Ideological Blind Spots

Glenn Greenwald recently retweeted this:

The essence of the elite meltdown over Korea is that these people are materially and cognitively invested in the maintenance of US empire, and when parts of the empire are proposed to be rescinded, they concoct all kinds of convoluted reasons why the status quo must not change.

That needs a revision:

The essence of the meltdown of some of the left over Russia is that these people are materially and cognitively invested in opposition to the Cold War, so when clear evidence of evil being done by Russia to the West emerges, they endlessly deflect from any and all evidence that such evil deeds exist.

I could now proceed rag on the radical left for falling into a pitfall with respect to the current fascist threat, by being so obsessed over remaining true to what was a valid priority, that they now overlook a far more pressing and dire threat.

However, it goes far beyond just the radical left. It seems to me that most ideologies are so mired in past ways of thinking that they can’t grasp the true nature magnitude of the current fascist threat.

Establishment Democrats still cling to the idea that their political triangulation between Reaganite conservatism and the remaining tatters of New Deal liberalism is the path to electoral success. They do so despite the Sanders campaign illustrating how popular leftist ideas can be, and despite the collapse of much of the Reaganite rhetoric of “free” trade and “free” markets illustrating how that ideology has basically died its inevitable death.

Never Trump Republicans are in denial about how there is a seamless continuum between Reaganism and Trumpism, and about how much their policies exacerbated the inequalities and injustices that Trump capitalized on.

Libertarians cling tightly to their classic liberal tenets despite the Paradox of Tolerance, showing a willingness to repeat the mistake of allowing the fascists the freedom to take over society and abolish freedom.

My main concern is what sort of alliance can be strung together to unseat Trumpism, drive it to the periphery, and permanently marginalize it, leaving it to die the death it richly deserves. No one side can do it all. The radical left certainly can’t, given the current lack of class consciousness and raw numbers, and the urgency to do it as soon as possible.

We don’t have time to build a radical movement first. To paraphrase a well-known neocon warmonger, we have to fight Trumpism with the forces we currently have available, not the forces we might wish we have. This means working with the Establishment Democrats and the Never Trumpers, as difficult and distasteful as that might be.

There is historical precedent for this. You think it was easy or simple for Churchill and Roosevelt to cooperate with Stalin? Let me assure you that it was not.

There is also historical precedent the other way. The statist and the non-statist left were incapable of staying united during the Spanish Civil War, primarily due to pressure from Stalin, and (with the exception of Mexico) the refusal of liberal nations to join Stalin in aiding those fighting fascism. This allowed the fascists to gain the upper hand and prevail, plunging that country into a four decades’ long night in which the light of liberty was extinguished.

So yes, I do follow the likes of Bill Kristol and Rachael Maddow regularly, and pay attention to what they are saying. As an antifascist, it is my duty to care about what they are thinking. It is all of our duty. (Note my wording: I said “care about,” not “agree with.” Of course it’s fine to disagree with them—I quite often do myself.)

But rants like “Bill Kristol is a neocon who supported the Iraq War, so why are you paying attention to him (and sometimes agreeing with him) you stupid rube of the Establishment” are not useful. Yes, keep in mind that these people will probably never fully be on our side. Keep in mind it’s going to be a temporary alliance. But also keep in mind that opposing garden-variety neocons and Establishment liberals in the context of a post-Trump bourgeois democracy is a lot better place to be in than opposing fascism in a totalitarian fascist state.

This goes for the other sides in this necessary alliance, too. Don’t refuse to support what anarchists are doing to oppose Trump just because we are opposed to the order you revere. Don’t fall for the idiocy that we are fascists just because we happen to share the level of contempt for the Establishment that fascists do.

Our contempt and that of the fascists comes from opposite ends of the spectrum. Fascists despise the current order because it is too humane and egalitarian. We despise it because it is insufficiently humane and egalitarian. We at least share certain core values like the pursuit of truth and the dignity of the human individual with you. You are much better off in a world where you are opposing us than a world where you are opposing fascists.

If you care about the survival of liberty, then regardless of your personal ideology, you must realize that events in the past few years have forced a decisive realignment of your immediate priorities.

Final Thoughts on the North Korea Summit

It is yet more evidence that Trump is Putin’s puppet. In case you haven’t heard, Putin is the one who advised (or would it be simply told) Trump to stop holding war games with South Korea. I wish I were making this up. The cumulative level of evidence that the president is a treasonous asset of an unfriendly foreign power is like something out of a bad Hollywood movie.

That said, the war games concession is mostly a nothingburger. Trump made it verbally, and as they say, verbal agreements are not even worth the paper they are written on. It can be most easily reneged on later. Bill Clinton made a very similar concession in 1994, and it was later withdrawn.

