

We are throwing money at the problem. Only problem is, it’s the money we can least afford to throw. It’s your money being thrown at the problems of sluggish economic growth, colossal debt, and that pesky problem of low unemployment and low inflation running hand in hand.

Our money gets thrown at the problem by way of massive tax cuts and loopholes for the oligarchy, in the hopes that giving yet more money to the unfathomably rich will somehow make it trickle down when that hasn’t worked for decades.

Our money gets thrown at the problem by way of telling us to take out more and more debt: for a home, for school, for a car, maybe even just to survive with predatory payday loans, and for what? So the same massive companies up top can keep afloat on our borrowed money and their borrowed time.

Our money gets thrown at the problem by repeatedly cutting programs that benefit the vast majority of Americans, like healthcare, national parks, and public schools, television, radio. For some reason it’s considered okay to keep cutting those programs, but never okay to ask a billionaire to chip in an extra three percent.

So I’ll give some when people complain about “throwing money at the problem,” as long as the other side is willing to give that just as much, if not more, money is being thrown out of the common coffers and into the pockets of the obscenely rich, who proceed to do nothing other than hoard, manipulate, and further increase their own wealth. We were told 30 years ago that investing in the wealthy would pay dividends, and we’re poorer than ever. When can we ask for our money back?


Leitzen 2020 – On Trees

When I moved into my first home with wife and baby 2 years ago, I noted with a little bit of worry that my front yard had two ash trees in it. Come Spring 2017, both of those trees were infested with the Emerald Ash Borer and were so compromised they needed to be taken down. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting on a work order from the power company to take down the second, so there’s a mostly dead tree in my front yard, the top still trying to bloom and blossom as if it doesn’t seem to know that the rest of it has long since given up. Now, while this might be an apt metaphor to the big-money-supported oligarchs of the Democratic Party, I’m going to look at it a little differently.

Every morning I get my daughter up and get her ready for daycare. At this time, I could peel back the curtains in her bedroom and look at that half-alive tree, sighing and muttering and bemoaning the state of it. It’s ugly. Horrible. Makes us look bad. It’s completely at odds with what a front yard is supposed to represent. And so on.

But I don’t.

Why? Because it doesn’t do any good to worry about the existence of a tree that I knew for a long time was an eyesore. Yeah, it’s terrible, but simply jumping up and down at all times bemoaning its terribleness won’t do anything. Instead, I’m focusing on removing the tree, and the stump of the other ash tree, and planting new ones. It does no good to worry about the horrible present if you’re not also going to say “okay, then what?” and put together a plan to put things right.

So, if you drive past my house on Main Street and see that ugly tree, don’t worry. I know it’s terrible. I’ve known for a while. Possibly longer than you have. But I’m also taking steps to fix it. When you go home, take a look around what makes you upset about the world, and instead of obsessing over the fact that it’s awful and it exists, but look into ways you can re-plant your own, better trees in the future.

The New Pragmatism

Pragmatism. The word has reached a near-sacred status in the last decade, particularly since the awkward campaign and embarrassing loss of Hillary Clinton, but like all words, it can be bent to say what you want it to. The formal definition of pragmatism says:

  1. 1 :  a practical approach to problems and affairs tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism

and this is certainly something you heard ad infinitum during the campaign. Bernie Sanders, we were told, was not pragmatic. Hillary Clinton was.

Why then, on the grounds of pragmatism alone, did she lose? The very definition of pragmatism would say that, as the most pragmatic candidate in the race, she should have won it easily, but she didn’t. So what happened?

There’s a New Pragmatism that has finally asserted itself in America after bubbling beneath the surface for decades. This pragmatism isn’t the one that says you seek a middle road and compromise on policy, it’s the sort of pragmatism that says “gee, it sure is impractical that we have so many homeless, yet so many homes; that we waste so much food while so many starve; that we still wage a useless war on drugs while companies make massive profits getting Americans hooked on painkillers; that we can blow billions of dollars to bomb a country that never attacked us, but we can’t ensure clean drinking water for American citizens.”

THAT is the New American Pragmatism. It isn’t about cutting deals and not “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s realize that even the “good” in this situation isn’t good enough when basic needs and security are not being met for half of the inhabitants of the richest country the world has ever seen. This isn’t about being clever and having complicated policy that can still allow you to make bank while appearing to care about the little guy… it’s just plain caring about the little guy. The varnish of neoliberalism, which was already cracking in the last days of the Clinton presidency, fully peeled off as we raced headlong into disaster in 2016 with the “Change” President actively pushing a trade deal that would prove disastrous for the same people who voted him in.

And for those people, looking at their ballots in November, a third term of Obama no longer seemed pragmatic. What did? Something, anything that might shake things up and help them get to a place where they aren’t fearing for their lives, livelihoods and futures every day of the week. Unfortunately, folks ended up voting for a charlatan who turned out to be as nakedly greedy as any President we’ve seen before, but that will only sharpen the necessity for 2018 to be a campaign not on the old pragmatism of cleverness and cute slogans, but the New American Pragmatism of Basic Needs.

Leitzen 2020 – Bullies

I’m a big guy. Always have been, always will be. Even though I was a year younger than most of the kids in my classes, I was bigger than most of them. I can remember from an early age, first grade or thereabouts, my mother telling me that because I was such a big fella, it came with certain responsibilities. One of them included making sure I didn’t use my size to take advantage of other kids. So even when they picked on me, when they called me fat or a nerd or a fat nerd or whatever six-year-olds said to make other six-year-olds cry in the early 90s, I wouldn’t fight back. I was told they would get their comeuppance, and I needed to keep my nose clean or I’d wind up some sort of delinquent.

The last time I really got into a fight was in second grade, 1992. I still remember it: Nate was getting a little too full of himself during a blacktop football game, and when he turned his cockiness on me, I snapped. From an early age, I saw things pretty simply: there are rules, and you’re supposed to follow them. There are things you should and shouldn’t do, and if you do something you shouldn’t, you get punished. You shouldn’t brag, you shouldn’t boast, and most of all… you shouldn’t bully.

Nate was a big kid: one of the few in the class bigger than I was. I got in a few shots, and so did he, but we were second graders; we didn’t know what we were doing. We scuffled for what felt like all of two seconds before one of the outside supervisors separated us, and I got my first referral from Principal Craig. After that, of course, I realized I had done something wrong, and my mother’s voice kept ringing back into my ears: fight with your words, you’re stronger than you think, be careful, you don’t want to hurt anyone.I adopted an approach of near complete appeasement: I refused to fight back in any way, instead convincing myself that if I took the high road, eventually it would all work out well for me. So in 5th grade, when Robert socked me in the jaw during a football game, I walked away. In 7th grade, when other kids were roughing up my friends, I let them try to take me down instead (they couldn’t). In 12th grade, when someone showed me a picture of my younger sister at 13 and told me, grinning, that he’d like to have sex with her… I did nothing.

