Tag Archives: politics

The Soviet Strikes Back

I mentioned in an earlier post how the word “Soviet” comes from a term meaning “governing council,” and the eerie parallels America is currently exhibiting with the fall of the Soviet Union: over-militarization while neglecting the home front, workers being increasingly exploited, and an increased over-reliance on a growing oligarchy class. Now, as the turmoil of the Other Half continues to climb to the boiling point, we see those in positions of power do the only thing they know how to do: purge dissenters.

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? Nice.

Let’s talk about Minnesota.

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:

He won every single county in the state.

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.”

Pop Punk & How the Boomers Played Themselves

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.

And they wonder why we don’t listen.

Get Your Money Back

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.

Basic Needs

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.

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?

 

Hillary Clinton: Millennial

In a recent interview, Hillary Clinton said the following:

“…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.”

Ladies and Gentlemen, meet the newest version of Hillary Clinton. First, there was the young idealist, then first lady, then the health crusader, the beleaguered wife, the senator, the face of the establishment, and now finally, we find ourselves at Hillary Clinton the Millennial.

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.

did a search for "millennials should have"
lol

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.

Leitzen 2018 – 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 2018 – 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.

The value in “Who Cares?”

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?”

Leitzen 2018 – 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.

(BERNIE SANDERS enters.)

SANDERS: Pleasure.

MIDDLE CLASS: Sanders!

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?

PROGRESSIVE: Ah-ha!

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

PROGRESSIVE: Up and up!

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?

MIDDLE CLASS: Yes!

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.

OLIGARCHY: And me?

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 2018 – 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.

Yes.

Let me repeat it for the cheap seats:

STOP TALKING ABOUT HOW BAD TRUMP IS

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.

Liberal Randianism

*This post was originally written November 10, 2016. I didn’t feel comfortable posting it until now, but now that respected authors like Thomas Frank seem to be agreeing, I figured it was okay*

 

Ayn’s Rand’s policies have always been considered of the far-right-fringe variety. But as this week’s colossal electoral bungling has now exhibited, the “got mine, #$%@ you” school of politics is just as alive and well on what is considered the other side of the fence, as well.

For the purposes of this article, I am going to use the word “liberal” in much the way Thomas Frank has in his recent sublime book Listen Liberal. “Liberal” in this article will refer not to an actual left-wing, progressive, old-school-New-Deal style believer in the government’s power to help, but rather an ivory tower intellectual who believes in the supremacy of the professional class with the zeal that a hard-line Communist believes in the workers or a Libertarian believes in the free market. Extremism in any form is dangerous, no matter how good your intentions.

So we have a Liberal Randianism now in play: my desires are paramount, I deserve everything I get and those who don’t get anything are just not good enough. On social media after the election, the objectivism was palpable: what happened to the country, America died, I weep for America, et cetera, et cetera. And yet, for what turned out to be almost half of the country (because the Electoral College is an undemocratic nightmare and anyone with half an interest in progressive politics has been calling for its repeal for decades) their America is renewed. It is born again. It is, to use the zeitgeist, Great Again.

But those people must be wrong. Of course they are. After all, it contradicts with what I think, and we all know I am never wrong. Why, I have a degree, and a job that makes lots of money so I can afford lots of toys, so therefore I’m better than these others who voted wrongly. I deserve this, you don’t, so you should just keep voting for the candidates that give me more, obviously. I mean, it’s not like my own situation could have turned on the blade of a razor and I could be destitute instead in a society that incarcerates more than it educates, that punishes more than it helps. No, it must be that I am of some rarefied earth, blessed to be of the superior kind and all of the rest of you are just dirty proles who don’t know how to vote correctly.

I’m going to say some uncomfortable things right now. As a real liberal, as a progressive, you shouldn’t be rich. You should barely be comfortable in your life. You shouldn’t feel superior, in fact you should live every day in the fear that it could all be taken away from you in an instant, and that you thank whatever you choose to pray to that you have what you have in this moment. There should be no hubris in a liberal party, no assurances of victory or blind loyalty. There should be no guarantees that you can scheme and triangulate your way into power by cannily playing the big money with the little people. Indeed, there should be no concept of “in power” because your ultimate judge in this situation is the people you represent, and even being in a position where you think you have power over someone else is not what liberalism is about. You try for every vote, every district, every state and every person because they  are people and God damn it they have value as more than pawns in your game.

To be a liberal is to be nervous, to be worried, to be forever wondering if you’ve done enough. It doesn’t make us weak, it makes us strong. It doesn’t mean we lack strength, it means we have gained a soul. Liberals lost their way when they started to try to balance New Deal populism with Ayn Rand-style objectivism in their political quests for power and glory. And now, after 30 years of trying to play the majority of the population for fools to line their pockets, liberals are having a reckoning of their own. Neoliberalism should be buried along with Hillary Clinton’s aspirations, as both are anathema to what it means to be on the left. It is time to return to our roots and become the Party of the People once more, and not the Party of the Personal Pocketbook. There is a young, roiling mass of American humanity ready to take action and turn this country around, and I say it is time to suffer the children and let them take control. It’s the least the older generations can do after applying the rod for so long.