In the short term, it probably makes the world safer. It’s far better to not have two crazy, nuclear-armed leaders threatening each other with annihilation.

In the longer term, it probably makes the world less safe. Sooner or later, one or both sides is likely to renege. North Korea has made promises identical to the ones it just made many times before, and it’s reneged in the past. There’s nothing whatsoever to indicate this time will be any different; the essential nature of the regime there remains unchanged. Plus, as I already alluded to above, the USA might renege on the verbal commitment to stop holding military exercises. When the reneging starts, expect relations to quickly swirl down the toilet again. Trump in particular will feel slighted and is likely to let his temper get the best of him. This is particularly the case given how Trump has evidently convinced himself that the job of disarming North Korea is mostly a done deal.

Many South Koreans seem quite naïvely optimistic right now. Not having any first-hand knowledge, I don’t know exactly why this is the case. My best guess is that they are tired of all the tensions, just want them to end, and are choosing to reassure themselves by believing in an optimistic future scenario, unrealistic though it may be.

Cuba Is Almost Certainly Not Responsible for the Ailments

Back in January, I wrote here about how the claim that the US Embassy workers who were falling ill were the victim of “Cuban attacks” just didn’t pass the smell test. Well, last April a bunch of Canadian diplomats went home sick from Cuba, showing pretty much the same symptoms.

This really doesn’t pass the smell test for a deliberate, Cuban-government-sponsored, attack. Cuba has had diplomatic relations with Canada for decades. The whole business of a trade embargo? Not for Canada; you can easily buy Cuban rum and Cuban cigars there. Many American fans of one or the other know this, make trips to Canada, and smuggle such goods back across the border.

Why would the Cubans want to deep-six their generally good relations with Canada? That makes even less sense than them wanting to sabotage good relations with the USA, as the relations with Canada have not proven harmful in the least to the regime. Quite the contrary; Canada has been a good market for Cuban products.

Now mystery symptoms are showing up in diplomats serving in China. Who knows what the real cause is, but the Cuban state seems way, way, way down any such list of potential culprits.

My best guess remains that no government is responsible as an act of deliberate commission. It’s some other previously-known (yet obscure) ailment, which is just attracting a measure of undue attention because it’s happened to strike a bunch of employees working at some select high-profile outlets at once. The symptoms being reported in China may well be from a completely different cause than the ones in Cuba.

Might Trump Survive a Blue Wave?

The answer, I think, is yes. He might, if he follows exactly the right path after one happens.

At this point, one would naturally be tempted to say that therefore there’s no chance he could survive, because he utterly lacks the sort of discipline necessary to stay on any such path. In this case, however, I think his proclivities may just well allow him to naturally seek out and follow one.

Trump, after all, as Michael Moore once said, has no political ideology per se. Trump’s ideology is Donald J. Trump. His stated positions definitely do tilt to the right, but they are in fact all over the map. Trump aligns quite well with Democrat positions when it comes to health care (he’s come out in the past for single payer), public-works spending (strongly in favor of more of it), and social security (strongly supports the existing system).*

Of course, he’s thrown all those under the bus since he reached office. That merely goes back to what I stated at the start of the previous paragraph: overall, he has no real political ideology per se. He will do whatever he thinks most benefits him personally at the moment. It’s been easier for him to cow most of the rest of the GOP into following him if he forgets about health care and infrastructure spending, so that’s what he’s done.

His behavior is based, at all times, on the expedience of the moment, nothing more. That’s why most career national-security types have the willies about him being likely to give away the store to North Korea.

That also means this particular leopard may just well attempt to change his spots if faced with a blue wave. He may suddenly remember his old pronouncements on health care, infrastructure, and Social Security. Why not, particularly when more government spending always offers more opportunities for his corrupt business empire to profit from same?

If that happens, the majority of Democrats may well be motivated to go along with it. The Democratic Party is far less the party of clean and honest government than many imagine it to be. In fact, some of the most corrupt state and municipal governments over the decades have just happened to be Democratic Party machine governments. Local and state government is of course one of the prime sources for politicians who later move up and on to the Federal one. This means there is an ample stock of Democratic politicians with past prior experience of tolerating corruption already in place and ready to tolerate more.

That’s short-term thinking, of course, and makes Trump far more likely to politically survive his first term and be reelected to a second, which is not in the Democrats’ best interests. All political parties and movements want to take as many offices as they can, and the presidency is the plum of all offices.

However, the Democrats have hardly been immune to short-term thinking. I remember back in the middle of the Obama Era trying to talk some sense into a friend who is very intelligent, trying to point out that Obama’s embrace of the powers of an imperial presidency was dangerous.

