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.
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 They get FIFTEEN MILLION.
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.
So there’s all sorts of thinkpieces out there trying to understand why folks seem to be acting so screwy these days: the racism, the white nationalism, the fascism… but I keep repeating myself. In the lead up to this latest US election, we saw a bone-crushing volume of content devoted to the “migrant caravan,” and now since the election the coverage has plummeted in what can only be described as a blatant admission that the maniacs on the American far-right knew full well, and flat out did not even care to hide, that the entire narrative was nothing but a publicity stunt to gin up fear within the electorate. Fear of people not like you, fear of the world you know changing, fear of anything being different from the time when it was good, which always seems to be just far enough away in memory to be slightly fuzzy, slightly foggy, and more than a little tinted by nostalgia. Sure, Eisenhower may have taxed the rich at double or more the current rate, but I’d rather just remember it differently so we can return to “then” when things were “better” or, dare I even say it… “great.”
But why all this fear? Why this conservative terror to either return to a time when milkmen tipped their hats or when video games didn’t have to worry about making girls happy, depending on your generation? At the end of the day, the question sounds off like a tornado siren: why are you so scared? Fear is not known to be rational, or mature, or well thought-out, because if it was it wouldn’t be fear. Fear is by its very nature irrational, even if it serves a purpose of survival from aeons ago. Yes, learning to fear the bright colors of a poisonous snake can save your life, but without adding additional thought to the conversation you’ll find yourself running screaming into the night if someone puts mustard on your sandwich. Fear needs to be tempered with rational thought, which is something we as humans learn as we grow, and indeed it is one of the best parts of the human mind that allows us to succeed despite adversities. Without that tempering, without taking the time to calm down and think it over, we wind up acting like a human who has had not yet developed… like a small child.
I have two small children. One’s almost 4 years old, the other about a year and a half. As of lately, they have been little buggers when bedtime rolls around: yelling, screaming, sobbing, crying, begging for just one more book or one more hug or kiss even as the bedtime ritual stretches into its second hour. They literally lack the programming and brain development to be able to say “let’s sit down and be rational and calm about this: sleep is good for us and a well rested me is a better me for the challenges of tomorrow.” All they know is that Mom & Dad are going to disappear and they will eventually go unconscious, possibly hallucinate vividly for several hours, and then awake alone and probably with cold feet because they both hate socks and kick their blankets off at night. They are afraid of the coming uncertainty and, what’s more, they are upset at the adults in the room for not taking their irrational fears seriously and spending the entire night reading Bedtime for Baby Bear to them on repeat. They want to “conserve” what they have and don’t want it to change… I hope you can see where I’m going with this.
And when the adults don’t listen, or tell them that there’s nothing to worry about, or try to assuage their fear that they have convinced themselves is very real and imminent (my daughter often wails about invisible spiders she swears are in her room), or finally resign themselves to leaving the situation because at some point the kid’s just gotta get to sleep… the fear turns to anger. Why are my thoughts not being validated? Why are people not doing things my way? Why won’t things just stay the way they are and they way I like them? Why won’t Dad come upstairs for the seventeenth time to confirm that there truly are no spiders on the ceiling? I am not being served in the manner I wish to be, and so I am going to lash out at a system that I have convinced myself is unjust. I am going to test the boundaries. I am not going to go to sleep. I am going to throw my toys. I am going to scream and yell until you come up here and do what I want because, deep down, I am very, very afraid.
Fear isn’t rational. Anger is possibly even less rational because it often mutates from fear. How many times have you seen people act out in anger, only to say some permutation of the phrase “I didn’t mean it?” I know this all seems very Ivory Tower to compare conservative folks to my tiny children, but at the end of the day we’ve all still got that little kid inside. I’m 33 years old and I still get a rush every time I have to go up a flight of stairs alone in a dark house. I see a gaggle of teenagers walking down the sidewalk and my hackles go up. I hear my kids caterwauling about having to go to bed and my blood starts to boil… but then you remember the reality of the situation and you realize you can’t be mad at someone for doing what they know to do and what they may not be able to stop. It works much better to work with the person, manage the situation, and then look not at that they were angry, but why they were angry. It’s not about having the emotions, because we all do… it’s about how we respond.
Most times, you can respond to people rationally, especially if you look at overarching factors rather than just chastising the behavior at face value. When I sit and talk to my daughter, she talks about how much she doesn’t like being alone when she sleeps, which speaks to a larger social aspect of humanity that, frankly, I find uncanny in a 4 year old. However, she still has her moments when her better judgment leaves her, and that’s the main anecdote I want to relate here.
A few nights ago, she was in fine form: sassy, cranky, overtired, the whole nine yards. She was pushing boundaries, and she knew it. How do I know she knew it? Because when my wife eventually headed up the stairs to have a frank conversation about her behavior, the first words out of her mouth were pleading for no one to actually hold her accountable. The turnaround was remarkable: it took only nanoseconds to go from a strident “NO!” to everything to suddenly apologizing profusely to spare herself.
I want to make a special note here that Mom was NOT going up there to give her a whoopin’ nor was there going to be any physical confrontation at all. What my daughter feared more than that was the knowledge that Mom was angry and disappointed in her. Just beneath the paper-thin surface rage and the contrary attitude was fear. She knew she was testing the limits, she knew she could possibly get in trouble, but the rush of sounding off at the parents was too sweet, she just had to. Only too late did she regret it.