I still regret that last one. I’m sorry, Boog.

There was supposed to be a reward, remember. If I kept my nose clean, went to school, worked hard, made friends instead of enemies, it was all waiting for me. Now, I look around at 31 years old and see a world where corrupt, negligent, ignorant men who make a career out of making enemies and weaseling out of debt are given some of the highest seats of power in this country. In short, the bullies have won, and I can only wonder if it’s because too many kids like me were told to take the high road.

But in looking back to that drizzly day on the blacktop again, I realized something: big Nate never really came after me again. Sure, he’d join in to mock me when it was safe in a group of five or six or seven, but after that day in 1992 until the day I moved away in 1999, I don’t remember him ever antagonizing me directly ever again. Maybe, sometimes, when things just get too bad, all that’s needed is to stand up to the bully, and maybe get in a few awkward punches, and that will be enough to make him cave. Most bullies, after all, are weak on the inside and fear someone challenging their power.

Maybe that’s what we need right now. I’m not saying to punch, or do worse, to the bullies that are currently making life unbearable for so many in the world. But as I found out with big Nate, all it took was someone finally challenging them. Even though no blood was drawn, no bruises were raised, standing up to them sent a message.

So I’m sick of trying to take the high road, but I’m not going to wallow in the mud either. It may be tougher to go through the grass, but if you come through the grass with determination in your eyes, that bully in the mud will start running. I’m not going to let myself get punched, and I won’t do the punching, but I’ll  have enough sense to duck. The bullies who killed our small towns with their tax cuts, who crippled our schools with their demands for more and more of our money, who are poisoning our air and water because they need to make just one more red cent… it’s time for someone, a whole lotta someones, to say we’re not going to take it anymore. We’re not going to give the bullies a bloody nose, and we’re not going to hurt them like they hurt us… we’ll do one better. We’ll let them know just how badly we could hurt them, and the fear of that is enough to fill the pants of any bully from sea to shining sea.

The Bottom Falls Out of the Consensus Market

It used to be, in politics, that we had a sort of a seller’s market on that magical, un-catchable unicorn of policy called “consensus.” The idea was you had to create consensus, or spend that precious political capital to build consensus, so you had to be very stingy with what you chose to support and not to support. There was a crisis of demand for consensus, so says the old-style politicians: there’s so little of it, and so few people seem to want the same things. So, we needed austerity to make sure we didn’t completely spend ourselves into a nightmare.

Then, the bottom fell out of the consensus market.

The paralysis of progress that this country has endured since the Reagan years has meant one thing above all: the rich get richer, and the poor get poorer. First, it was “Mom has to go to work.” Then, it was taking out massive lines of credit for your car, your house, just the basic American Dream that was attained easily by previous generations. When that went bust in 2008, it turned out that you needed to work 2-3 part time jobs, and volunteer or intern on the side, just on the promise that someday you might have it as good as your grandparents.

It used to be so hard to find consensus on the more fiddly social issues: the old Republican trifecta of “guns, gays and God” allowed right-wing culture warriors (and others faking it, along for the ride on the gravy train) to score win after win, but their additionally psychocapitalist economic policy was built to fail. And when it did fail, and an entire generation found themselves with mountainous debt, no good jobs, fake food, unsafe drinking water, sky-high rents and no prospect for a better tomorrow, well… let’s just say a whole lot of people took their “consensus” stock out of something like who should be allowed to use what bathroom and instead flooded the market on issues like health care, taxes, and government corruption.

Long story short? It’s really hard to care about what someone is doing with their own body and their own life choices when your own life seems to have no choice but to suffer greatly. Add to it the fact that our new President likes to jet off for golf every weekend and lived in a literal golden tower, and you’ll start to notice that consensus on more than a few key progressive issues is a lot easier to come by these days.

Leitzen 2020 – So Shines a Good Deed

Part One is here.

OLIGARCHY: You’re a kook!  You’re a pie-in-the-sky idealist!  That’s what you are.  How can you do a thing like this?  Build up the Middle Class’ hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces.  You’re a Communist!

PROGRESSIVE: I said Good Day!

OLIGARCHY: Come on, Middle Class, let’s get out of here.  I’ll get even with him if it’s the  last thing I ever do.  If Sanders wants us to vote for Hillary, that’s what we’ll do.

(Long pause.)

MIDDLE CLASS: Mr. Progressive . . .

(Middle Class leaves his last $27 on the Progressive’s desk.)

PROGRESSIVE: So shines a good deed in a weary world.

Middle Class  . . . You won!  You did it!  You did it!  I knew you would; I just knew you would.  Oh, Middle Class, forgive me for putting you through this.  Please, forgive me.  Come in, Mr. Sanders.  Middle Class, meet Mr. Sanders.


SANDERS: Pleasure.


PROGRESSIVE: No, no, that’s not Slugworth.  He works for me.

MIDDLE CLASS: For you? But he endorsed Hillary!

PROGRESSIVE: I had to test you, Middle Class.  And you passed the test.  You won!

OLIGARCHY: Won what?

PROGRESSIVE: The jackpot, my dear sir, the grand and glorious jackpot.

MIDDLE CLASS: A living wage?

PROGRESSIVE: Yes, a living wage, but that’s just the beginning.  We have to get on, we have to get on; we have so much time, and so little to do.  Strike that.  Reverse it.  This way please.  We’ll take the Elevator.  Step in, Middle Class.  Oligarchy, sir.  This is the Great Class Elevator.

OLIGARCHY: It’s Socialism.

PROGRESSIVE: It’s DEMOCRATIC Socialism.  Full Socialism can only go one way, but  Democratic Socialism can blend the economy, with private businesses and public services…

MIDDLE CLASS: And universal healthcare?

PROGRESSIVE: . . . and fair elections and sustained prosperity and progress for all of us, rich and not.  It can take you to any state in the union one of these buttons.  Any of these buttons.  Just press a button and ZING!  You’re off.  And up until now I’ve pressed them all . . . except one.  This one.  Go ahead, Middle Class.

MIDDLE CLASS: Me?  (He pushes the button labeled ROOSEVELT REVOLUTION.)

PROGRESSIVE: There it goes.  Hold on tight.  I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen.  Faster, faster . . . If we don’t pick up enough speed, we’ll never get through.

MIDDLE CLASS: Get through what?


OLIGARCHY: You mean we’re going . . .?