He’d have none of it—obviously, demographics were destiny and there was a permanent Democratic majority, as everyone knew. Therefore there was approximately zero chance of the opposition getting power any time soon, and moreover obviously his own side could always be trusted not to abuse power badly. All that also made Harry Reid’s “nuclear senate” and the resulting loss of checks and balances there a non-concern.

So, both prerequisites are satisfied. The president has the lack of ideological commitment, and his erstwhile opposition has the lack of long-term thinking, to enable precisely the sort of ideological spot-changing that leopard Trump must attempt in order to have a chance at survival. It just might happen.

* This is less of a surprise than it might seem once you keep in mind the essentially fascist nature of Trumpism, because it actually fits perfectly with the pattern of fascism. Hitler and Mussolini advocated infrastructure and social spending, too. Fascism is not conservatism. It is a unique and distinct right-wing ideology that exists apart from (and historically often in opposition to) conservatism.

On Europe, Military Spending, Winners, and Losers

This is something many liberals don’t want to touch, simply on the premise that because Trump picked it up, it must be toxic. Trump actually does have a point here, but in typical fashion he really hasn’t thought it through very much.

First, there really is something here. Other NATO members do indeed spend less on the military (both per capita and as a fraction of their GDP) than does the USA. Since money spent on the military has to come from somewhere, that quite naturally means that the money thus spent cannot be spent on other things. As Eisenhower once said:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children.

So yes, common Americans would be better off if their government spent less on the military and those in Europe spent more.

But, if the Europeans spent more on the military, they would be spending more on their militaries, not on the US’s. US military spending would be cut under such a scenario. Cuts are implicit in the assertion that the status quo makes us worse off. If US military spending wasn’t cut as European military spending increased, then it makes no sense to say the current arrangement makes Americans worse off, because we would emerge no better off under the alternate scenario.

So: smaller US military, larger militaries in the other NATO countries. This means less breathing room to unilaterally launch major military actions. As a leftist and a critic of US imperialism, I, personally, would love this outcome. But somehow I think most of the grunting “America First” crowd wouldn’t.

Nichols’ Observations Mean Trumpism is Fascist

Recently I linked a Twitter thread by conservative academic Tom Nichols on the essential nature of Trump’s followers. And yes, Nichols is very much a conservative. Go check out his Twitter account and scroll through his posts; you’ll see gems like this one.

That latter point is, of course, largely irrelevant. What matters most is how well Nichols’ particular theory explains the behavior it is attempting to explain, and it does that very well. I am not aware of any competing explanation that works as well as the one Nichols recently espoused. Mainly I bring up the point of Nichols’ ideological proclivities simply to counter the accusation that he is nothing but a leftist saying things that the leftist writing this blog likes to hear.

Enough digression. Time to crack out my introductory PoliSci text, the one I bought in the early 1990’s when I started delving into the humanities on my own. My strategy was to go to the University of Washington’s course catalog, identify courses on topics of interest, go to the campus bookstore, purchase their texts, and proceed to study them on my own.

The text in question is the third edition of Political Ideologies: Their Origins and Impact by Leon P. Baradat. Its latest copyright is 1988, so nobody can accuse it of either being watered down to not pertain to Trump, or deliberately slanted to overly pertain to him. It’s a good insight into what has been traditionally regarded as the essential nature of fascism. This is what Baradat had to say about fascism in his introductory paragraph to the chapter he wrote on it:

… The resulting political vacuum was filled by charlatans whose ideas constituted reactionary rejections of modern institutions and values. Men like Mussolini and Hitler called upon their people to foresake reason and prudence, to follow their leaders with unquestioned obedience toward mythical, irrational, and inevitably disastrous goals [emphasis added].

In the following paragraph, Baradat writes: “The veracity of the myths were of little consequence, for they were used only as a means for motivation, not as a source of truth.” Sound anything like what Nichols just wrote?

Baradat, of course, also wrote of war and genocide in that introduction, which has not happened yet with Trump; moreover, Trump is a rank amateur at political oppression compared to Hitler, who within weeks of gaining power had jailed pretty much every significant opposition figure. That’s why I used the phrase “Trumpism is fascist” in my title, not “Trumpism is fascism.” Its essential nature is that of a fascist ideology, even though its expression currently falls short of full-blown fascism.

The US Empire is Ending

What happened with the recent failed G7 summit is an escalation of a process that began with George W. Bush’s lying his way into a war of choice in Iraq: a series of real-life examples of why it is undesirable to have a sole global superpower in the world. As we are seeing, that superpower might just run off the rails, as countries tend to sometimes do.

