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November 2018, Week 2

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 		 [Politics is about Power. One of positive things this moment is
that the question of power has moved central to discussion on the
left. ..., we need to build our own organizations and strengthen
alignment and cooperation between them. ] [https://portside.org/] 

 POLITICS IS ABOUT POWER: ASSESSING THE 2018 MID-TERMS  
[https://portside.org/2018-11-12/politics-about-power-assessing-2018-mid-terms]


 

 Max Elbaum 
 November 12, 2018
Portside [http://www.portside.org] 

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 _ Politics is about Power. One of positive things this moment is that
the question of power has moved central to discussion on the left.
..., we need to build our own organizations and strengthen alignment
and cooperation between them. _ 

 Newly elected Muslim Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (R) and Ilhan Omar, 

 

_These notes were the basis for a presentation to the San Francisco
Bay Area Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild on November 8, 2018._

Politics is about Power. One of positive things this moment is that
the question of power has moved central to discussion on the left. Not
just how to speak truth to power, or how to protest those in power, or
pressure those in power. Rather, how to take chunks of power from
those who have it now and get it for exploited and oppressed. I
haven't seen that on the scale of today since 1960s, when the question
of a path to power was put before the left in a different way. The
differences are important, but the main thing is that radical
discussion is again focused on finding a path to power. That's the
context of our discussion tonight.

Elections are also about power. They are a barometer of relative
stre3ngth of different social and political forces; and within certain
constraints, they can shift that power. Those constraints vary,
sometimes outcome of elections can shift things only in tiniest of
ways, other times they have big consequences. This just-completed
election, and likely even more the one in 2020, the stakes are quite
high. There are three inter-related reasons for this.

SPECIAL DANGER OF TRUMPISM

First is the special danger posed by Trump and the GOP which under him
has been captured by white nationalism and is permeated by the
politics of racial and imperial revenge. Of course, Trumpism is not
some fluke; reactionary anti-democratic blocs driven anchored in white
supremacy have been common in U.S. society because of deep structural
factors - a country founded on the genocide of the indigenous people
and the enslavement of people of African descent. But if Trumpism
represents pattern in US life, it is also something new.  In context
of demographic change, decline of US global hegemony and failure of
economic model dominated US since Regan, it is turn from dog-whistles
to bullhorns and an attempt to put in place a semi-apartheid
authoritarian system. There's debate on the left of what Trumpism does
and does not have in common with classical fascism, but little debate
that this is something different and extremely dangerous.

The second reason, flowing from the first, is that the country is
polarized to a degree not seen at least since early 1960s and more
likely since the Civil War. White nationalism's capture of the GOP has
meant that racial polarization in country and partisan political
polarization all but totally overlap and reinforce each other. Add in
geographic polarization, and the way media has evolved means different
sectors of society have nearly completely different sources of not
just analysis but basic facts, and the chasm is even more severe.
These and other factors rooted in political economy and the shifting
power relations in global politics also means that the ruling class
itself is more divided than its been in decades. That means the battle
between the Trump and anti-Trump camps has squeezed out middle ground
and past patterns of so-called bipartisan cooperation. It is now
take-no-prisoners trench warfare.

The third factor, especially important for us in this room, is that
within the anti-Trump camp there is a surging social justice motion
rooted especially in communities of color, and among youth, women and
the LGBTQ community. And host of progressive organizations of
different types threw themselves into the electoral fray in ways not
seen in decades or longer. More on this later if I have time, but for
a quick sampling:

The Texas Organizing Project, with its strong base among Latinos and
African Americans, went all out in the most populous Red State this
year, deploying at one time 575 staff, reached 882,000 voters, knocked
on 300,000 doors, was key in flipping two congressio0nal seats and
electing 3 DAs - including in Dallas - to put Texas square on the map
in the fight against mass incarceration. The progressive state table
in Florida, includes groups ranging from the Dream Defenders to FNM
and SEIU, pushed through Prop 4 which restored voting rights to 1.4
million formerly incarcerated people, the largest since expansion of
voting rights since Voting Rights Act of 1965.  The collaboration
between Working Families Party and New Georgia Project in Georgia, the
leadership in sectors of the campaign by people out of the Movement
for Black Lives Electoral Justice section, the fact that the National
Domestic Workers Alliance deployed the largest independent field
operation in that state - all this energized young voters,
re-energized veterans of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and
strengthened the emerging Black-Latino alliance, laying the basis for
future wins if Stacey Abrams doesn't pull it out in a run-off this
time. Add the work of Our Revolution, National Nurses Union, Color of
Change, fast-growing Democratic Socialists of America chapters, the
Movement Voter Project and others across the country. Efforts like
these are not just the left wing of the possible, they are expanding
the range of what is possible. 