Fascism is not rational. Fascism is not particularly mature. However, it is cunning. It knows not to say things outright; it knows to dog-whistle its awfulness in traditionalism, identity, nostalgia and, most recently, irony. But just beneath the surface, fascism’s main driver is fear: fear of difference, fear of change, fear of what dreams may come and fear of that loneliness, whether it be loneliness from community, family, intimacy, or even alienation from what work and duties you perform in the day to day. That fear manifests itself in testing the boundaries of things like good taste, civility, or accepted social norms like, say, racism or white nationalism. But, as we saw in this famous clip from the Charlottesville rally, when cornered, alone, and faced with the possibility of Mom coming up the stairs, their first reaction is to take it all back. No one had to touch him, there were police nearby to protect him, but when someone comes up the stairs and there’s no support structure around him, it all falls apart.
We don’t need to make the fascists scared; they already are. All we need to do is scrape off that tiny veneer of bravado and expose the fear underneath. It’s the equivalent of the schoolyard bully losing his clout when one of the other kid starts at him and, in his fear, he falls ass-over-teacup backwards over his own backpack. As budding fascism begins to bloom in America, we need to start coming up the stairs to each and every one of these chuckleheads. In the face of irrational fear turning into anger, the best strategy is to challenge that anger until it melts away to fear, because fear is much easier to reason with. Maybe the fear is because life is too uncertain in a world where jobs are crappy, healthcare is too expensive, the food’s unhealthy and the water’s not clean. It’s a lot harder to hate people when you’ve got a full stomach, money in the bank, and a clean bill of health, but first we need to get to a place where those things are possible, and doing fluff pieces on Nazis is not the way to get there, unless you want to be up all night reading bedtime stories to stop another meltdown.
There is a point where you need to take some action, and fascism is much harder to take action on when it may be easier to define, but large enough that it takes something like a World War to put it back in the box. The point is now to start calling fascists and white nationalists and racists and identitarians or whatever they’re calling themselves for the lulz these days onto the carpet and make them answer for it, one at a time. Fascism’s strength comes from being united: a fasces is an old Latin term for a bundle of sticks bound together, making the entire bundle harder to break. As a child, I remember an incident involving one of my elementary teachers and a student. By the time the story got to me, it had morphed into some kind of nightmare scenario where the teacher had slammed a child up against a wall, for seemingly no reason. There was a small mob of us in the playground, and someone started the ridiculous chant of “off with her head.” It was easy to go with the flow, it was easy to chant along. I can’t remember if I did, but I know it was hard not to. But I also knew, if my Mom had found out when I got home, and when I was no longer surrounded by classmates, when I was alone… she’d be coming up the stairs.
It’s time to start coming up the stairs and making folks apologize. If not, they’ll continue to stretch the boundaries and test their limits… and where budding fascism is concerned, that’s something you just don’t want to see happen again.
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?
I can’t believe I have to say this to people making, in some cases, millions of dollars, but…
don’t feed the trolls.
For those of you who may not have existed in the awkward developmental stage of the internet, “don’t feed the trolls” was a phrase that was born from messageboard culture. If you have to ask what a messageboard is, congratulations! This article is for you.
You see, before people risked destroying their lives by bragging about their racism publicly on Facebook, they did it privately and anonymously on messageboards or forums. Before internet connections were strong enough to handle all the graphical bells and whistles, notifications, and insidious ads custom made by psychocapitalism to chew into your privacy like the Ceti Eels from Wrath of Khan, there were simple, text based services where you wrote a post, clicked “post” and then hit refresh to see if anyone responded.
Oh, and there were still ads, but they were big an obnoxious and easy to avoid… and sometimes hilarious.
Anyway, messageboards is where online troll culture started. Now, the word has gotten stretched and appropriated far beyond its intended meaning, as words often do, but to boil it down to the nasty, fetid bone broth yields a simple definition.
A troll, and by its extension troll culture, is someone who takes pride and pleasure in upsetting people.
Maybe it’s posting gory pictures. Maybe it’s taking a contrary stance to the conversation even if they don’t actually hold that stance. Maybe it’s repeatedly refusing to understand the clear message of the conversation. Maybe it’s purposefully misunderstanding the conversation. Maybe it’s just making an account, screaming racial epithets, getting banned, and coming back and doing it again.
All that matters is that you made someone upset.
And when people get upset, they pay attention to you.
And when you get attention, you matter.
The direct result of this, once other forum users got wise to these shenanigans, was to adopt a policy: don’t feed the trolls. Don’t respond to them, don’t pay attention to them, don’t make them feel like they matter. Whatever you do, do not prolong the show. Don’t indulge them. Ignore them. Don’t let them know they matter, because they do not exist in good faith. They exist only to make things worse.
I listen to NPR when I drive. Now, for folks on the left like me, NPR is like being invited to a party from someone who works in the same massive office building as you, and then when you show up the hosts does nothing but trash talk you, your supervisors, your department, etc… but it’s Friday night and you can either stay home, go to this party, or attend the Klan rally next door… and sometimes you want a human connection. So… NPR it is.
They had a press conference on. And the President was talking. Now, in case you haven’t noticed, I’m trying very hard not to feed the trolls, so I try to avoid listening to this maniac talk for any long periods of time. But again, I was trapped in my car and didn’t want music, so… I listened to him talk.
I lasted about five minutes.