OLIGARCHY: But this ceiling is made of glass.  It’ll shatter into a thousand pieces.  We’ll be cut to ribbons!

PROGRESSIVE: No one said the revolution would be easy.  Hold on, everybody.  Here it comes.

(The Elevator crashes through the roof and flies into the sky.)

OLIGARCHY: You did it, Mr. Progressive, congratulations!

PROGRESSIVE Get up.  Take a look.

MIDDLE CLASS: Grandpa, our town looks so pretty from up here.

OLIGARCHY: It’s so many of the little folks, all working together… that’s what makes this country great, isn’t it?


OLIGARCHY: It really looks beautiful.

MIDDLE CLASS: Look! There’s my school, Oligarchy! They’re rebuilding it!

PROGRESSIVE: How did you like the Democratic Socialism, Middle Class?

MIDDLE CLASS: I think it’s the most sensible idea in the whole world.

PROGRESSIVE: I’m very pleased to hear you say that because I’m giving it to you.  That’s all right, isn’t it?

OLIGARCHY: You’re giving Middle Class the–?

PROGRESSIVE: I can’t go on forever, and I don’t really want to try.  So, who can I trust to run the factory when I leave and take care of the Revolution for me?  Not an oligarch.  An oligarch would want to do everything his own way, not mine.  That’s why I decided a long time ago I had to go to the Middle Class.  America has a  very honest, loving Middle Class that I can trust to work toward everyone’s benefit.

MIDDLE CLASS: And that’s why you sent out Mr. Sanders?

PROGRESSIVE: That’s right.  So the country’s yours, Middle Class; you can move in immediately.


PROGRESSIVE: Absolutely… as long as you don’t mind making 50 times more than your workers instead of 300.

MIDDLE CLASS: What happens to the rest of–

PROGRESSIVE: The whole country.  I want you to bring them all.  But Middle Class . . . don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.

MIDDLE CLASS: What happened?

PROGRESSIVE: He lived happily ever after.

Leitzen 2020 – Good Day, Sir

Oligarchy: Mr. Progressive?
Progressive: I am extraordinarily busy, sir. Revolutions don’t start themselves.
Oligarchy: I just wanted to ask about the prosperity – Uh, the sustained economic prosperity… for the 99%. When do we get it?
Progressive: You don’t.
Oligarchy: Why not?
Progressive: Because you broke the rules.
Oligarchy: What rules? We didn’t see any rules. Did we, Middle Class?
Progressive: Wrong, sir! Wrong! Under the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, it states quite clearly that the phrase “in order to form a more perfect union” renders void if – and you can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy – “I, the economic elite, cease to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare,” et cetera, et cetera…”secure the blessings of libery,” et cetera, et cetera…”to ourselves and our posterity!” It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You stole from the American people. You demanded tax cuts and redistribution to further enrich yourself at the horrible expense of hunger, pain, and despair for the vast majority of Americans, requiring an entire social and political revolution to rectify and return the country to a more equitable distribution of wealth, power & opportunity, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!

Dishwasher Politics

As I’ve stated before, I’m not exactly a handyman. However, my father, an old farmer pushing 70, has done his share of repairs on the farm, in the house, and on the job. Yesterday, he stopped by to help me with our dishwasher. For over a month now, it would run normally, and the pump would kick in, but it would fail to drain. I’d done everything I could with YouTube tutorials, but as I’m a fairly new homebuyer, I was pretty much flummoxed. I needed the experience of someone who has done this sort of thing before (and another Dad & husband who knows what it’s like to try to DIY everything to avoid losing your shirt in bills) to get my dishwasher up and running again.

We worked through every possibility with a variety of outcomes: pump good, filter cleaned, and pipes all cleaned out both from the garbage disposal and from the dishwasher itself. That last one finally managed to drain when I disconnected it from the air vent, causing some of the foulest smelling water I’ve ever encountered to finally drain into a bucket and get tossed onto any unwanted weeds I had in the backyard. Once everything else was clean, we focused on the aforementioned air vent as the culprit. I’d never taken one apart before, but I was able to see how the parts went together and I was soon looking down a nightmare telescope into what could only be described as Hell’s Meatloaf crammed in there. After some more cleaning, soaking, and percussive maintenance (slamming it against the garbage bin a few times), we had it cleaned to the point where we could reassemble and now the dishwasher is back in fighting shape.

Boy, if that isn’t a metaphor for what needs to be done to the Democrats, huh? Using the guidance of the old liberals, the young folk need to get down into the muck and take it apart bit by bit, cleaning out all the muck until it’s all running clean again. You can call it #DemEnter, Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats, or any of the fantastic resistance groups thriving in America today… but me? I think I’m going to start calling it engaging in “Dishwasher Politics.”

Losing by Winning

Following my column six days ago, I realized that I neglected a crucial part of the dynamic I laid out between Republicans (who win best when they feel they are losing) and Democrats (who lose the most when they are winning). I spoke at great length about what it meant to win by losing and lose by winning, but I forgot to mention what happens after this power dynamic has been laid out, accepted, and cemented. So, consider this a follow-up where I think I figure out how this dynamic allows the Democrats to screw everything up, even when it seems like everything is going their way.

In short, Democrats don’t seem to understand the dynamic I mentioned six days ago. The Democratic party leadership has been in so deep with the technocratic, data-driven, young-urban-professional-fetish crowd for so long that, much like the economists who thought their figures and numbers were rock solid on the eve of the last crash, their dogma and orthodoxy goes unquestioned even in the face of clear and obvious logic. It is impossible, nay, unthinkable for their projections and their data to be incorrect, because they have the know-how and the Ivy League education and all the bells & whistles and the machine that goes “ping.” In this line of thinking, this austere, test-tube and sterile lab sort of thinking, the world will behave a certain way, has to behave a certain way, or else every single one of your methods won’t work, and your methods being proven correct and your own personal gratification comes before what’s actually good for the vast majority of people living in this country.

And so we get the now-infuriating staple of the Milquetoast Democrat: still holding on to the frayed, scorched remains of comity and lofty gentlemanliness in a world more polarized, vicious, and partisan than ever. In their minds, politicians have to act a certain way, because to act another way would be unseemly and would get you laughed straight out of the latest multi-million dollar soiree, don’t you know. As such, these Milquetoast Democrats cannot even conceive of a world as upside down as this one, where you win by losing and lose by winning. Our entire strategy is based on people behaving a certain way and, come hell or high water, that is the way we’re going to run our campaign. It doesn’t matter that people, that life exists in a hard, cruel and dirty world, and that people sometimes make decisions that are counter to their own best interests due to emotion or other human failings: in the mind of the Milquetoast Democrat, we all must simple transcend our failings until we reach the great bipartisan Nirvana of the Third Way.

