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From Politics to Poetry
Updated: 49 min 31 sec ago

Neo-Liberalism, Sexism, and the Presidential Dilemma....

Fri, 10/14/2016 - 06:57
I oppose Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton for some of the same reasons: I am a socialist and they are both part of the financial elite; they support the neo-liberal economic agenda; they have both supported radically pro-corporate trade policies (Trump acts as though he hasn't but he has for years), they both defend a capitalist, racist, imperialist nation that has, for generations supported dictators and undermined democracy and socialist efforts worldwide. I think these are pretty good reasons to resist the US and its politicians. You don't have to be that radical to say politics in the US is clown show with few alternatives from the capitalist agenda that has been helping to destroy the environment, suppressed democracy, and enshrined poverty in the very system itself.

But even as a socialist, you don't have to be wildly pragmatic to make an important distinction between Trump and Clinton. They both have records of corruption. But Trump's is much more dramatic than Clinton's, as John Oliver outlines here.

So while they are both corrupt, Trump is demonstrably more corrupt that Clinton. But Trump is also openly racist and promotes racism and conflict at the core of his political agenda. He is openly misogynist and has boasted about his sexual assault behaviour. Electing either Trump or Clinton as president will more or less continue the neo-liberal economic agenda, neither will do much for democracy, for poverty (at home or abroad), nor will they make the radical changes to environmental policy that are necessary. But as president, Trump will legitimize racism and misogyny through his beliefs and behavior. While they will both continue the same kinds of capitalist agendas, Trump threatens to open up a floodgate of violence and hate against women and racialized people. I think that even if you don't believe in the system, these factors make Trump demonstrably worse that Clinton. Some might say that the policies of both are a bit like someone rearranging the deck-chairs on the Titanic as it is sinking. That may be true, but that doesn't mean we should support the guy who is going to encourage people to beat the hell out of, and sexually assault each other as it goes down.

But there is another factor here that should be talked about. Clinton may have a dubious record concerning certain aspects of corruption during her time as a public figure, but if you compare that record to, say, the last Republican presidency, she's a paragon of purity. George W. Bush and Dick Cheney orchestrated illegal wars that killed hundreds of thousands of people. Tens of millions of dollars (if not billions) went totally unaccounted for as wads of cash were reportedly given out to terrorist group as bribes to stop them from undertaking violence. And Bush and Cheney benefited personally from all this through their oil interests, and through corporations such as Halliburton and Blackwater. To compare any contemporary US political corruption to what Bush and Cheney have been responsible for, de facto robs the very notion of corruption meaningless. If Trump supporters were interested in sending anyone to jail, they would never stop calling for the incarceration of Bush and Cheney, two men who destabilized the whole globe, made fortunes doing it, and, arguably, permanently undermined the status and legitimacy of the US as a democracy.

If, like me, you are a socialist with little or no faith in the political/economic system, it is understandable to be dubious about Clinton and Trump for the simple reason that they are both corrupt in various ways and they both represent the capitalist status quo. But if you believe in American capitalism and its supposed democracy, if you believe that, despite its blemishes, the US basically represents what is good in economics and human rights, then to portray Hillary Clinton as some kind of outlier of corruption is just hypocritical because as corruption and dubious behavior goes, she somewhere near the middle of the pack, and in my opinion she comes off much better than Trump.

I continue to believe that the angry, vociferous opposition to Clinton by many Americans is little more than simple sexism. She is not an atypical Democratic nominee in policy matters or in her dubious record. But she is atypical in her qualifications, in as much as she is unquestionably the most qualified candidate to run for president in living memory.

As most of us have heard many women defend Trump's predatory behavior over the past couple of weeks, it is easy to see just what a powerful thing sexism is.

Narcissism and the Growth of Hate Politics. . . .