My main takeaway was “thank goodness he’s an idiot.” Under any other circumstances, this man could have already put us under full blown fascist rule, but he’s too busy preening in front of a mirror to actually make anything happen. And so, instead of coming to America draped in a flag and carrying a cross, America was very lucky that fascism came knocking wearing a dunce cap and violently filling its pants, all the time swearing that you’re smelling daisies.
So, analysis? Thing Bad. That much is obvious. But what to do now? Well, I’ll tell you the number one thing NOT to do: pay attention. DO. NOT. FEED. THE. TROLL. Don’t wring your hands and bemoan the fall of bipartisanship, civility, or whatever fetish MSNBC is going on about this week. Don’t cluck your tongues and wag your finger at the vulgarity, in fact, don’t say anything. Don’t do anything. Ignore the President. Whatever you do, do not prolong the show. Don’t indulge him. Ignore him. Don’t let him know he matters, because he does not exist in good faith. He exists only to make things worse.
Do you know what happens to online trolls when you don’t feed them? They crave attention, they are desperate for that next hit of validation. So what do they do? They get bigger, louder, nastier. And, eventually, they become so crazed in their pursuit of their fucked-up concept of glory that they do something very, very dangerous… and they get nailed for it. There’s no more perfect example of this than what befell the “YouTube Shouty Man” community, who started off getting attention by telling flat-earthers they were stupid, but then had to get bigger and angrier to keep an audience desensitized to the old format… and before you know it you’re discussing whether the Jewish Question was necessarily a bad idea and you’ve lost half your subscribers, and with it half your income.
Trolls always take it too far if you ignore them, because they want your attention and will do anything to get it. Now obviously this is a little different when you’re dealing with a man who literally has his finger on the button, but the same core idea works: do not feed the trolls. When he says something stupid because he wants a headline, ignore him. When he does something that is clearly illegal, laugh at him and call him an idiot… and then let it go. When he becomes overtly fascist, mock him. When he starts waving a gun around, then you step in to stop it. As we saw by the famous anonymous letter, there’s enough people in there to keep him from annihilating humanity.
Imagine what would happen if this clown had a press conference and the media went on strike. If they turned off the cameras and walked out when he said something stupid, and went back to the studio to talk about, I don’t know, poverty or our horribly broken healthcare system. Imagine if it reduced the President to a tiny echo chamber of yes-men, robbed of the attention he so desperately craves and draws his power from, until he finally does something so bananas that it’s all over.
Part of the problem is our current system of mindless, inhuman psychocapitalism where profits matter overall. Trolls do what they do because they see a “profit” in attention. News media is constantly desperate to find the latest, most sensational, sexiest story because then they can profit from the attention and profit monetarily. There’s no thought into any possible implications, effects, or danger that comes with these decisions, only that something was got that benefits the person. The Ayn Rand-inspired “greed-is-good” ethos of Reaganism, where the only thing that matters is that you “got yours” is now starting to pay horrible, horrible dividends where the supposed news channel is more concerned with wardrobe malfunctions that people dying in the streets. As MSNBC anchor Chris Hayes, covering climate change is a “ratings killer.” And no ratings means no profits, therefore under psychocapitalism it is not important, even if it might mean the end of the world.
So it’s up to the 90s kids to fight back with the most 90s of emotions: weaponized snark and apathy. Mock the fascists. Laugh at the fascists. But most importantly, don’t take them seriously. Especially this early on in their renaissance when they’re more like LARPers or boys trying on Daddy’s fatigues. Much like vampires, these ghouls can’t influence our country, our politics, and our lives if we don’t invite them in. Keep these freaks marginalized on the fringes of society, and they can Sieg Heil all they want into the void. When they try to make themselves heard, show up by the thousands to tell them how stupid they are. Don’t tell them you find them scary, or powerful, because that’s what they want. Don’t feed the trolls. Laugh at them. And most importantly, move on.
Eventually, the troll will trip over their own stupidity, blame someone else (possibly one of their troll buddies) and the whole thing comes crashing down. This is why fascism is self-defeating: it requires a singular mind to obey without question, but we’re all humans and we all make mistakes and we all do stupid things sometimes. If you instead fall into lock-step with a movement that needs shock and attention to survive, a movement that, as Umberto Eco wrote, has to be forever fighting “enemies are at the same time too strong and too weak,” then it is sad, hilarious, and pathetic on its face. Don’t let them ever convince you that they have ever been, or will ever be, anything but.
So I’m not seeing if anyone else has mentioned this, so I’ll go ahead and put on my “I got a useless History degree” hat, adjust my pocket protector, settle my taped-up glasses and dive in.
So, when the Constitution was first written and came into force in 1789, it contained Article I, Section 2, Clause 5 which reads:
The House of Representatives shall chuse their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.
Pretty cut and dried, no? Yet, I’ve seen more than a few complaints that this system isn’t exactly the best, as it basically relies on a convoluted and heavily partisan system to replace a badly acting officer with, often, his own hand-picked second-in-command, which doesn’t seem like much of a punishment or penalty. This is particularly true now, with the worry that a Presidency of MikePencemight be evenworsethan the rampaging chaos of the Trump Presidency.