This is how the Democrats, gifted with quite possibly the most chaotic, slipshod, and full-bore fascist administration in American history, still cannot seem to make hay. They cannot conceive of something so very unprofessional or unbecoming as winning by losing, and so they use the same sort of tactics and strategies that would have worked in a more civilized Congress of a more civilized time. But we do not live in a civilized time, we live in a time of a maniacal, fascist-leaning Republican party who can only succeed in their narrative if they are the put upon, the persecuted, the fighters for freedom and liberty and other nostrums made empty by decades of petty partisan bickering. They need to be seen as the losers, even as they occupy the White House, the House, the Senate, state governments and governorships. In fact, Republicans haven’t controlled this much of our country since 1928, and therein lies how their winning can and will ultimately be their catastrophic loss.

And so, now, we finally come to the main thrust of the article: how can the Democrats make the best of this situation that seems completely upside down? Well, in a world where Republicans win by losing… stop making them out to be losers. You are walking right into the trap by pointing out every flaw, every foible, every resignation and faux pas and gaffe. Let’s face it, you’re not going to convince anyone on the other side if you go around talking about how terrible Trump is; all that’s going to do is soothe the egos of others on your side.

Stop talking about how bad Trump is.


Let me repeat it for the cheap seats:


If you really want to beat Trump, you must acknowledge that he won. Trump’s brand of bargain-basement fascism is wholly dependent on feeling persecuted, in the minority, being the one fighting back. By making him own the mess, by insisting that they are in charge and that it’s their problem now and they have the task of governing, it will sap them of all of their anti-establishment power. When you make these grade-school bullies the ones who suddenly have to run the school, they collapse, as we have seen, but pointing out each time they stumble only puts more fuel on their fire of persecution. Stop talking about how terrible Trump is, start focusing on what he needs to do to be great, because we know he’ll never get there.

Senator Bernie Sanders understands this: even before the inauguration, he has been running a very simple, and very effective , strategy: hold Trump accountable for what he said during the campaign. Use his own words to take the fire out of his actions. If he said he’s not going to cut Social Security, hold him accountable. If he said he’s going to gut regulation of the food we eat, hold him accountable when people start getting sick. To simply play the elitist card and call the idiot an idiot will do no good when there is an entire army of your so-called “idiots” who are waiting for the time when they can rise up against those who rightfully insulted them, and therein lies their strength.

We are not dealing with politics as usual: we are dealing with a deeply flawed, yet dangerous Republican party whose strength comes from being put in the corner like a rabid dog. It needs to be our duty then, as opposition, to let that dog run free five miles out of town in a cornfield until it eventually succumbs to the disease inside it. It is sick and knows only when it is being threatened, so don’t threaten it. Hold it accountable for its own disease, don’t cure it, don’t give in to what it wants, and it will burn itself out. It may seem counter intuitive to give a fool like Trump what he wants and concede that he is President, but putting the Republicans in a position where people are counting on them is a sure fire way to watch them self-destruct, as long as we hold them accountable when they lie, cheat or steal.

So stop with the outrage. Stop being besmirched and shocked and appalled. You knew this was going to be horrible, so stop complaining that it is horrible so they can paint you as some elitist trying to keep them down. They are in charge now, and they have to deal with that. Stop fretting about how terrible it is and start holding them accountable for how terrible they are. To just throw up your hands and say “it’s terrible” is an abdication of responsibility, but to say “you did something terrible and now all of America knows it” will break their back. An emotional appeal to the horribleness, a breathless “won’t someone think of the children” screed will only strike those on the fence as partisan hackery; the key is a genuine, level-headed approach that relies on their own statements, their own promises, and their own policies’ failures to uphold them.

Stop clutching your pearls and gasping at the latest horrible thing you knew would come out of a cabal of genuinely horrible people: expect it, understand it, and like a judoka turn it back around on them to expose their hypocrisy, their sociopathy, and their fascism. Carping and harping will only make people roll their eyes, we need to make it evident in their words. The Democrats need to learn how to turn a loss into a win, by properly cultivating the fire of an angry majority, or we’ll be looking at 8 years of Trump.

Winning by Losing

The world seems topsy-turvy these days: America’s leader is too “nationalistic” for even Germany, your TV is now watching you, and the Chicago Cubs have won the World Series. The time has come to discuss something even more bizarre, especially in a world where words do not mean what we always thought they meant.

Just like how we as an American culture are starting to come to grips with failure not necessarily being a bad thing, we also need to understand how you can win by losing. Now, unlike the demagogues currently in the White House who insist a ban isn’t a ban except when it is, I’m looking to argue the devil in the details and the nuance that often gets overlooked in a crippled media culture of tweets, hot takes, and gut emotions.

On the surface, the idea is this: Republicans win when they lose, and Democrats lose when they win. This has to do with the central climate and personality that each party has staked out for itself more or less since the 1960s. As I stated earlier, today’s Democratic establishment is in the middle of a fetish for professionalism, qualifications, and data, leaving behind their winning strategy of appealing to the down-in-the-dirt working man. This has left the door open for the Republicans to appeal to the working class, but in doing the near impossible task of appealing to both the workers and their brutally exploitative billionaire CEOs, the party has taken the path of least resistance and doubled down on emotional appeals. So we see the bout before us, with the the party that wants to be thought of as the smart people in charge of everything vs. the party of the forgotten man, the common man who is angry he can’t make ends meet, and wants to topple the ivory tower even if that entails voting for a buffoon as President.

This immediately sets up a power dynamic. The DLC-style Democrats, full of tech CEOs, innovators, disruptors, and other buzzwords that grate on rural nerves like a SkilSaw, are seen as the rich elite in power. The brilliance of marketing and messaging on the Republican side has now got that party telling the poor people that they should instead vote for the party of tax cuts for billionaires on a false promise that they can be a billionaire too someday, although they never will. When you set up a power dynamic like this, you’ll immediately find that one side is actually more effective as a loser, and the other as a winner.

How? As we’re seeing with the shambling, slipshod approach of the Trump administration, it’s hard to govern when all you know how to do is protest. It’s hard to run the house when all you know how to do, and all you’ve told people to do, is burn it down.  Republicans function best, as they did through the Obama administration, as the people looking to unseat the out-of-touch eggheads in office. But to be in that position of non-governance relies entirely on not winning enough people to your side to be the ones in charge. As we’ve seen, once these maniacal, far-right dreams are put onto paper, you have people in the streets. The core of Republican theory since Bill Clinton has been that you can get more done by bullying the liberal nerds from a rabid minority position than actually owning up to your own ideas from the majority. They know their policies are no good for the vast majority of the American people, but as long as they can’t win enough to pass them, they’ll always have a bonkers base of support (and money, of course) to feather their beds well into their old age.