We just might make America “Great Again,” but this time it will be great for all of us.

Cut the Cleverness, Please?

Part of me swelled looking at the pictures coming in from various resistance movements and efforts over this past week. Never before have this many Americans been united enough to come out in the streets and rally, and that’s a fantastic thing. For some folks, it might be their first dabble with radicalism and we need to make sure it isn’t the last. Things gotta change, and we need you to do it, so come join the party.

It won’t always be joyful marches an a feeling of victory, however. And when that eventually happens you can’t get discouraged. You can get angry, yes, but not discouraged. Most importantly, there will come a time where it won’t feel fun anymore, or like you’re really making a difference, and that’s when you’ll need to try even harder. Sadly, we won’t have a People Power Revolution like in the Philippines or a Singing Revolution like Estonia. It’s going to get ugly and you’re going to have to get ready to defend yourself, your movement, and your country. For millions of people now… possibly even billions, this is deadly serious. As such,  we may want to look into being a little less clever in what we’re calling the “resistance” to Trump. It reminds me of an old joke I heard from Chris Rock:

“If you see a homeless guy with a funny sign, he hasn’t been homeless that long.”

Humor and cleverness are great rhetorical and political tools… but there’s a limit to what cleverness can do. In fact, it was an over-reliance on cleverness that got the Democrats into this mess to begin with. We can be so clever that we can take the big banks’ money and still help the little guy, because our baking is so clever and we’ve made the system so complex and so clever that everyone can win. Truly, our Ivy League cleverness, beyond that of mere mortals, will be what saves this nation!

Or not.

Let me give you some perspective from what punk rocker Mike Ness calls “Down Here With The Rest Of Us.” We don’t care that you have a degree. We don’t care that you are the smartest person in your cocktail circuit. We don’t care that the ACA is super complex and it takes someone who is super clever to understand its nooks and crannies. We don’t care that government is so complex that only self-proclaimed “wonks” can understand it, and most of all we don’t care about how clever you yourself feel. We care about being fed. Having a home. Having healthcare. Having kids.

For those of us down here, working multiple jobs, trying to afford the life that came much easier to previous generations, cleverness won’t get us mobilized. It won’t get us marching next to you, no matter how many clever signs you make or timely crocheted hats you don. We can’t afford cleverness. We can’t afford to organize a march, get permits, make a statement, and then go home. If we’re going to march, it’s got to be for the long haul. It’s got to be for the guarantee that we’re taking off work, or being away from our families, for something more than just disapproval and witty sayings.

Does that mean things might get ugly? Oh yeah. But it’s hard to fight back against fascism without getting a little dirty. Ask the Hungarians. Ask the Poles. At the end of the day, when the question is asked of you “what are you prepared to do?” the answer has to be “everything.” If it’s not, you won’t have the working class behind you.

I hobbled away from a “Save Our Healthcare” rally two weeks ago feeling worse than when I got there. There were lots of pretty signs, and lots of speakers sounding like a left-wing version of the Tea Party, but what I didn’t see were people actually looking to fight for any change that might inconvenience them, or worse, make them look like a dangerous radical to their Facebook friends.

If you walked away from a rally over the past month feeling good, you did it wrong. This isn’t about feeling good. This isn’t about winning or losing. This isn’t about being superior. It’s about doing the right thing, even when every fiber of your being is terrified for what might happen when you do. For those of us struggling, and those of us close enough to the struggle to feel its heat singe our toes, it’s not enough to feel good about marching or rallying. If you really want to bring change, you have to be ready to stand up, stay angry, keep fighting, get out in the streets, and maybe cause some trouble. Take everything you thought you knew about yourself, or everything you wished people knew about you, and throw it away.

With American Fascism on our doorstep, none of that matters now. If we’re too comfortable and pleased with ourselves to risk it all, then nothing will ever come of this resistance. Put away your pride, your ego, and your own cherished thoughts of party, purity, or victory, and fight for those of us who can’t. If you won’t know, then you can damn well rest assured that they won’t be around to fight when the fascists come for you. And make no mistake, they will come for you.

“Adulting” and the Gaslighting of a Generation

An old psychological term “gaslighting” has been showing up more and more in our daily lexicon, and so has a new psychological term called “adulting.” For years, we’ve seen article after article saying Millennials are lazy, narcissistic, entitled, and not good workers. Imagine my surprise, then, when this article came across my desk today:

Forty-three percent of those surveyed classified as work martyrs were millennials, even though millennials only made up 29 percent of the 5,641 respondents.

Turns out this is the result of a new study done by the Harvard Business Review, finding that, after years of being told they aren’t good enough, aren’t working hard enough, and think they deserve a trophy for just existing, many Millennials are now engaging in the toxic lifestyle known as a “work martyr.” This means they work too hard, too long, and don’t have anything to show for it. After putting up a dogged defense against the Millennial hatred, it seems there’s finally some solid ammunition for fighting back:

Ty Tucker detects a disturbing trend: More millennials are putting in long hours at work with no indication they’re doing more or better work or earning career advancement. In some ways, they’ve become their parents, who put noses to the grindstone over having a balanced life. And that’s not good.