So why does this seemingly broken plan for removing bad actors from office exist? Well, like most things in American that are broken, we can blame partisan politicians putting their own positioning and legacy above what’s good for the country. You see, this system of impeachment would work much better at discouraging dirty deeds if the larger system it existed as a part of hadn’t been fiddled with. Now get ready…
The Electors shall meet in their respective states and vote by ballot for President and Vice-President, one of whom, at least, shall not be an inhabitant of the same state with themselves; they shall name in their ballots the person voted for as President, and in distinct ballots the person voted for as Vice-President, and they shall make distinct lists of all persons voted for as President, and of all persons voted for as Vice-President, and of the number of votes for each, which lists they shall sign and certify, and transmit sealed to the seat of the government of the United States, directed to the President of the Senate; — the President of the Senate shall, in the presence of the Senate and House of Representatives, open all the certificates and the votes shall then be counted; — The person having the greatest number of votes for President, shall be the President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed; and if no person have such majority, then from the persons having the highest numbers not exceeding three on the list of those voted for as President, the House of Representatives shall choose immediately, by ballot, the President. But in choosing the President, the votes shall be taken by states, the representation from each state having one vote; a quorum for this purpose shall consist of a member or members from two-thirds of the states, and a majority of all the states shall be necessary to a choice. [And if the House of Representatives shall not choose a President whenever the right of choice shall devolve upon them, before the fourth day of March next following, then the Vice-President shall act as President, as in case of the death or other constitutional disability of the President. –]* The person having the greatest number of votes as Vice-President, shall be the Vice-President, if such number be a majority of the whole number of Electors appointed, and if no person have a majority, then from the two highest numbers on the list, the Senate shall choose the Vice-President; a quorum for the purpose shall consist of two-thirds of the whole number of Senators, and a majority of the whole number shall be necessary to a choice. But no person constitutionally ineligible to the office of President shall be eligible to that of Vice-President of the United States.
How’s THAT for padding out the article?
Essentially, what happened was we changed from a system where the President was the one who got the most votes (in the Electoral College) and the Vice President was the one who got the second-most votes (in the Electoral College) to a system where the Prez & Vice Prez run on the same ticket and are voted on as one unit.
Under the original system, we could have had President Trump and Vice President Clinton. Technically, if both Trump and Pence had gotten the same number of electoral votes, the contingent election would have been between Trump and Pence, but as we saw in America’s first few elections there were often many other candidates getting electoral votes (in a much more democratic looking breakdown than what we have today) and it would be plausible to say in that system, we may have been even looking at a Pence v. Clinton final, or possibly some other situation with the House of Representatives casting ballots for states in a contingent election… and we all know how good the House is at coming together on a topic.
One can probably understand now how, with the impeachment system that was put in but never changed would have worked a little better back then than today. Oh, and in case you’re wondering why the system got so flummoxed that they had to switch to the Twelfth Amendment, while at the same time doing nothing to also amend the removal process, all signs point to what we call, in the biz, Partisan Dickery:
The Democratic-Republicans chose Jefferson, and the Federalists nominated Vice Pres. John Adams. Neither party was able to decide on a vice presidential candidate. At the time, however, the Constitution—not having anticipated the rise of the party system—stated that the candidate with the second highest total of votes would become vice president.
It was oddly difficult to find research on this topic. Political parties, which Washington himself warned against in his farewell address, went into business for themselves and put in place a system that was more about cementing power than it was about holding people accountable. If anyone says that the country is too divided now and partisan tribalism whatever is a modern phenomenon… well, take a look at the Adams/Jefferson years and you might change your mind.
And would repealing the 12th Amendment make things more “small-d” democratic? Possibly, but the electoral college is still a piece of outdated, antiquated, and oligarchy-friendly garbage that should have been removed years ago… but it helps certain people stay in power. Funny how that works.
I say, repeal the 12th and the Electoral College all in one go. Popular vote only: first place is the President, second place Vice President. Not only would that allow the selection process to be more democratic, but it would also inject a lot more accountability into what is becoming the least-accountable office on the planet.
Fascism is a self-defeating ideology. In every case of a full-blown fascist government, and even those with budding fascist tendencies, you get to a point where supporters of the fascists have to start saying, doing, and believing ridiculous things. Fascism, after all, comes from the Latin fasces, which was a bundle of wooden rods or sticks. Keep the sticks bundled, Fascism says, and you can’t break them. Never break from formation, never question, never ever let the idea get into your mind that the group doesn’t have the right answers and the best interests in mind.
But, as we know from every college freshman who thinks he has unlocked the linchpin of Communism, human nature tends to muddle things a bit. Things will go wrong. Things will get out of control. If you allow someone to believe they are right 100% of the time, if you never question or even think that they might be wrong, they will eventually start to believe that they can do no wrong… and that’s where things get terrifying.
So we know Fascism is bad. Well, most of us do. We’re told from an early age that America is good because of freedom and democracy and Mom and apple pie and what have you… so why do the American people, increasingly in the past 20 years, seem to support actions, candidates and platforms that are increasingly anti-democratic, anti-freedom, and proto-fascist? We want to believe that people are inherently good and just and prone to democracy, but History proves out that democracy is something that must be won and maintained, not just implied. Consider, for a moment, if many, many people would be willing to sacrifice democracy. What if a bunch of folks just did not care about the ideas that are supposedly integral to our liberal democracy? What makes the idea of fascism or authoritarianism or totalitarianism so appealing?
Because he makes the trains run on time.