On the flip side, you have the group so used to being sanguine and in control suddenly not sure how to be the protestors. They were supposed to win, Vox told us, and possibly win big. They were the ones with the data, with the know-how, with the Ivy League bona-fides and supposedly superior “ground game.” They were to be swept into office by a populous who was “woke” and understood that an austere, charmless and almost medically sterile approach to government is the only true choice. Now, when the sparkling white pantsuit is in tatters, the Democrats find themselves either flabbergasted, shell-shocked, or finding anyone and everyone to blame other than themselves for their failure. After all, they had every advantage, every good grade, every credential box ticked… they weren’t just supposed to win, it was a complete refutation of reality as they saw it if they didn’t win.

Well, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and the Electoral College feels fine. I’m reminded of Rob Schneider’s character in the popcorn punch-fest Demolition Man:

So we find ourselves in a strange place where the Republicans are losing because they won, with leaks and scandals threatening the legitimacy of the President within a month of taking office, and where the Democrats are confused at how exactly they can win by losing. As we learned from the DNC emails and from DNC strategy for nearly decades, winning is the only thing that was important to them, even if it meant selling workers down the river, privatizing Social Security or pursuing the destructive yet elusive “Grand Bargain.” Now, in a world where winning doesn’t mean winning, the Democratic leadership is hopelessly lost, trying to keep order as their own voters are now the ones threatening to burn the house down. While I’m sure those in power currently wring their hands and worry for their own political skins in the future, this return to rabble-rousing liberal politics is already paying dividends as millions march and a 74-year-old Socialist Jew with bad hair overcame a nearly 60 point deficit and won 22 states and 84% of the youth primary vote.

But what happens when those DLC-style establishment Democrats do win? Do they follow through on liberal causes? Not as often as the public wants. Following Barack Obama’s election as a rabble-rouser & change candidate in 2009, most of the country was hungry for proper punishment on the unscrupulous and fraudulent bankers who crashed the economy. Instead, the rabble-rouser chided big finance, saying his administration “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” What followed was a program of aid to the big banks instead of splitting them up, and they are now larger than they were before the crash. As a final sting to the people hungry for justice, not one big-time banker spent a minute in jail in America. Add to that Bill “I Feel Your Pain” Clinton’s commitment to NAFTA or privatizing Social Security, and you set up a system where Democrats do Republican things in office, further emboldening the cuckoo Republican minority to further fight back and further obstruct, painting them as the defender of the little guy.

So even when Democrats win in the past 30 years, they lose. And even when Republicans lose in the past 30 years, they win. Reagan’s policies were such utter failures even he had to soak the rich a little, and by 1992 the people were begging for progressive change. After two damp squibs of Clinton and Obama failed to bring about the bold systemic change that the bottom half of Americans knew had to happen to keep food on the table, or a table in their house, or even keeping their house, the crushed working class decided to throw an orange, toxic Molotov cocktail through the window of the establishment.

So, the choice in clear: the Democrats, now in historic minorities not seen since 1928, need to learn how to win by losing. The core of the old-school Democratic party is that strong, downtrodden, broke-but-not-broken working class who put Progressives in power, only to then complain years later when Progressive reforms make their lives so much better that they have to pay more in taxes. But when that happens (and it will, and that’s okay), the solution isn’t to try to ape the big-business balderdash of the other side, it’s to stick to your guns as the tax-cut & deregulation fairies lead us down a primrose path to destruction, only to be rescued by Progressivism again. Progressives are a group who win only to lose, and then win by losing. Seize this moment to bring about a Roosevelt Revolution in this country, and start backing the only approach that has been proven to win both coming and going.

The 30-Year Debtors Crisis

What we saw on Tuesday night is not surprising to anyone calling themselves a liberal or progressive  in America’s great rural expanses. For years, rural progressives have been howling from the rooftops that a storm was brewing. I myself have said the phrase “if something’s going to happen in this country, it’s going to start in the small towns” so many times that my wife is sick of hearing it. As much as we didn’t want to believe it, we always feared in the back of our minds that it would happen.

Why? Because we see it every day.

People can’t afford to eat well, surviving on chemical-laced, bargain-basement pseudo-foods. People can’t afford to live well, with barely enough money after buying the basics of survival to afford housing, clothes, heat, bills, and somewhere 56 items down the line perhaps something for their life’s enrichment. People can’t afford to be well, with a half-measure of national healthcare that still leaves too many people too sick too often. After 8 years of promising hope and change and delivering next to nothing for average, troubled people outside the ivory towers of the establishment, how can you possibly be surprised when they strike back?

I wanted to use the word “workaday” when I was describing the folks up there, but then I realized I couldn’t… because the jobs are all gone. All the wanted was a house, kids, spouse, and a decent-paying job so they can put in their time, retire, and say they lived a good life. Instead, supposed “liberals” like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama sold these folks down the river by gutting welfare, pushing NAFTA, pushing the TPP, and being sure to tell them to buy a house with money they didn’t have (to further enrich Wall Street criminals) and offer them absolutely no help when the market crashed. Let’s face it: the only thing the past 30 years of Al From’s DLC-style Democrats were liberal with were bombs and bailouts.

Michael Hudson has a terrific article in CounterPunch magazine titled Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun.  In the article, Hudson makes a terrific observation from someone you might remember from History class called Socrates. In short, Socrates says you shouldn’t have to repay a debt to someone if that someone is a lunatic. And in the eyes of most of us out here, outside of the Beltway and the bubble and the liberal fortresses, Goldman Sachs are lunatics. Citigroup are lunatics. Even someone like Hillary Clinton was a lunatic that we did not owe one more red cent. If someone is going to take your money to do evil, Socrates said, then they do not deserve to get your money.

And now, in their rage and their hatred and their righteous feelings of being cheated and swindled by what was supposed to be the Party of the People, they struck out. Unfortunately, instead of striking out and finding someone in which they could safely bank their trust (like a certain Democratic Socialist from Vermont) they struck out at the only other thing they could grab to stop their plunge into the despairing abyss.

For now, they have some footing, and only too late will we all learn that the rock we stand on today is not only hollow, but built on sinking sand. Our only hope is to find someone outside of this murky and disgusting abyss to throw us a rope and pull us out.

It’s time for outsiders. We’ve put off real change for far too long in favor of cosmetic, feel good politics that only bandaged over a festering wound of inequality. Now, we have no choice but to embrace the rapid change because we waited too long to take it slow, and that means it’s going to be a bumpy ride.