MAPPING THE CONTENDING FORCES

Against that backdrop, my charge tonight is to offer a starting point
assessment of the election results and their consequences to kick off
what is sure to be a continuing discussion. To do that I will say a
little about the character of the main forces that went into battle;
then talk about results, concentrating on national level, noting
trends among different sectors of voters, and the new balance between
both the Trump and anti-Trump camps and, within the latter, between
the corporate and the social justice wings. And finally wrap up with
some speculation on what things will look like going forward.

First, the Trump camp. Beginning in the 2016 election campaign, and
accelerating since Trump was inaugurated, those Republicans critical
of Trump have pushed out or brought into line, and the GOP has been
transformed from a conservative party into a party driven primarily by
white nationalism and authoritarianism. The current program of the GOP
is “whatever Trump says.” Trumpism has been financed and anchored
by right-wing billionaires and sectors of capital rooted in the fossil
fuel industry and the military-industrial complex. It is also rooted
in the most racist layers of white middle-class and working-class
people, and those gathered in white Evangelical Churches. The glue
keeping the less-well-off sectors within the coalition is the
narrative of “hard-working white America as victim of globalist
elites, dark-skinned barbarians and uppity women.” Trumps approval
ratings going into the voting hovered around 38-40%. There are
potential fissures in this cross-class alliance, but going into the
2018 balloting they were all but completely undetectable. 

In contrast, the anti-Trump camp is larger – up to 60% - and much
more heterogenous. While over-simplified, it is a good first-cut
assessment to see it as divided into two wings. The first is the
corporate or so-called moderate wing. Anchored in financial and
hi-tech capital and encompassing much of the country's foreign policy
and cultural elite, this sector is opposed to Trump because they see
him as an unreliable guardian of a system that has served them well.
To be sure, many in this sector believe that the naked racism,
misogyny and general bigotry that spews from the Trump camp is morally
wrong as well as counter-productive. But their main concern is to get
back to things as they were: 'America was always great' is their
counterpoint to Trump's slogan of MAGA.

The progressive wing of the anti-Trump camp – what has generally
been termed the resistance – opposes Trumpism from a whole other
standpoint. For this sector, which ranges all the way from humanist
liberals to big sectors of the revolutionary left – the problem is
that Trumpism represents an especially dangerous threat – a clear
and present danger – to the drive for major progressive change that
much needed in this country. Bernie Sanders campaign galvanized an
important portion of this sector in 2016, though his weaknesses on
issues of racial and gender justice meant he failed to attract many of
those most interested in change among women and peoples of color. But
in the wake of Trump's victory, the partisans of change whoever they
supported in 2016, or if they sat it out, have coalesced into an
energetic resistance that has driven the anti-Trump effort from the
moment of the first Women's March up to November 6.

There is a complicated relationship between these wings. They fought
like hell against each other in many primaries and when squared off
against each other in general – we saw vivid picture of that right
here in the Buffy Wicks vs. Jovanka Beckles campaign. But they hung
together in fight vs. Trump. More about that later.

A CHANGED POWER BALANCE

Turning to the November 6 results - they tell us a lot about the
relative strength of the Trump camp and the two wings of those opposed
to Trump, and what has and hasn't changed since 2016. 

Here are the bottom-line results as of today:

The Democrats captured the House, as of this evening swing of 30
seats, probably will end up with more as vote counting is completed.
They needed 23.

GOP kept Senate. It stands at 51-46 now, with three races still to be
called.

Democrats flipped 7 governorships, the GOP flipped none. The Democrats
now have 23 to GOP 27.

Democrats scored some gains in state legislatures flipped 6 houses in
four states and gained seats in many others, in the 300 to 400 seat
range. 