Tue, 10/11/2016 - 08:00
David Brooks wrote an excellent op-ed piece for the New York Times today entitled Donald Trump's Sad, Lonely Life. Brooks recounts the genuine state of mental illness and isolation in which Trump lives. Most poignantly, Brooks writes:

 "Trump continues to display the symptoms of narcissistic alexithymia, the inability to understand or describe the emotions in the self. Unable to know themselves, sufferers are unable to understand, relate or attach to others. To prove their own existence, they hunger for endless attention from outside. Lacking internal measures of their own worth, they rely on external but insecure criteria like wealth, beauty, fame and others' submission."

Admittedly, it is difficult to feel truly sorry for a guy like Trump because his mental/emotional problems make him a mean and angry person. But his problems are, I am sure, quite real and essentially rob him of the kinds of human contact and affections that most of us enjoy. I remember as kid I knew a bully who finally tried to bully the wrong new-kid in class. After getting beaten up in front of a cheering school-yard crowd the bully just sat there weeping on the grass as everyone walked away. And despite the fact that I had been one of his victims, I felt a very profound sense of pity that has never really left me. Because I saw at that moment that this boy had nothing, his only sense of self-worth was gained by dominating others and I knew at that moment, even as a nine year old, that he was never going to know the real joys of friendship and intimacy. Brooks continues:

"Bullies only experience peace when they are cruel. Their blood pressures drops the moment they beat the kid on the playground. Imagine you are Trump. You are trying to bluff your way through a debate. You're running for an office you're completely unqualified for. You are chasing some glimmer of validation that recedes further from view. Your only rest comes when you are insulting somebody, when you are threatening to throw your opponent in jail, when you are looming over her menacingly like a mafioso thug on the precipice of a hit, when you are bellowing that she as a 'tremendous hate in her heart' when it is clear to everyone you are only projecting what is in your own."

I get what Brooks is saying here. It is right on point. Of course, I don't lie awake nights worrying about what a sad, pathetic, and lonely man Trump is. His racism and misogyny might be rooting in childhood trauma, but that doesn't make them any easier to tolerate, nor does that make Trump any more likable a man.

But reading Brooks' piece got me thinking about what has happened to politics, not just in the US but in many places. The Conservative party in Canada, is no less pathetic than Trump; we have a host of Conservative leadership candidates who fall over themselves to say more despicable things about other leaders as well as the weak and vulnerable. England has a new Prime Minister who seems to pride herself on a lack of human empathy. But politicians are so often the worst kinds of people, people who are hungry for attention and power, just like Trump.

What of their followers and supporters? That is the question that keeps haunting me. It is relatively easy to see a pathetic man like Trump as not quite stable, perhaps a victim of some kind of trauma or mental illness. It wasn't even that hard, at times, to see Canadian Prime Minister Harper as a troubled narcissist who never really knew intimacy or friendship but only hungered for dominance and authority. But this new crop of "hateful" leaders are inciting a new generation of hateful followers; seemingly average people who revel in the vitriol and hate spouted by these pathetic leaders. This is, in a way, much more troubling than the leaders themselves. You only have to watch television or read internet comments to see that there are thousands, even millions of people who are getting off on this stuff, they love to see some politician legitimize their own hatred and anger.

What conclusions can we draw from this? Are we entering a new age of mass delusion, mass anger, and mass narcissism? Has it always been this way but just gets muted at some stages? Is there a prevailing sense of fear motivated by growing social insecurity and social shifts that are causing the weaker minded to lash out with anger and hate? I really don't know what's going on but it has, I am sure like many others, shaken me to the core.

Trump and the new Fascism. . .

Fri, 10/07/2016 - 14:54
John Ibbitson, the conservative shill who told us not that long ago that Harper's Conservative Party would be in power for a century, (to give you some idea of his ability to predict the future) wrote in the Globe and Mail today that "He'll likely lose - but Trump is the final warning to elites." The headline tells the majority of the story since, as with most of Ibbitson's articles, the rest of the text is a rambling hodgepodge of poorly written blather.