And for that, we’ll need strong, young backs to ride it out.

Watergate Babies Out With the Bathwater

I finally managed to finish the 804-page masterpiece that is Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge, and I can say with conviction that it is one of the greatest books I have ever read. Perlstein manages to successfully blend political narrative with actual cultural historical anecdotes in a way that should be taught to every History teacher on the planet. If we had a Rick Perlstein in every class, History would be everyone’s favorite class.

…and I’m NOT just saying that because he emailed me back and said he liked my Great American Revival Tent column!

Not even a week after finishing the book, I stumbled across this article in The Atlantic, and here’s where I have to take a break from taking the piss out of Generation X and recognize one fighting the good fight and making stuff happen. According to The Atlantic, Matt Stoller is a budget analyst on the Senate Budget Committe, and you should all give him a Google or a Bing or a Yahoo or whatever and check out his work, or follow him over at @MattStoller on Twitter. His article, titled “How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul,” is the perfect after dinner cordial to complement Perlstein’s sumptuous 8-course feast. Between the two of them, we’ve managed to finally pinpoint, like some sort of isolated protein that causes all cancer, just where everything went so damn wrong in this country politically.

For the record, my parents are Boomers. They are not, however… usually, the Boomers who insist that their generation descended from Olympus on the wings of eagles to lead America to the Promised Land, despite doing more to usher in a New Gilded Age than almost anyone else. No, my Boomer parents were hardworking farmers who lost the family farm in the 1980s (thanks, conservatives and offensively-high interest rate hikes!) and ended up living lives, well, much like the current Millennial generation: multiple jobs, paycheck-to-paycheck, completely missing out on whatever it was some of the other Boomers cashed in on to trade in their Birkenstocks for Briefcases.

As such, my parents never gave up their liberal/independent roots, and it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Bernie Sanders’ campaign sounded an awful lot like what was bandied about the dinner table every night during my childhood. But what of the other Boomers, the ones who decided to take us down this road into a neoliberal nightmare where a war hawk who talks about privatizing retirement in a is considered the liberal party’s standard-bearer? Well, if you’ve spent any time reading all of my malarkey here at GenExt, you’ll find what I’m about to say very familiar. It all boils down to one maxim that seems almost universal: children don’t want to be like their parents.

It sounds pat, I know, but the more I read about people the more I realize just how much we are at the mercy of our emotions. We have that primitive, snap-to, fight-or-flight section of our brain that pumps happy chemicals into our system when we indulge it, and in no better way to we like to indulge ourselves personally is through self-preservation. And when you convince yourself that you are right, good, and smart, and other people are not… that’s self-preservation. At the same time, we feel a need to make ourselves our own people and, after almost twenty years of being told by other people how to live our lives, we’re willing to strike out and show them that they were wrong and we were right and you just don’t understand, Mom and Dad!

So… what happens when this happens on a national scale?

Well, most recently you get the Millennial generation going, in some case, more than 80 percent for Bernie Sanders. But the Bernie movement is actually a refutation of a previous refutation, in a series of refutations that probably twists and bends itself back into a spiral for most of modern humanity. The last major Generational refutation has its genesis in those plucky little scamps known as the Watergate Babies.

After the Watergate scandal rocked America to its core, people wanted a change. They didn’t care how, or who, they just knew that Watergate was bad so the opposite of it was good. The only problem is, in their rush to judgement, the labeled the entirety of government as bad when it was, let’s be honest, only a majority of it. And so, in their rage the Boomers struck what they thought was the ultimate blow of rebellion, the culmination of the Summer of Love in utterly destroying what remained of American Progressivism in our national government. If it was government, it had to be destroyed… and people wonder why Reagan got elected twice.

The only problem with this zero-sum, lizard-brain thinking was, of course, that nuance keeps everything from being simple and easy. We lost a good number of good men in government in the post-Watergate massacre, but beyond that is the most insidious aspect. Before Watergate, liberals were New Deal liberals, vaguely socialist, strongly Progressive and committed to doing public good, whether they be liberal Democrats or Republicans. In responding the way they did, the Boomers put in office what they thought were liberals who would continue to carry the torch that had brought us so much prosperity, but instead began what became known as the New Democrats: socially liberal, but in most other cases actually quite conservative.

Because, y’know, being liberal in your policies reminded people too much of Nixon, who actually had a fairly liberal record. The Boomers cut off their nose to spite their face, and after nearly 40 years of festering that wound has not healed, and we have the sick, festering boil of a national government that currently occasionally enjoys an approval rating just below head lice. What’s worse is that New Democrats only fed into the idea that things were bad, so when things got worse we kept thinking we needed to elect more and more people like them who promised to fix the system but ultimately made it worse. In short, when the Boomers decided government was only for scumbags, we wound up with a government mostly full of scumbags.

It’s the same old story. Generation 1 does a thing, Generation 2 does the opposite, and then Generation 3 can then do the opposite of that, which actually becomes what Generation 1 did in the first place. Now, in the current case, we’ve got the wildcard of Generation X who sort of split the difference: some of them want to be Sanders-style Progressives, but some of them are still old enough to remember the cynicism of a Post-Watergate world. Millennials, in contrast, have no memory of the don’t-trust-government ethos of the Reagan years, and only know government is the only thing left that can keep them out of endless poverty. Only time will tell what will happen there, but the most hopeful thing to take out of this situation is that change is coming, and the light will soon dawn on a new birth of American Progressivism, if only because one generation doesn’t want to be anything like the generation that came before it.

Construction vs. Destruction

I’m not exactly a “handy” man. In fact, I find myself singing Billy Bragg’s “Handyman Blues” fairly often, and loving it.

But I’ve done my share of construction, both permanent and temporary. I’ve constructed close to 20 different stage sets in my time in college and community theatre, and I’ve been helping my family do home repairs since I was big enough to lift a hammer. On the other hand, I’ve also helped tear down close to 20 different stage sets and different things around my childhood and adulthood homes.

The first thing you realize, usually during your first tear-down, is that hey, this is so much easier than building something! I remember distinctly destroying a dilapidated old particle-board lean-to at my childhood home, and that was downright fun. One or two swings of a grub-hoe and the entire wall collapsed; it made you feel like Hercules, especially when you’re ten years old. But as I look at the state of things today, particularly in the Middle East, I can’t help but be reminded of how much easier it was to swing a grub-hoe than it is to perfectly level out a new piece of construction.