It’s an oft-repeated little chestnut of History, and one that turns out to be not true, it seems, but in the era of Fake News, is it really that surprising that a lie gains more traction than the truth? The most important thing to look at (and something our current news media conveniently continues to forget to do) is not THAT the lie is accepted… but WHY. Far too often you see the easy, lazy excuses put forth by J.D. Vance in Hillbilly Elegy: that they’re just dumb, they don’t know any better, or they didn’t put in the hard work to figure it out. Ironically, the same things that were said about poor blacks in America by Dixiecrats are now being said about poor whites by the Neoliberals. But it’s not as easy as a moral judgment. It’s not as easy as saying it’s someone’s else’s fault. The WHY behind these lies getting accepted is just as much the fault of you reading this as it is mine and our entire broken system of psychocapitalism.
People want to believe the trains run on time. People want to believe that a proto-fascist they voted for isn’t a terrible idea, but the trains are going to run on time. There are going to be benefits… maybe not for everyone, but maybe those folks didn’t deserve it. Yeah, that sounds right, it’s their fault. They didn’t deserve it like I did. Black folks are just more likely to get locked up; it’s not a systemic problem. All those kids with no future prospects just should have worked harder, it’s not that the system is built to fail for 98% of the population. I’d rather excuse horrible behavior from my government and have peace of mind than have to admit this entire system needs an overhaul… because if the trains run on time, I’m all right.
The sin is not in electing fascists, or supporting them. The sin is in not working to reform the situation when you are aware of it. The sin is in the rationalization, the convincing of yourself that this really isn’t as bad as other people say it is, and if everyone just stopped being so awful they could succeed, too. For forty years, all of us were told over and over about the glory of American Exceptionalism and Rugged Randian Individualism and the Dogma of Hard Work Above All, to the point where anyone struggling has it drilled into their head that it must be their fault that they are struggling. And, in those desperate times, comes a man who says it isn’t your fault. This is correct, as the system is broken at the top, but instead this man offers something easier. He points to the bottom, those even underneath you in your sorry state, and says it’s someone else’s fault. That guy over there who doesn’t look like you or talk like you or think like you. He can make things better for you, and you are so desperate… what can you do? At this point, you’ll do anything to stop the bleeding. So you vote for them, and then you think you have to defend them. After all, I supported this government because it benefits me… I can’t be wrong… can I?
We were all wrong, but it’s not our fault. We just want to be happy, it’s how humans are. But now, with the mask off and an unashamedly kleptocratic administration running the country, doing its best to loot the till, knowing full well that their policies may very well cause the next Great Depression… we have no choice but to fight it. We read in our History books how Mussolini was bad because he was a fascist, and needed to be fought. We read how people, desperate for some good news, supported fascism, even with all its evils, on the promise of returned greatness and punctual trains. It is now our duty to look 100 years into the future to see what folks may say about us, about our time, and about our action… or lack thereof. People may have installed this government because they wanted the trains to run on time, but the people also have the power to remove it, even if it costs us in the short term.
Because, at the end of the day, a few late trains is worth it.
We’re seeing it happen on both sides of our two-party system. At the DNC, members loyal to the center-left campaign of Bernie Sanders are being drummed out to make room for lobbyists and other good soldiers. At the same time, the DNC is demanding that Sanders, who is currently the most popular politician in the country, even with supporters of his primary opponent, run as a Democrat. This isn’t really to say the DNC is ready to take on Bernie’s globally-centrist platform, but rather that they want to appear to care. This is evidenced as a purge claiming to want diversity that just so happens to throw out longtime members who just so happen to be loyal to progressive candidates. On the Republican side, we’re seeing retiring senators and former President start to draw lines in the sand against the current reign of terror from an unstable Republican President. Both of these moves send the same message: these people are not us. We are sensible in regard to the status quo. We like it here. We will not rock the boat. Please give us donations.
The fact that it’s only retiring Republicans or those already out of office speaking out against this President while those still in office or seeking re-election have to pussy-foot around the truth speaks volumes. This isn’t about doing what’s right for the American people. This isn’t about actually fighting back or resisting this President’s repugnant agenda. It’s people in no political danger drawing a distinction between the more radical wing of their party in order to save their party from almost guaranteed electoral defeat in the future from a bigger, younger, and more progressive rising demographic. The point here isn’t to make anything better, it’s to keep it as it is, with sly politicians throwing out useless phrases on the campaign trail only to immediately support their own oligarchy once in power. If These senators really were interested in fighting back, they would run as independents or form a splinter party. By not doing so, they are broadcasting loud and clear that they don’t have any issue with the awful messages this President belches onto Twitter; they just wish he would be quieter about it so as not to give the game away. We’ve got a good thing going here.
The same can be said for the ruling Democrats. By purging those supportive to people like Bernie Sanders or Keith Ellison, they are sending a clear message: don’t mess up this good thing we have going. If one were to be a bit more conspiracy-minded, one could think that maybe those in power realize their days are numbered and the economy is poised for another crash, and are just fighting back the tide long enough to make their money and get out. In reality, it may be closer to simple mob mentality: these are my friends, and we are all doing well, so why would we actively work to jeopardize that? This line of thinking causes a campaign to declare “America is Already Great” while more than half of the country fears bankruptcy from an emergency expense. We’ve got a good thing going, so clearly things must be great, because all of us here in this governing council are doing just fine, and anyone who dares to say otherwise must be removed.
The message is clear: the oligarchy is circling the wagons and hedging its bets on both sides by trying to draw a false equivalency between the budding fascism of Trump and the global centrism of Sanders. Anything and everything to keep the good thing they’ve got going for just a little bit longer.