Adding it up, one activist put it this way: 

"WE DIDN'T WIN WHAT WE WANTED TO, BUT WE WON WHAT WE ABSOLUTELY HAD
TO."

Gains in power, however, do not reflect numbers of voters in each
camp. 

In total House vote, Democrats beat GOP by 7%. When the GOP won by
that amount in 2010, they took 60 seats. 

In Senate vote, the Democrats beat the GOP by even more, 12%. But GOP
gained in Senate, not lost.

Puts us face to face with racist, undemocratic structure of U.S.
electoral system. It was built in to the original Constitution to
protect slavery and be a bulwark against change driven from below and
has continued ever since. It is biased toward small states and
characterized by gerrymandering and voter suppression.
Disenfranchising people has always been part of U.S. history, we
sho9uld recall that of 400 years on this continent and 200-plus years
as the USA, even formal legal equality in voting for African Americans
has only exited for 50 or so years. And that gain started being
chipped away at starting about five minutes after passage of the
Voting Rights Act in 1965. 

And the last few years GOP has taken suppression efforts to a new
level. 

There is also the basic structure of the so-called "two-party system"-
which really should be termed a two-ballot line, state sponsored
electoral system. That system forces us to fight in an unfavorable
structure for insurgent politics compared to a parliamentary system.
 There is a long discussion to be had about how this works and what
it means for radical electoral efforts, perhaps we can get into that
during the discussion period.

The disparity between the voting numbers vs. the actual allotment of
seats is also apparent when look at breakdown of votes by sectors.
Exit polls not completely reliable, but best guide we have. And they
show shift from Red to Blue in virtually every sector. And some very
important for long range strategic thinking.

I will flag a few key numbers from exit poll results for 2014, 2016
and 2018: 

African Americans remain the most progressive voting bloc in the
country: 90% of African Americans and 92% of Black women voted
Democratic this year, roughly the same as in 2014 and 2016. 

Voters under age 44 shifted from GOP to Democrat by 8 percentage
points from 2016. The biggest shift according to other evidence was in
voters under 30.

The biggest shifts were among Asian Americans, a point particularly
important for us here in California: Asians shifted red to blue by 12
percent from 2016 and by 28 percent from 2014.

Lower Income voters shifted to the Democrats by significant margins
while the GOP held steady among those earning more than $200,000 a
year. Voters earning less than $30,000/year shifted by 10 points R to
D from 2016 to 2018; voters between $30,000 and $50,000 shifted by 5
points and voters between $50,000 and $100,000 shifted by 6 points. 

This last figure is a sign that a politics which combines the fight
against class exploitation with insistence on racial and gender
justice has a future in this country if we do the necessary hard work.


Still, the Trump alignment held fast. Democratic turnout increased
tremendously, but so did GOP. It was a 'base election' – and both
sides turned out their bases. Note this is a big change from 2016.
Then the GOP had a near monopoly on energy with the Tea Party
grassroots mobilizations, while the corporate Democrats ran a
lackluster campaign for Hilary. And though most progressive groups
advocated a vote for her to defeat Trump, there was little enthusiasm
and nothing like the voter engagement and mobilization efforts
conducted this year. 

POLARIZATION WILL GET SHARPER

So, the upshot is there was a reasonable sized blue wave. But not a
tide that swept the Trumpists away or weakened their determination to
pursue their agenda.  Democratic control of the House puts some check
on their capacity to push through legislation. And the gain in
governorships means the threat of a reaction-driven Constitutional
Convention is off the table for the near future, something that the
GOP was aiming for if it could get trifectas (control of both
legislative houses and the governorship) in 33 states. (They had 26).
But Executive Branch power is huge in this country's imperial state. 

And polarization is likely to be even sharper in the next two years
than it has been since 2016.

For one thing, in the make-up of elected bodies the polarization is
sharper. 

The GOP Senate and House delegations are both further to the right and
more tied to Trump. Dissidents to varying degrees – McCain, Flake,
Corker – are gone. One-time critics like Graham have fallen into
line. The Freedom Caucus in the House will have more power in the GOP
Caucus. Everyone in the GOP fell in line behind the last few weeks
escalated hate campaign: the demonization of the caravan, migrants in
general and the attack on birthright citizenship; the despicable
racist smears of Abrams and Gillum; the announced desire to rule that
trans people do not exist; the use of conspiracy theories from the
nakedly racist right. 