It is not necessary to have any deeper understanding of how the machinations of capitalist class society make this inevitable; the lesson can be learnt, in incomplete form, whether or not one is a leftist who inquires into the nature and implications of class society. It is broader than capitalism, anyhow: regardless of the socioeconomic system, any gross disparity of power is fated to eventually prove itself to be the danger that it always was.

It was possible for students (i.e. those in other nations) to dismiss the first lesson as a historical anomaly when Obama won office. It will not be so easy for them to wave off the second, ongoing one.

The US Empire has inflicted a mortal wound upon itself. The wound may not initially appear to be mortal, but in time it will prove to be. It will not go away when Donald Trump goes away. It may even sometimes appear to be healing and the patient on the way to recovery, but such episodes will prove to be false hopes on the part of those making them.

The US empire is not ending in the way most of us on the left hoped it would, but it ending it is.

And It’s No. 2

My prediction was spot-on. As if that’s a huge accomplishment or anything. This was so easy to see.

Something, but effectively nothing. Some sort of agreement that leaves all the difficult issues to be hashed out at some unspecified future date, coupled with many meaningless glad words about a new era.

Everything in this document has been in other agreements that North Korea has made in the past. None of those other agreements ended up making substantive changes to North Korea’s policies, so why should this one?

The only substantive new thing is that for the first time a US president met the North Korean dictator in person and fawned over him with disgusting (and false) rhetoric. And he did so in the immediate wake of repeatedly insulting the prime minister of Canada.

Dealing with CenturyLink Sucks

My current long-distance provider, Pioneer Telecom, has ever since I became a customer with my current line had an issue with the occasional call having a one-way connection: I can hear the other side just fine, but that other side cannot hear anything. This is merely annoying to me, but it sometimes makes the other side temporarily wonder if they are now the subject of intentional harassment.

Inertia makes it a pain to switch, but as time has passed, the issue has happened more and more to the point where their service is now basically unusable. When I first got my land line, CenturyLink told me they now offer long distance service. I can’t remember what the price was, but it seemed uncompetitive, so I decided to shop around and found a better deal. (Well, it would have been a better deal if the call quality was reliable.)

So, anyhow, the time to switch has come, and the first order of business was to revisit what CenturyLink’s pricing is. If it’s simply a little bit more expensive, but not obscenely so, it’s probably worth it to pay more for better quality.

First, I try going on line. There are almost no options for managing one’s existing residential service. I find a page saying such things are under construction and to talk with an agent instead.

So I call the customer service number listed in the front of the phone book. Naturally, there’s a long phone tree. At some point in it, I am encouraged to use their web site instead. Yes, the same web site that is incomplete and which just told me to speak to an agent to accomplish this basic task. Then I get put on hold. After over a minute of waiting, it is clear that I made a mistake in calling on my kitchen phone and hang up.

I go into my office and place the call from my desk phone, the one that has a headset which leaves both hands free so I can do other stuff while waiting on hold for an extended period of time. It turns out, of course, to be an extended period of time.

After too long, I get an answer. It’s a guy in India with a heavy accent who doesn’t understand my English very well and keeps asking me to repeat stuff. This is a sign of total sleaze; it says: “We are so cheap we not only outsource labor, we outsource it to the cheapest people possible.” That’s because there’s plenty of educated people in India who speak perfectly clear English and who have no trouble understanding it when spoken by a native English speaker. (Of course, they cost a bit more to hire than those who barely know English.)

He asks me my phone number, which is a totally unreasonable thing to ask on an 800 number, because they already have that data. All 800 number owners do; such numbers work by reversing the charges, so caller numbers are furnished them due to the long-established tradition that those who pay long-distance tolls are entitled to receive itemized data showing the charge for individual calls. (In fact, CenturyLink’s phone tree already had detected my number and asked me to confirm it was the line this call was pertaining to.)

I ask about the pricing, and get placed on hold for an extended period of time. (Apparently he doesn’t have that information.) When he gets back to me with the pricing it is only a per-minute cost. I have to explicitly ask if there is a monthly fee, and if so what it is, then am placed on hold again while he researches it.

It’s obscene, of course. Why wouldn’t it be? That’s apparently CenturyLink’s business model: to tout the (surprisingly competitive) per-minute cost and sucker customers into getting zinged by monthly charges.

Needless to say, no sale. I’m still researching options.


Most Likely Summit Outcomes

Listed in no particular order:

  1. Nothing at all. One of the two crazy, unstable leaders throws a tantrum and walks out, or quickly reneges on an agreement he just signed.
  2. Something, but effectively nothing. Some sort of agreement that leaves all the difficult issues to be hashed out at some unspecified future date, coupled with many meaningless glad words about a new era.

What’s not going to happen? North Korea agreeing to give up its nukes and welcome US inspectors inside to verify it’s keeping good on its promise.