If you’ve been following the narrative on Millennials over the past few years, you might be suffering a sort of rhetorical backlash. Wait, you ask yourself… are Millennials lazy, entitled brats, or are they workaholics with nothing to show for it? Are they in their parents’ basement because they don’t know the value of work, or do they work too much without enough earnings to make it out of the basement? I don’t know what to believe anymore!

Confused? You’re supposed to be. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve just been gaslighted. From Wikipedia:

Gaslighting (or gas-lighting) is a form of psychological abuse in which a victim is manipulated into doubting their own memory, perception, and sanity.

For years, the story has been the same: you’re not working hard enough. You’re not doing enough. It must be your fault. Even though every metric and statistic told you the opposite, you still wanted to believe people you thought were trustworthy: the newsmedia, your bosses, maybe even your parents… but nothing seemed to make sense. If anything, working harder just put you in a worse state, with no life outside of work or with the creeping dread that you’re working for an inherently evil mega-corporation. In this state of confusion (which I years ago linked to literal torture and CIA mind games) you’re ready to believe what the people in authority tell you. You’re ready to be gaslighted.

Enter the term “adulting.”

“Adulting” is a sarcastic term used by Millennials while doing something like paying taxes, fixing your car, or maybe even doing home repairs. The entire genesis of the term came from a fact that, while some of us are over 30 years old now, we don’t feel like we’ve been allowed into that exclusive adult fraternity. In the eyes of your parents, your older siblings, and your bosses, you’re still that spoiled little narcissist who wants a trophy… or maybe you’re not. Maybe, for all you know, they’re ready to accept you as an adult, but after a decade of torment and gaslighting, you’re not sure what to believe anymore. So you sardonically say you’re “adulting” while you pay your bills, all the while feeling nothing like the sort but looking and acting the part.

Millennials don’t feel like they belong, and they have every reason not to: they stand to end up worse off than their parents and grandparents, all while working themselves to death at the now cutely-rebranded “side hustle,” Implying that even someone like a teacher with a full-time job will also have to ferry around drunk folks on the side just to make ends meet. And you wonder why we don’t feel like we’re the same competent, stable adults our parents were.

So who did the gaslighting? Aside from the ever-present corporate news presence, so deep into keeping the status quo that they’ve almost become a Mobius strip of bland talking points, there’s a bit of blame to be placed on Baby Boomers. After all, they were the ones who, by and large, benefited from the postwar prosperity and then turned around and crashed the economy, ensuring their kids and grandkids would be up the creek. Ironically, there’s a fair amount of narcissism and entitlement coming from the Boomer camp, demanding that their days in Woodstock be lionized despite doing almost nothing in the past 30 years to stop income inequality and the New Gilded Age. However, they are the generation that currently controls the media, and so the narrative is upheld: we didn’t do anything wrong, it must be the kids’ fault if they don’t have what we had. Again, it’s ironic that the cognitive dissonance, narcissism and sense of entitlement for their generations accomplishments up to four decades ago, and laziness to do anything since is being projected onto the current youth, who we now know are working their backsides off for little reward.

There’s something even to be said about the Boomers’ desire to be special in their parenting schemes. The much maligned “helicopter parent” is an easy target for the special-snowflake Millennial crowd, but if we turn that light back into the parents’ faces, it doesn’t look too good either. A generation so single-mindedly possessed to be unlike their parents (as most generations are) decided to eschew the distant, hard-nosed postwar parenting for a cuddlier approach, and thus the helicopter parent was born… not just as a rejection of past parenting measures, but as a self-sustaining support mechanism for their current parenting methods into the future. If I’m friends with my kids, the idea goes, they will continue to be happy with me and like me and give me the love I feel my own parents withheld… until, of course, they get old enough to hold it against me that I crippled the economy so I could fatten my stock portfolio. This could explain the almost comically high levels of vitriol aimed at Millennials who dare disobey the Boomers: it’s not that you’re saying something against my generation, it’s that you’re saying something against ME, personally. As Hillary Clinton’s campaign crashed and burned last month, I think we all saw the danger of attaching yourself a little too closely to your politics.

It’s a long road ahead for both of us: Millennials need to learn that it’s okay to take a risk and maybe buy that house for a little dose of happiness, and Boomers need to learn that not everyone will agree that their generation is greater than, well, the Greatest Generation, i.e. their own parents. Millennials have their fair share of problems, like we all do, but it looks like it might finally be time to put the flagellum away and focus on our actual problems, so long as the gaslighting might finally come to an end. For Boomers, your time is running out, but it’s not too late. You’ve still got a  little money and a lot of political power, so use it while you’re still at the top of the heap to make the changes you wanted back when you were a silly, 20-year-old hippie because, oddly enough, it turns out those darn hippies were right. If not, well… you won’t have to worry too much longer. In another ten years, Millennials will start to become the majority of the population and we’ll start to run the country.

Don’t worry; I promise we’ll be merciful.