And likewise, on the Democratic side, the House and Senate caucuses
are further left. Defeat of centrist Democrats like Claire McCaskill
and Heidi Heitkamp and the wave of progressives who won in the House
moves the center of gravity of Democratic elected officials at the
federal level to the left.

 And at the state level the chasm and polarization are now all but
totally complete. Post-election there is only one state in the country
where two Houses of state legislature are divided – Minnesota. It's
the first time in 104 years that's been the case. 30 state
legislatures are totally GOP, 18 totally Dem, Minnesota is split,
Nebraska is the only state with just one legislative house and its
members are technically non-partisan.) 

Trump's remarks and actions after the election will further exacerbate
polarization. After a nod to bipartisanship (which Nancy Pelosi did as
well, sparking anger in the progressive wing) he then attacked the
press, threatened his opponents. Trump fired Sessions and appointed a
loyalist toady in his place, which many see as the forerunner to a
constitutional crisis over the Mueller probe. And above all, there is
the Trumpists' summation of the result: "Racism and voter suppression
works!"

So, there will be no break in the Trump/anti-Trump confrontation 

SOCIAL JUSTICE WING VS. CORPORATE DEMOCRATS

Turn for a minute to relative strength of the contending wings on the
anti-Trump side, and the nature of relationship between them. It's
complicated.

There many bitter battles in primaries that pitted corporate backed
candidates against progressives. By and large, once the general
election came around, both sides focused on beating GOP in contests
against GOP opponents. On the corporate or moderate side, there was
nothing like what happened when George McGovern won the Democratic
nomination vs. Nixon in 1972. Then big chunks of the party
establishment sat it out or tacitly supported Nixon, including hawkish
George Meany who was head of AFL-CIO. This time during the run-up to
the general election there were some attacks on progressive
candidates, the harshest ones from Zionists who hit hard at
Ocasio-Cortez and others who support Palestinian rights. These attacks
are signs of their near-panic at the fact that the combination of hard
work at the grassroots by activists promoting BDS and Palestinian
rights, and Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu's ever more obvious
embrace of Trump and other right-wing nationalists around the globe
whether they are Jew-haters or not, is having an impact on public
opinion. There are leaps forward in pro-Palestinian sentiment
especially among young people and in people of color communities. But
the Zionist attacks did not gain generalized establishment momentum
and did not lead any significant number of people to defect to the
Trump camp.

And on the progressive side, while obviously there was less enthusiasm
in social justice groups for campaigning for moderates than for
candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Stacey Abrams or Andrew
Gillum, in federal and most state races virtually very organization
with a mass base threw down to beat the GOP whatever the character of
the Democratic candidate. This was for two reasons. First, mass-based
social justice groups saw the urgency of defeating the GOP to gain
space for further work. As one activist put it, "corporate
neoliberalism is horrible, but white nationalist authoritarian fascism
is worse." And second, they saw that working as part of the array of
organizations and grassroots energy turning out against the GOP was
the best way to build relationships, expand their base and gain
strength for the next round. Those that threw down gained some ability
to affect the votes of the Democratic candidate if she or he won and
built greater capacity to support or field a better candidate next
time around.

Still, even as the corporate and progressive wings hung together in
races against Republlcans, there were contests characterized by nasty
fights between the two wings. We saw some right here in the Bay in the
Buffy Wicks vs. Jovanka Beckles contest for a State Assembly seat, and
in Libby Schaaf's bid to be re-elected Oakland mayor facing two
African American women progressive challenges, Cat Brooks who has long
been a stalwart of anti-racist policing battles in Oakland and Pamela
Price, who in the spring had challenged Alameda County's longtime
incumbent DA running on an end the new Jim Crow platform. In both
these races, the muscle and money of the corporate Democrats,
especially from the real estate industry, was mobilized against us.
This too is going to be a feature of the next few year's battles,
especially in the "blue states."

