Posts Tagged ‘history’

poll

According to a new New York Times poll, Donald Trump’s and Hillary Clinton’s soaring levels of unpopularity (55 and 52 percent, respectively, compared to favorability ratings of 26 and 31 percent) are extraordinary for the likely nominees of the two major parties. And the head-to-head advantage Clinton enjoys over Trump has narrowed considerably in recent weeks (down to 6 points).

Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders is the only one of the three to have a net positive favorability rating (of 8 points). He also leads a hypothetical matchup against Trump, 51 percent to 38 percent.

Extra reading

Here are some related pieces that deserve a Sunday read:

Thomas Frank on why Hillary Clinton’s 90s nostalgia is so dangerous.

The ongoing debate concerning Bill Clinton’s 1996 welfare law, by Robert Pear.

Trevor Timm’s list of five things people should stop saying about Bernie Sanders.

The actual history of the end of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, for those who have forgotten or choose not to remember.

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Richard Hofstadter was wrong. American politics has always been about class. And this presidential election is no different.

Don’t get me wrong: American politics has always been about a lot of things (from nativism and racism to foreign entanglements and so-called cultural issues). But Hofstadter’s argument that “American political life has rarely been touched by the most acute varieties of class conflict” is just plain wrong. American politics has also always been about class and class conflict—about the class dimensions of U.S. economy and society, both quantitative and qualitative—including the “most acute varieties,” if by that we mean open and transparent, as against hidden behind other issues and themes.

Already in this campaign, we’re getting another lesson in the class dimensions of American politics.

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Nate Silver, for example, dismisses the idea that Donald Trump’s candidacy is a “working-class” rebellion against Republican elites:

As compared with most Americans, Trump’s voters are better off. The median household income of a Trump voter so far in the primaries is about $72,000, based on estimates derived from exit polls and Census Bureau data. That’s lower than the $91,000 median for Kasich voters. But it’s well above the national median household income of about $56,000. It’s also higher than the median income for Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders supporters, which is around $61,000 for both.

While Thomas Frank makes it clear that, although America is still burning seven years after the so-called recovery began, the Democratic party establishment couldn’t care less.

The party’s leadership is largely drawn from a satisfied cohort that has done quite well in the aftermath of the Great Recession. They’ve got a good thing going. Convinced that the country’s ongoing demographic shifts will bring Democratic victory for years to come, they seem to believe the party’s candidates need do nothing differently to harvest future electoral bumper crops. The seeds are already planted. All that is required is patience. . .

In reality, Donald Trump is a bigot of such pungent vileness that the victory of the Democratic candidate this fall is virtually assured. Absent some terrorist attack … or some FBI action on the Clinton email scandal … or some outrageous act of reasonableness by Trump himself, the blowhard is going to lose.

This, in turn, frees the Democratic leadership to do whatever they want, to cast themselves in any role they choose. They do not need to move to “the center” this time. They do not need to come up with some ingenious way to get Wall Street off the hook. They do not need to beat up on working people’s organizations.

That they seem to want to do all these things anyway tells us everything we need to know about who they really are: a party of the high-achieving professional class that is always looking for a way to dismiss the economic concerns of ordinary people.

We already have a pretty good sense about how class politics are going to play out in this campaign: both major-party candidates (and the establishments that line up with them) are going to pretend they’re concerned about the economic issues that worry ordinary people—and then they’ll propose policies and strategies that do nothing whatsoever to resolve those issues.

In other words, they’ll play the class card and then deal from (and for) the top of the deck.

HEN.00.A2-156 Picket line. Protesting Jim Crow Admissions policy

Protesting Jim Crow admission policy at Ford’s Theatre (Paul Robeson second from left)
Paul S. Henderson (Baltimore, March 1948)

Those of us of a certain age have wondered, since the Fall of the Wall, if and when we would finally move beyond the Cold War.

According to Malcolm Harris, we’re there—or at least we’re moved a long way in that direction. What this means is that the anti-Communist sentiments that were whipped up during that period no longer hold sway (at least outside Hillary Clinton’s campaign), and the historical realities that were occluded by the Red Scare can now be rediscovered.

I’m thinking, in particular, of the important role Communists played in the struggles against fascism and segregation.

I imagine that if you asked the average young American what army liberated Auschwitz, they would say ours. Which is wrong, but it’s hard to blame them: Capitalism won, and we’ve moved on to new bogeymen. If you don’t need to warn innocent children away from Soviet seduction, there isn’t much need to tell them about communism at all. We can fill the gaps in the history books with patriotism.

Ignoring history, however, won’t make it go away. Without the Soviet threat, the anti-communist barricades are a little understaffed. And with faulty censors, who will stop the culture industry from making communism seem cool? The two most famous Soviets right now are probably Elizabeth and Philip Jennings, the KGB spy stars of the critically acclaimed F/X show The Americans. Despite having been created by a former CIA agent and set in the 1980s, Elizabeth and Philip aren’t the bad guys. They’re the good ones. In Nicaragua, in El Salvador, in South Africa, in Afghanistan, the American government’s policies are portrayed as worth fighting against by any means necessary. It’s a more honest description of the history than Clinton’s, in her memoir. “In the past,” she writes of the Cold War in the Western Hemisphere, “American policy in the region led to the funneling of foreign aid to military juntas that opposed communism and socialism but sometimes repressed their own citizens.” . . .