As Naomi Klein put it perfectly in her exemplary 2007 work Shock Doctrine when she called the current system of war-for-profit “Disaster Capitalism.” After bleeding the American Middle Class dry with wage cuts, pension disintegrations, credit binges and housing crashes, the rich and richer decided the best way to keep making money was to look outside the country, but darn it if those other countries got uppity when we tried to make them act in the US’ best interests instead of theirs. What followed was a half-century and more of coups, overthrows, and financial arm-twisting that would make and UFC fighter flinch. Unfortunately for those global elites, however, they were too blinded by their own desire to amass more and more and yet more wealth that they didn’t see the next logical step in this pattern. Simply put: you can’t keep doing this to people.

And so, as Robert Kennedy Jr explains, they start to fight back. In another amazing case of global blindness, the rich and powerful declined to read the lessons of their own American history, where a small group of committed rebels and guerrillas could topple even the world’s strongest superpower. As such, we’re seeing the US being bled dry in an eerie parallel to the great empires of humanity: Rome, England, and even those pesky Soviets were whittled down to irrelevancy and collapse by fighting a little war here, a little fight there, a little police action everywhere to keep their bloated empires afloat. But how exactly do these rebels keep finding willing sacrifices to their cause?

That’s where it gets really fascinating.

Groups like Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State, and even some of the right-wing white-power terror groups all have a similar calling card: disaster. Every one of them preaches to the frustrated and the dispossessed that all of their problems come from some tyrannical state, which in both the cases of Islamic and Christian fundamentalists turns out to be America. The dizzying irony of this situation is that, for all of their investments in disasters as a way to ensure a steady stream of income, not one of these muckety-mucks in America’s ruling class figured they could be out-disastered by a small group of people looking to profit themselves off of the original disaster created by the first disaster merchants.

In short, folks like the Islamic State or Cliven Bundy are beating the big disaster-capitalism machine at their own game.

The promised spoils are always rich: money, power, women or, in the case of Bundy, never having to pay back taxes. And above it all, the refrain is always the same: if it wasn’t for that darn government, you’d be successful. You’d be rich. You’d be winning. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. In their quest for greed, the disaster capitalists didn’t seem to realize that their disaster would spawn children of the disaster who then saw how much worse things were and be motivated to fight against the original disaster. This is the biggest issue with campaigns or motivations based solely around tearing things down: eventually, you run out of stuff to wreck. And if, by then, people don’t have what they want, what do you do?

It’s so much easier to destroy than to create, and those looking to exploit destruction for a quick buck may have met their match in a monster of their own creation. As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind” and the disaster capitalists have spent more than a half-century plucking out eyeballs all over the world. Unfortunately, they never thought to think that someone might come for their eyes, so now we thrash about blindly: bombing here, waging war there, only feeding the monster we’ve created. There is a reason the government rebuilt Europe after World War II instead of letting corporations do the job.

We need to move forward with a plan that doesn’t involve violence, war, or anything else that makes folks like Dick Cheney lick their chops. We need to stop pressing disaster and destruction as a mean to somehow lead to prosperity. You can’t destroy the village in order to save it, and for some reason we’re still grappling with that basic lesson we should have learned in Vietnam. When I swung the grub-hoe through the wall of that lean-to, I didn’t make the wall stronger… but later, when we spent the money and built the new shed out of steel, we had something that is still strong and secure when I drive past my childhood home even today. It may be easier, and more profitable, to tear down, but nobody wins unless we make the hard choices and commit to building up.

Incremental History

I have heard ad nauseam these past months that big, bold change is foolish, unattainable, even dangerous. Now, if we put aside the multiple Historical examples where it happened (the ending of American slavery, the Trustbusting of the Progressive Era, the New Deal) or the awful catastrophes we had to wait patiently for in order to enact them (Civil War, Labor unrest, the Great Depression) and if we look proactively at the situation through the wide eye of History, there is a case to be made that we have been progressing very incrementally since the 1960s.

We’ve made strides here and there: Civil Rights, Environmental Protection, Health Care Reform, Equal Rights by gender, orientation, identification… each of these are little incremental pieces moving forward. For those who say some candidates are promising too much, too fast, there are millions of Americans saying the last few decades have done too little, and too slowly. Some of the ideas being thrown around in the Democratic Primary are not considered radical anywhere else in the developed world, and are not bold leaps forward but merely the steps that are necessary to take for this country to survive as a functioning Republic. You say you want incrementalism, I say it’s already here, and I am not alone. In the words of a famous Minnesotan:

My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.

Hubert H. Humphrey campaigned for human rights.
Healthcare is a human right.
Education is a human right.
Social mobility is a human right.
A living wage is a human right.
Opportunity is a human right.
Prosperity is a human right.
Free and fair elections are a human right.

To those who say we are rushing these issues, I say we are 68 years too late.

Trickle-Down Taxation

Reaganism dictates that taxes are the enemy: any tax, anywhere, anyhow. In 2010, while most other states were going disturbingly red and setting themselves up for disaster, Minnesota did something curious: they elected a DFL governor specifically on the policy of raising taxes. Curiously, this did NOT lead to a statewide collapse, as the followers of Reaganism claimed for decades, but instead lead to Minnesota being a shining beacon of progress and prosperity in the middle of other Midwestern Republican-led states falling into ruin.

And yet, the Big Lie of Evil Taxes goes on. Cutting taxes, the Republicans claim, will allow those at the top to have more money to invest, and in investing there will be more supply, which will lead to more business, which will lead to more jobs, which will lead to more money. This, in essence, is the “Trickle Down” theory of economics.

Now, anyone with five minutes of economic study can tell you that increasing the supply while most people don’t have enough money to demand or even afford new products is ridiculous, stupid, and backwards, but let’s not assume the Republicans have any actual experience with how economics works in reality. Indeed, if Paul Ryan and his magic asterisks are the best they have, it seems rude to kick them when they’re down.

So, we know Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work because… well, reality exists, I suppose. But something does end up trickling down when those at the Federal and State level drool over the idea of cutting taxes here, there, everywhere, in a box, with a fox, and so on like some sort of demented Dr. Seuss character. It’s not the prosperity that trickles down, however… it’s the taxes.

We live in a social society. Certain social services and items are provided for us through public works, mainly because they are too big or too complex to make money for a private firm. We have public schools, public roads, public parks, and so on… and all of them are paid by taxes. So, when DC and St. Paul decide to cut taxes to save their own political skin, the towns and counties and townships have to pick up the slack. Suddenly, your local school tax goes up. The price to fix your roads or your bridges goes up. The price of having clean water goes up and, as we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan, it leads to shortcuts that damage lives. All the while, the rich and powerful sit in their cushy estates or in one of their many, many houses and count the cash they saved in tax breaks, while you and your neighbors struggle to get by with even half of what you had ten years ago.