 And those are going to be tough fights. As the defeats we suffered
in the Beckles-Wicks and Schaaf-Brooks-Price campaigns here in what is
considered a very progressive area indicate. The corporate/"centrist"
Democrats should not be underestimated. They have money; experience,
they are positioned. They have a base. They are not going to be
dislodged easily, either from their dominance of the Democratic party
or in other spheres of political action and civil society much less
the economy.

Still, the fresh energy and dynamism lies with progressive wing.
Demographic trends are also headed in our direction (though
gentrification which we are fighting tooth and nail is changing
previous patterns of population distribution as Blacks and Latinos are
being pushed out of urban centers while white professionals largely in
the tech sector move in). The strength and sophistication of our
organizations have grown by a lot in last two years. There is
widespread motion for groups to break out of silos. Organizations that
previously played only the "inside game" are turning out for
demonstrations and even civil disobedience, while groups that
previously shunned electoral efforts have thrown themselves into
electoral battles. And as I noted at the beginning, almost everyone in
the social justice world has started to discuss the issue of power and
how to get it in new ways. In the years before Bernie's 2016 campaign,
we had virtually nothing going at the national level. Now the social
justice forces are a player. We are well ahead of where we were two
years ago, but we have a long fight ahead. 

THREE FINAL TAKEAWAYS

I will wrap up with these final takeaways.

1. The battle between the Trump and anti-Trump camps is going to be
even fiercer in the next two years. It will take place over just about
political issue: There will be fierce fights over immigrant rights,
health care, police abuse, reproductive rights. As climate change
becomes more and more a matter of today rather than tomorrow the fight
to label the fossil fuel companies the enemy of all humanity and make
drastic changes in energy policies will must more and more to the
fore. The fight for peace and internationalism and against militarism
- arguably the weakest component of the current resistance - must be
strengthened.  Revitalizing the labor movement is crucial. And more.

Trump is going to keep ginning up his supporters. We must be prepared
to deal with violence coming from that quarter. 

Battles over all these issues and more will have to be fought on the
level of winning hearts and minds and shaping public opinion, in the
electoral arena, in the streets, on the picket lines and in the
courts. 2020 is going to be even more important than 2018; We need to
not only win but win big enough that Trump cannot challenge the
legitimacy of the results.

2. We will have to constantly grapple with and recalibrate a strategy
that simultaneously builds the broadest possible front against
Trumpism and steadily increases the strength of the social justice
wing.

BUILD OUR OWN ORGANIZATIONS

3. To carry out #1 and #2 above, we need to build our own
organizations and strengthen alignment and cooperation between them.
This is crucial not just for 2020, but for a longer fight against the
extreme racist right, and for emerging with clout if and when that
specific enemy is pushed back to the margins. We must do our best to
prevent the repeat of past times where, after the broad cross class
coalition that was absolutely required to defeat the main enemy of
past historical moments accomplished its task, that coalition broke
apart and the ruling class component was able to push the progressives
out of the game. We saw this when the combination of Klan terror and
disenfranchisement of African Americans rolled back Reconstruction. We
saw this when McCarthyism crushed the left which has emerged as a
power via the mass struggles of the 1930s and anti-fascist campaigns
of the 1940s. 

We are seeing the height of the backlash against the Second
Reconstruction of the 1960s today. We need the broadest possible front
to defeat it. But we need to come out of that victory with the social
justice forces, organized and maximally unified, holding enough power
at the local, state and federal levels that we cannot be shoved back
to the margins. Rather, we need to be strong enough to use that
positioning as a platform to move toward more advanced stages of
struggle against the system that undergirds all forms of exploitation
and oppression.

_Max Elbaum has been involved in peace, anti-racist and radical
movements since joining Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in
Madison, Wisconsin in the 1960s. He is currently an editor of
__ORGANIZING UPGRADE [https://organizingupgrade.com/]__ and the author
of __REVOLUTION IN THE AIR: SIXTIES RADICALS TURN TO LENIN, MAO AND
CHE
[https://mailchi.mp/ca6afeb6ee5d/revolution-in-the-air-by-max-elbaum-new-edition-featuring-foreword-by-alicia-garza?e=17c890178a]__
, a history of the U.S. "New Communist Movement" recently re-released
by Verso Books with a new foreword by #BlackLivesMatter co-founder
Alicia Garza. _

_ __ _

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