Minnesota has gone “blue” in every Presidential election since 1976. Three times since, it has been the only state out of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa and both Dakotas to vote Democratic. In 1984, as quipped by Homer Simpson, Minnesota was the only state won by Walter Mondale, not counting the District of Columbia. In 2010, when the rest of the country went under a red tide caused by the Tea Party, Minnesota kicked out its bumbling Republican governor Tim Pawlenty and voted in the awkward-yet-competent Mark Dayton, and let’s not forget the state’s brief flirtation with third-party governor and former Body-Breaker Jesse Ventura.
Heck, even the state’s “blue” party doesn’t call itself the Democrats: it’s the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party due to a 1944 fusion between a swiftly-desegreating Democratic party and a populist Farmer-Labor party that had actually successfully installed three governors pre-1944. Maybe this commitment to social issues comes from the idea of “Minnesota Nice,” a phenomenon noted by outside visitors who note that, even if they are upset, Minnesotans seems to be by and large a kind, forgiving, and compassionate people who don’t like it when folks go in for themselves, which may explain Trump’s drubbing in the Republican caucus last year and Wendell Anderson’s fall from grace… but more on Wendy later.
Political niceness isn’t Minnesota-centric: Wisconsin, with a few early-20th-century flirtations with electoral compassion in the form of Fightin’ Bob LaFollette’s Progressive Party, is the only other state in the region that can hold a candle to Minnesota. Only Minnesota and South Dakota went for Teddy Roosevelt’s Bull Moose Progressivism in 1912, but Wisconsin did turn out at the only Progressive state in 1924 for favorite son LaFollette. Minnesota was the only state in the region that did, and still does, flaunt the two-party hegemony as much as anyone can these days. In fact Minnesota seems to wear its distrust and even contempt of the current accepted political reality as a badge of pride… and they have good reason to.
Because they keep being right.
Minnesota was backing progressive causes like union rights, progressive income tax, equal pay for women, and collective bargaining years before it caught on elsewhere in the country thanks to third-party governor Floyd Olson in the 1930s. In the 60s, progressive senators like Hubert Humphrey, Eugene McCarthy and Walter Mondale continued making sure that Minnesota was on the cutting edge of progressivism compared to other states at the time. Further on, senators like Paul Wellstone and, to a lesser extent, current senators Klobuchar and Franken are considered relatively progressive voices in a Senate more in control by oligarchy fat-cats than at any time since the previous Gilded Age. At the state level, Governor Dayton may go down in history for his decision to tax the rich when nearly every other state was pushing austerity, leading to some of the best post-recession numbers in the Midwest. But it was a governor that came before Dayton, one Wendell Anderson, that I want to be sure to talk about.
Wendy Anderson was only 37 years old when he was elected governor by a comfortable 9 point margin in 1970. He ran on a bold and baldly progressive platform that promised to change the way local schools and governments were funded. The plan boiled down to revenue sharing, where money from the richer sections of the state would be shared throughout the state to poorer communities desperately in need of funding. Today, one particular propaganda network might foam at the month and jump up and down screaming about “redistribution” or “socialism,” but the single fact of the matter was that it worked. It worked so well that it became a model for other states, got Minnesota on the cover of Time Magazine, and worked pretty darn well until the aforementioned bumbling Pawlenty gutted it and, in a surprise to no one, threw local budgets and school funding back into turmoil. But hey, as long as rich people can keep getting richer.
Oh, and I almost forgot: after Anderson ran on such a pinko-commie socialist pipe dream, a pie-in-the-sky, unrealistic fairy-dusting unicorn pony rainbow platform, his re-election in 1974 looked a little something like this:
Anderson not only won every single county in the state (look it up), but he also won more than 62% of the vote, which is a total strangely similar to the vote percentage scored by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 primary. So, as it turns out, running as a progressive and actually enacting policies that help people in their homes, their neighborhoods, and their pocketbooks is an incredibly successful means of ensuring you get re-elected. Who knew?
There’s all sorts of think pieces asking what the Democrats need to do to win, but the answer is simple. Be less like the corporate Democrats at the trough for massive corporations and corrupt billionaires of all affiliations, and be for the people. In this time where everyone is panicking about what to do, the answer is simple: look to the Star of the North and say “Minnesota? Nice.”
Time for an uncomfortable admission: I’m 32 years old and I love Sum 41’s “Fat Lip.”
I can’t help it. Pop Punk was all over the place when I was in high school: from Sum 41 to Good Charlotte to Bowling for Soup, they had a fairly outsized influence on my formative years. After all, it was either that or listen to the Pogues on repeat, and in a small rural Minnesota high school even my own sister told me to knock it off.
It was almost liberating, though, to hear this sort of stuff getting airplay on the pop stations. After seeing my older brothers thumb their noses at authority with bands like Nirvana and even once-scandalous acts like Green Day in the early 90s, my generation was cast into a stagnant pool of boy bands, pop tarts and, dare I even say it, country music. So when something came along that sounded like a sanitized version of the hardcore stuff our older siblings rocked out to, we were ready to ride whatever train didn’t feature choreographed dance numbers. What we didn’t realize at the time, though, was that Pop Punk was an attempt to control the anti-establishment energy that punk and grunge had created. Yet, at the same time the ultimately short-sighted captains of industry were lining up their $600 Italian leather loafers in the sights of a gold-plated pistol when the broad, simplistic ideas of pop-punk crashed headlong into a New Gilded Age.