The answer is simple: when someone like Greg Davids or Jeremy Miller bloviates about cutting taxes, saying it will be good for all, ask them if they’re going to cut your local taxes, too, or if the benefits of tax cuts are only for the richest people instead. Governor Dayton and the DFL have proven that if you tax the rich, we all do better, so this November you need to bring the DFL back to a position where they can make sure we all do better, even if it means one less townhouse for a billionaire.

This will begin to make things right.

So I finally saw the new Star Wars. The wife and I waited until it came to a small, independent historic theater that charges fantastic rates for Sunday matinees. The movie itself was fantastically enjoyable, if a little predictable and a little too referential at times… but its heart was in the right place and it was a hell of a lot of fun. There were a few moments where JJ Abrams started shining through in the dialogue, or the camera work, but I can’t lie to you… I cried with joy when I saw the X-Wings ride to the rescue over the lake at Takodana.

BUT… the movie got me thinking. And you all know that’s never a good thing. I started thinking about my usual “chestnuts” as my wife calls them: history, sociology, and the patterns that can be seen in each. I also decided to dust off the skills I used to write my undergrad thesis, namely that people will often say or write things they are feeling into fiction because it is a more forgiving way to express yourself.

So this begs the question… what does Star Wars: The Force Awakens say? In my mind, quite a lot.

Think of how the different generations have experienced Star Wars. The Boomers saw it as the much-needed reprieve from the still-looming spectre of Watergate: good guys taking down bad guys, and now we can all feel a little better. For Gen X, they grew up with the movie and had the opportunity to look back fondly on a childhood experience and, more importantly, look on it again as adults and start to dissect it. Millennials also felt the rush as children, and had a front row seat for the prequels. Beyond the Millennials are children who have always known the prequels as a fact of life.

So what does this all mean?

The Boomers were the Dreamers, once upon a time. They were going to change the world, they were going to make it better… but Watergate was the final blow for a death of a thousand cuts as cynicism took hold. Most Boomers now see themselves as incrementally-minded “Realists,” believing that change can only truly come slowly. They now look on Star Wars as entertainment only, instead of one of the best cultural relics of their starry-eyed salad days. Boomers created Star Wars, but much like Kylo Ren, they aren’t own up to the light in them.
Generation X was the first to question Star Wars. One remembers the famous scene in the seminal Gen X slacker-opus Clerks where Dante sums up Gen X in one statement: Empire was the best Star Wars movie. His pal Randall is even taken aback by such a statement, calling it “blasphemy.” Gen X spent decades dissecting Star Wars which gave us people like Marco Rubio, who now think Anakin Skywalker was just a misunderstood man who had some bad things happen to him, and not a mass murdering sociopath. In many ways, both in fiction and reality, Gen X fell in love with the Empire, and this is seen in the WTO protester turned corporate office-holders scattered through the generation. Gen X’ers knew the game to be lost from the get-go in their trademark nihilistic worldview, and so gladly fall in line, much like the children trained from birth to be First Order soldiers. However, Gen X still loves what Star Wars means deep down in the part of their mind that experienced it with chid-like wonder, and when it comes to pull the trigger, just like Finn, they can’t.
The Millennials saw them both, the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, as youth. They could see the good and the bad in both, some even going so far as to defend or even like the prequel movies into adulthood. To them, the horribly flawed world George Lucas bungled forth in the prequels is indicative of the time they live in: a time where cynicism reigns and an ineffectual government can do seemingly nothing against creeping fascism. Millennials feel for the young Obi-Wan and Padme, who appear to be the only noble figures in a society turning to garbage. They feel much the same way: wishing for those far off days of comparatively easy victories on the forest moon of Endor while grappling with the light side and the dark in themselves. Stand for your principles, or sell everything out for a job that barely makes enough to survive? Millennials are Rey, scraping out an existence yet dreaming of more and willing to go to the fight, knowing there’s nothing of any value left for them in their old lives.
And what lies beyond? The brash pilot Poe Dameron, not quite understanding the nuances of the fight, fresh faced and daring, but a powerful person to have in your corner. Their skill with technology is almost innate, much like Poe in his X-Wing, leading us to only wonder what the future has in store for this little-explored character. As we’re already seeing in the social trends, those beyond the Millennials will do even more to banish the darkness of cynicism and approach the light once again. It will be interesting to see if those beyond the Millennials, now possible even the children of Gen X, will influence and help their parents the way Poe brought Finn along for the ride.

And so, we close out the movie with the Boomers tortured by their crises of faith between the halcyon Eisenhower days their parents helped build and the cynical Reagan nightmare they put together. In their minds, they knew they had to slay the Eisenhower ideas in order to survive, but perhaps they were only obeying a higher, more sinister power? Meanwhile, Gen X lies in a coma after finally taking up the fight and falling nobly to the confused Boomers, who do outnumber them. The Millennials swear to take after the X-ers, and fly off in search of an old man, older even than the Boomers, to be their last hope and train them in the ways of the light.

Ladies and gentleman, Bernie Sanders is Luke Skywalker: a crusader since his teens, a believer in the good of people, haunted by mistakes he has made and times where he has come up short, being dragged into the fight because he knows it is necessary. Though once thought extinguished, a fascist group is on the rise again, lead by a white man with orange hair (as opposed to an orange man with platinum blonde hair) and now a ragtag group of rebels, Millennials and those beyond, are fighting back as best they can to remove this threat. We have seen already, as this group destroys other establishment worlds, that this fascist rise means to subjugate the galaxy neath a booted, authoritarian heel, but no one took them seriously enough except the Resistance. The time is now for Luke to return and bring back order and peace to a galaxy in chaos, but he is not alone. He has the youth of today, and of tomorrow, with him.

After the results of last night’s Super Tuesday, it is clear: there has been an awakening. First the dark side, in Trump, and now the light. Minnesota and Colorado are often seen as some of the most progressive states in the nation, and they see what is coming and what needs to be done. They have called out to “Bernie-wan” as their only hope, and it is time for nobility to make a comeback in a world threatened by cynicism. When the Man of Steel stands in his ruined city as a victorious god, that is a false nobility. When Rey seeks comfort in Leia’s arms, even after the battle against the Starkiller has been won, that is true nobility. When Hillary Clinton champions using an entire minority group as a tool, a “firewall,” that is a false nobility. When Bernie sanders stops his speech to attend to someone who faints, that is true nobility.

This is a lightning in a bottle moment. If nobility cannot win now, it may turn to cynicism. Fear, anger, aggression, the dark side are they, and just like the generations before, the Millennials and those after them could fall if something is not done. It’s time for nobility to make a comeback. If not now… when?