Monday, February 06, 2017

Can't do this halfway

If there is going to be a sustained and effective #resistance to Trumpistas it must also rid us of the rot and corruption that allowed them to rise in the first place.  That resistance, then, can't be half-assed.    
An anti-Trump resistance movement must be broad, but it must direct its anger and energy not just at the enemy in the White House, but the failed leadership that let him get there. The Tea Party movement couldn’t have emerged with Bob Dole and George W Bush among their leaders. We can’t build our anti-Trump resistance, settled with generations of unpopular Democratic party leaders either.

The alternative must come from below – and certainly protests like the Women’s March are inspiring starts. Millions marched, many of whom had never attended a political protest before. It was hopefully a sign of things to come. Yet it is crucial that we know what this broad movement is for, as well as what it is against.
Once we are finished punching out the Nazis, we have to replace them with a kind of politics that responds directly to the concerns of poor and working people rather than pretends to do so in order to ease the conscience of upper middle class voters.  If this means a better and more robust Democratic Party, then let's work on making that happen.  If it means we have to replace the Democrats altogether, then we have to be ready to do that too.  It could go either way.  But to that fork in the road is clear.  People have to keep after them.  It's the only thing that has worked so far.

The obstruction, defiance and stiff opposition came after a week of progressive outrage at Democratic elected officials, who activists said were too quick to cave to and normalize Trump’s presidency. Progressive activists, of course, have been criticizing elected Democrats for being too weak for decades. But this time the charge is actually landing, and it’s changing the way the party is positioning itself against Trump.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), in an interview with the L.A. Times editorial board, said the energy coming from the base is “different in kind, certainly different in intensity, than I think we’ve ever seen after an election.”
"The energy is coming from the base." When is the last time anyone can remember such a description of the behavior of congressional Democrats?  These are positive developments even when they are not enough to overcome the dire circumstances. Even if, for example, they don't manage to flip that one last Republican vote necessary to stop the DeVos nomination, it matters that Democrats are learning to listen.

This probably won't prevent any of Trump's cabinet nominees from being confirmed but that's not really what this exercise is for. Instead, it is about reconnecting the broken circuit between the voters, the party's source of power, and its implements, the elected stooges charged with wielding power.  They aren't quite where we'd like them to be yet. The scorecard shows every single one of them (including Bernie Sanders) has failed on at least one vote so far. It's going to be a long hard slog to make them all behave. But they're getting better.

Or, more accurately, we're getting better at applying pressure. The electeds themselves don't really deserve any credit.  In a healthy democracy engaged voters and citizens are the only parties that have legitimate agency. Without their sustained participation, the pols just revert to their natural state doing favors for their peers in the ruling classes.

This doesn't mean we can't get better pols, though.  A successful movement to established a better politics should seek to elect at least marginally better office holders. That's what has to come next. It's what's at the heart of the debate over who should be the next DNC chair. It's an attempt to institutionalize the insurgent energy and grass roots principles that animated the 2016 primaries. The institution is resisting this, though.
Still, it’s a fight that some progressives, emboldened by Sanders’s surprisingly successful run and energetic protests against President Trump, are eager to have.

“Bernie was right,” said Jonathan Tasini, a prominent progressive organizer who is backing Ellison. “The party is in a shambles. For the people who were at the helm to pretend like that isn’t the case is just whistling past the graveyard. This is a fight for the soul of the party and two very different views about what the party should do and stand for. It’s not a bad thing to have that debate.”
There are numerous voices on the institutional Democratic side who deny this is what the chair debate is even about.  Some of them are lying. Other are just oblivious. All are making the mistake of wishing away potentially productive debate in the cause of maintaining their ever-unhelpful retrograde notion of "unity." Remember Mitch Landrieu's oppressive "One City One Voice" campaign?  This is what establishment Democrats gravitate towards.  It is not politics. It is useless and it has to go the way of the dodo. And those among them who cling to it will have to go as well.

Speaking of Mitch, the mayor himself is a prime example of the kind of Democrat we can no longer expect to fight our battles for us.  It's fine if they want to come along with us. For example, when the mayor follows the lead of hundreds of thousands of Americans protesting Trump's travel ban, we should welcome his statement of support. But when he goes to work every day on a program that limits your access to affordable housing or presumes to place us under a regime of intrusive surveillance and arbitrary curfews we should recognize that we are being condescended to rather than represented.

Last week, Mitch participated in a demonstration of TransDev's "driverless bus." The mayor positively beamed at the possibilities of a technology that is, in all practical terms, still very much "vaporware." More to the point, though, he also failed to exhibit even the slightest semblance of concern over the dark implications of such a prodcut if it ever does work well enough to implement.  Kudos to Gambit for picking up on it, at least.
Autonomous vehicles could very well be one of these solutions. Optimistic futurists have speculated self-driving cars could release people from the burden, expense and hassle of car ownership; they could completely change the way urban planners envision cities by eliminating parking lots. As public transit, the technology could help expand routes, increasing the geographic range and frequency of stops on existing transit systems. (There's also a dark side: self-driving cars may put some 5 million jobs at risk over the next several years by eliminating the need for drivers in many sectors.)
TransDev isn't experimenting robot busses in order to offer more efficient service or "make us an ascendant city" as the mayor mused. It's trying to figure out how to fire as many employees as possible.   We can no longer afford to live in a political environment where our representatives lie to us about the profit motives of their "public-private partners."

The same principle which tells us we cannot abide Donald Trump's and Betsy DeVos' privatized vision for education is the same principle that tells us we cannot abide the techno-solutionist non-politics of figures like Mitch Landrieu and the centrist wing of the Democratic Party.  If we're going to knock back some of it we have to aim for all of it.  Doing it halfway is not going to work.

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