Pop Punk was an attempt to capitalize on the angry, disaffected “fuck you I won’t do what you tell me” ethos of the grungy 1990s. The only problem was, as a capitalist venture they were more concerned with getting it out fast and cheap. Manufacture the band, manufacture the music, and ape as much of what was popular the last time round as quickly and cheaply as possible. As a result, all the edges were sanded off and the whole product was dunked in Listerine, creating a sanitized and marketable product. The problem was they were in such a hurry to make a buck they didn’t think about what exactly they were trying to make a buck from. Any irony or self-awareness that might have been part of the 90s movement was scrapped for a more appealing and marketable product. As the suits learned with Cobain, nihilism doesn’t continue sell well enough if the guy kills himself. This was a nihilistic, anti-establishment, and in some cases overtly anarchistic movement, and the music spoke in that language even if the packaging was squeaky-clean.
So rather than get a nuanced approach, we get bands like Sum 41 playing it entirely straight. We had lyrics telling the listener to buck tradition, reject the status quo, and not become “another casualty of society,” which obviously clashed with the cash-grab nature of the business, a fact many people have pointed out. And what happens when the kids who see this anti-establishment message on MTV or hear it on the radio every day grow up and make decisions? Well, thanks to an adult society also weaned on the Reagnite/Randian toxic cocktail of psychoticly rugged individualism, they’ve been carefully cultured to not listen. Even bubble gum could be a revolutionary statement, and being an individual, an original and fighting the system was drilled into an entire generation for years. The only problem is, it was being translated by marketing hacks without any sort of nuance. It was revolution for revolution’s sake, and nowhere in these songs or commercials did you see anyone saying “now now, let’s be reasonable and accept that real change happens gradually.” You instead got a never-ending parade of skateboarding punks sticking it to “the man” and drinking soda. The only way to be cool, said the culture, was to fight the system, and now the Boomers who wrote those ads and co-opted that movement wonder why the kids won’t listen? You told them not to!
Funny thing is, if capitalism had just taken a bit more time to build a few back doors into the system, or had taken just a little more effort to put that edge of cynicism into it, they would have had an out when things hit the fan. But hey, this is psychocapitalism, and it’s all about get what you can when you can as fast as you can, which is why psychocapitalism is destined to eat itself. You still see attempts at damage control with the “pie in the sky, fairy dust and free ponies” line taken from the establishment, or even Chuck Todd’s latest screed claiming that the establishment is the only way to really get anything done. But, thanks to the short-sighted, profit-hungry marketers and promoters to the Millennial generation, these messages aren’t sinking in and the kids are falling in line. After all, if you do, you just wind up being that creepy lunchlandy or a trite Good Charlotte lyric come to life.
Now all of this wouldn’t be an issue if it weren’t for one thing: turns out all those trite lyrics turned about a lot closer to reality than the marketers and the promoters intended. The grunge kids, while growing up in a recession, entered adulthood into a bubble economy that made it easier to dismiss Cobain’s nihilism as “teen angst,” a “phase” or whatnot. The WTO protestors in the late 90s eventually calmed down, got jobs, had kids, moved to the suburbs and assimilated… all things Millennials were banking on doing as well. Again, thanks to the lack of foresight and capitalism’s reliance on boom and bust, the Millennials didn’t get that, and instead had every bit of the manufactured media’s tone-deaf talking points verified: the system is crooked, and only those who reject it and act as individuals will survive. Suddenly, it didn’t matter if you were top of your class or the stoner in the back of the room, because you’re both flipping burgers. Any pretense to following the rules and rejecting the anti-establishment message as youthful transgressions fell apart when it turns out trying to conform actually was a terrible idea. Being part of the crowd just makes you another guy at Bear Stearns cleaning out his desk, but being a stinky, conniving, bend-the-rules individual who no one liked made you Steve Jobs. In a topsy-turvy world like the post-Recession one Millennials found themselves in after paying way too much for college, revolution doesn’t seem like the craziest idea anymore. After all, why should it? We were told in everything from our food to our music to our movies to our video games that you can’t trust the system, and then that system turned out to be just as horrible as they said it was.
And those in power brought this on themselves by not being able to, or not wanting to, see the bubbles before they burst.
Ask any Baby Boomer and they can tell you: it all started going wrong around Nixon. But why? Nixon has been dead for 23 years now, and yet things have not improved for the majority of working Americans. The economy is the engine that drives our prosperity, so why has it been stalled for millions of us since the 1970s? I’m no economist, but I do know that the rich have gotten richer and the poor have gotten poorer, to where simple basic needs are out of reach for thousands of us. What happened?
Put simply, we were lied to. We were told that we needed to try something different to shake the malaise back in the 70s, and we rightly decided to give it a try. Doing the same thing and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity, after all. And so a new group of power-brokers came to America with a plan: invest in us, give us the money in the form of tax breaks, loopholes, and deregulation, and we’ll start making so much money that it’ll make your head spin. And what’s more, we’ll have so much money that our pockets will overflow and trickle down to all of you, and we’ll all share in the prosperity.
But they lied.
They got our money: money we gave up from our towns, our schools, our local way of life, because you have to bet big to win big, after all. But, when the money started coming in, they took that money that was supposed to trickle down to us and ran off with it, hiding it in offshore accounts, managed bankruptcies, stock buybacks, and other tricks of the trade. The only thing that did trickle down, it seemed, were the taxes, as by cutting them up top meant our tiny towns and neighborhoods were suddenly on the hook for more and more of our local operations, while those at the top took money we trusted in them to buy another mega-yacht.