But what is the narrative that Ibbitson (along with Trump and many of his supporters) is trying to sell here? That Trump, despite being a billionaire who rubs shoulders with every kind of political and business mover and shaker is not an elite? Well, denying that Trump is an elite is obviously only for the most ignorant and simpleminded of the Trump audience. We know Trump is an elite. The unspoken narrative here is that there are two groups in society, on the one hand a "political elite" who have been running the political system and in the process lining their pockets and screwing up the system. This elite, so the story would go, is not telling it like it is, they are hiding behind a rarified field of money and assumed political correctness to maintain their power and continue to line their pockets. On the hand, the narrative would have us believe that over and against this political elite there is everyone else, rich and poor, who are getting screwed by this institutionalized political elite. Thus Trump (or Kellie Leitch for that matter) claim that despite being wealthy and powerful, they somehow represent everyone else who should be opposed to this supposed political elite.

The problems with this narrative are so many that it seems fascicle. For one thing, in most countries the political elite are active members of the financial elite. When was the last time, for example, the man who was elected president wasn't rich? Most of them start out rich, but if they don't they are rich long before they make their way to the oval office. This is true of the top politicians in most other countries too. Furthermore, the excessively rich, the so-called One Percenters like the Koch Brothers, for example, are very active in politics behind the scene and have been for as long as we have had modern politics. These ultra-rich are the actual source of the kinds of policies that politicians have been pursuing for ever. The neo-con agenda was formulated by the financial elite, and the political elite, being their proxy actors, were more than ready to oblige in instituting that agenda.

Trump has always supported these policies and the only time he began to badmouth modern trade agreements, for example, was when he decided to run for president. You see the only thing that has changed here is that the neo-con agenda pursued for so long by both the political and the financial elite has begun to break down under its own weight. It is becoming clearer and clearer each year that these policies have not only failed to deliver on the promise of general prosperity, but they have systematically made things worse. The left has always known this but only since a general dissatisfaction began to grow a few years ago did the mainstream political left (long in the thrall the neo-lib policies) begun to panic and try to address the issue is small ways. Meanwhile people like Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corben have come out and said point blank that the system isn't working and needs reform. The rightwing, on the other hand can never admit that the past forty years of neo-lib policies were never intended to deliver on prosperity for everyone but were, in fact, intended to increase economic inequality. This puts them in a kind of double bind. The rightwing response is once again the same as it has always been, divert the people's attention by blaming others for the failure of our system over the past decades. Their targets are painfully predictable - foreigners and the supposed elites. Both Trump and Leitch's approaches so far have been textbook; maintain the same financial policies that have brought us to this point and failed so miserably to deliver prosperity, but suggest that foreigners and some imaginary elite have screwed things up and that they are the only ones who can put things back in order, despite the fact that they are the ones that have been exporting jobs for decades and giving away their national sovereignty in corporate trade agendas.

In England the people have reacted more swiftly than the rightwing politicians believed that they would. As a result those voters who were foolish enough to believe that foreign workers had taken their jobs and foreign politicians had rigged the system against them, unexpectedly opted to leave the EU. This is a very temporary set back for the rightwing in Britain who will quickly respond by feeding this narrative to maintain their power. Because anyone who thinks that leaving the EU will help the average people in Britain (without a radical left government) has just bought into decades of neo-liberal lies.

As the model of capitalism that the rich and powerful have been pursing for decades begins to breakdown, the rightwing knows that they have a major problem; if the people realize what they have been up to for so long, the idea of actual capitalist reform will work its way onto the agenda. In a desperate effort to avoid this they are once again fanning the flames of xenophobia and pointing to an imaginary political elite. It is a strategy that can work, but only with the most dire of consequences. And in the end, the problems that they say that they are going to solve will only deepen until disaster results.

Unlike what Ibbitson would have us believe - that Trump is a final warning to the elite - what he really is is the first salvo in a new effort in modern fascism.