It was a bad investment. And any broker would tell you that you have every right to ask for your money back.
We’re not stealing from the mega-rich, we’re just asking for the money back we invested in them to begin with. We want higher taxes on the rich for no other reason than to get the money back we were promised and put it back into our schools and our neighborhoods. That’s your money they ran off with, and you have every right to demand we soak the rich and get your money back.
2018 is an election that will be won on whatever candidate best comes up with a plan to serve the basic needs of a growing majority of Minnesotans and Americans. These are tough times for many, many people, and whichever candidate best understands that will win. DFL candidates need to show that there is a reason we are not called Democrats; we need to dust off the legacy of the Farmer-Labor party and nourish Minnesota’s strongly progressive roots before the tree dies. The progressive traditions of Orville Freeman, Wendell Anderson, Hubert Humphrey, Walter Mondale, Paul Wellstone and countless other Happy Warriors are what have made Minnesota the beacon of human rights it is today, but Hillary Clinton only won Minnesota by 1.5% last November. Minnesota’s progressive armor is tarnished, but not destroyed, and the way forward does not lie through establishment politics. It lies through the old, tried-and-true methods of the left: listening, laboring, and legislation to serve people’s basic needs first and foremost.
And I do mean basic needs: food, water, and shelter. This system of brutal, no-holds-barred psychocapitalism has gone so far and cut so deep that to even ask anything beyond that is to risk looking like an out-of-touch elite. 2018 won’t be won on social issues, it will be won on lunch-pail issues. We’re talking about a return to old-school, New Deal era policies of chickens in pots and shovels in hands. The fiction put forth in 1976’s film Network has become reality: We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat. Massive corporate influence greases the wheels to allow food that doesn’t nourish, water that kills, and healthcare that puts profits before health. The richest country in the world can’t seem to spend money to deliver clean, safe drinking water to Flint or any of the thousand other towns without access to safe water. A campaign in 2018 needs to be able to promise to never stop fighting to bring healthy food and water to every citizen, not just those who write the checks, along with shelter not only from escalating climate change but also from sickness and disease, including the devastating affects of over-prescribed opiods. Shelter comes not only in the form of good homes and and strong infrastructure, but also clean energy and single payer healthcare to preserve our future and guarantee we can live to see it.
Times really are that bad; anyone out here in Greater Minnesota will tell you that. We need to have our basic needs covered, and after 30 years of Reaganomics have bled us dry in the small towns and rural areas, we’re ready to try something else. At the end of the day it comes down to securing basic needs for people, which is how a 74-year-old Jewish Socialist from Vermont ended up winning double the votes in Minnesota. When you reach a certain point, you stop caring about what your neighbor is choosing to do in their life, and focus instead on how to save your own. That’s what we need to promise people. That’s how we can win.
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 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?
“…I was a Senator from New York. I knew these people and I knew what they did for the economy and I knew what they did to the economy. And I think that speaking to them, raising questions — which I did in 2008 and 2009 — you know, people have no reason to know this, but in the 2008 campaign before the Iowa caucus, I actually ran an ad about the looming mortgage crisis. So I have to say, Walt, I never thought that anybody would throw out my entire career of standing up and speaking out and voting against and voting in favor of what I thought are good policies, because I made a couple of speeches.”
Hillary is upset that times have changed. Hillary is upset that things she did, said, and attained years ago are suddenly of no use to her in her current ambitions. Hillary feels betrayed by a system that it seemed was building her up for something wonderful, only to have it taken away despite her doing everything she thought she was supposed to do. Hillary is upset that a few actions are taken out of context and used to brand her as entitled, spoiled, or out of touch. Hillary Clinton is upset that everyone is choosing now, after everything is said and done, to suggest and lecture her on what to do, how she should have done it, or what personal failings were the real and true cause of her failure to launch.
Welcome, sister Hillary, to the angst of the Millennial. Brother Bernie will be speaking soon about how we got a raw deal. Grab a locally sourced, ethically traded cup of coffee and sit down to chat with us over organic avocado toast that we bargained away our future homes for. You just might find we have a lot in common, now that we have stopped killing everything and come out of our parents’ basements.
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.
Pragmatism. The word has reached a near-sacredstatus 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: 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?
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.
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 highestseats 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.
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.
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, fakefood, 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 healthcare, 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.
Each generation of Progressives paints a picture for their children not of how things were in their time, but of how they wished it was. This is why you get the supposedly race-neutral Baby Boomers who fought for Civil Rights in the 60s overcompensating with their surprise when their Gen X white daughter brings home a black boyfriend. See the same for Gen X parents now trying to seem hip to the gay acceptance movement, and possibly Millennials to their more trans-accepting children in the near future.
Meanwhile, the children are confused as to why their parents act so strangely. After all, this is the world their parents always told them they should accept, so why does this acceptance seem so ill-fitting on their parents? Because the parents weren’t really non-racist, non-homophobic or non-transphobic by and large… but they really wanted to be, and they knew they should be, but generations of learned behavior are harder and harder to un-learn.
Societal progress, it seems, can be measured simply by the following generation’s ease and ability to look at the worries of their parents and say “who cares?”
Child of the 80s, family of the 70s, parents of the 60s