You might not know it from the history books, but American communism has always been racialized. When Jim Crow laws banned interracial organization, the Communist Party was the only group that dared to flout the rule. In 1932, when the Birmingham, Alabama police went to shut down a Party meeting, a present national guardsman wrote his superior: “The police played their only trump by enforcing a city ordinance for segregation which, of course, is contrary to Communist principles.” Now we tell the story of the Civil Rights Movement within liberal parameters, but everyone who fought for black liberation was called a communist at one time or another, and not always inaccurately.

KKK poster Birmingham, AL 1933

And, of course, there are many other historical events involving American communists, socialists, and other “reds” to be uncovered now that we’re moving past the “shoddy but common” recollections of the Cold War: their role in the anti-war movements, women’s suffrage, organizing labor unions, international solidarity—in addition to the arts, literature, the social sciences, the history and philosophy of science. . .and the list goes on.

As Harris sees it,

The story of communism’s struggle against fascism and white supremacy has been repressed for generations, but this grip on our collective memory is slipping fast. David Simon is planning a series about the Abraham Lincoln Brigade—American leftists who fought against fascism in Spain. Steve McQueen is doing a Paul Robeson biopic, whose 1956 testimony before the House Un-American Activities Committee is already the most cinematic thing I’ve ever heard. When asked about his membership in the Party, he invoked the Fifth Amendment (“Loudly”), at great personal cost. “Wherever I’ve been in the world,” he told them, “the first to die in the struggle against fascism were the communists.”

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This week marks the 100th anniversary of the world-historic Easter Rising in Ireland. And, here in the United States, we’re getting quite an education—first, with 1916 The Irish Rebellion, a big, lavishly produced slab of prestige television (with none other than Liam Neeson as the narrator), available on 120 television stations in the United States and on the BBC; then, on Sundance, with Rebellion, a soap-operaish version of the same events; and, finally,  A Full Life: James Connolly the Irish Rebel, a graphic remembrance of socialist agitator, editor, and author Connolly illustrated by artist Tom Keough.*

I’ve only seen the two television series, so I can’t comment on Keough’s book.

In my view, 1916 The Irish Rebellion does an excellent job of providing the necessary background (at least for those of us lacking the basic, Irish secondary-school-book knowledge of the events—although it tends to exaggerate the U.S. connection (highlighted in the trailer) and to downplay the egalitarian and socialist impulses in the Rising’s anti-imperialism (which, I presume, the Connolly book serves to correct). And while Rebellion is more an intimate recreation than a documentary (and does take historical liberties and shortcuts in dramatizing, I would say melodramatizing, the events), it does highlight the role of women among the forces for and against Irish independence.

Still, both television series serve to shine a spotlight on the short-lived and ultimately failed rebellion that showed to the rest of Ireland (beyond Dublin), the British Empire (for which this was the beginning of the end), and the rest of the world (in a wide variety of socialist, communist, and national-liberation movements) that the dream of making and changing history was embodied by and yet could not be contained within the “terrible beauty” of 1916.**

 

*Here’s the appropriate disclaimer: while 1916 The Irish Rebellion was largely financed by the University of Notre Dame and written by Notre Dame professor Bríona Nic Dhiarmada, I played no role in the creation or dissemination of the documentary.

**It is precisely that terrible beauty that is taken up in Ken Loach’s film, Jimmy’s Hall, which takes place in 1932 and focuses on the post-1916 political tensions among the Catholic church, the state, the landowners, and the republican movement.

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Special mention

jpgImageApril 22, 2016

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The headlines (e.g., here and here) are all pretty much the same: Patricio Aylwin, who died yesterday, successfully guided Chile to the restoration of democracy.

But in the interests of real history (as with others, such as Jeffrey Sachs), we need to keep in mind what actually happened: Aylwin played a central role in the military coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende in 1973.

At the time, Aylwin was the president of the Senate and the president of the Christian Democrats. His led his party into an alliance with the right-wing National Party, forming the so-called Confederation of Democracy, which was opposed to Allende’s Socialist government and served to paralyze the activities of government. In the meantime (and in a campaign of covert action in Chile that stretched back to the 1960s), the CIA was paying some $6.8–8 million to right-wing opposition groups to “create pressures, exploit weaknesses, magnify obstacles” and hasten Allende’s overthrow—as revealed by the Church Committee (pdf) and in a now-declassified document from July 1975, “Agency Covert Action Operations in Chile Since 1962” (pdf).

Just one week before the coup led by General Augusto Pinochet, Aylwin participated in drafting and then signing a congressional act to the effect that the Allende government “sought to impose a totalitarian regime” and asking the military to “help reestablish the rule of law.” This document, little noticed at the time, was later used as the main reason for the uprising of the normally apolitical Chilean military.

Much later, Aylwin did in fact participate in negotiations that led the government and the opposition to agree on 54 constitutional reforms, thereby making possible a peaceful transition to democracy. He was eventually elected president of the Republic on 14 December 1989, thus ending 16 years of the brutal military dictatorship.

Still, given Aylwin’s support (together with many other members of the Christian Democratic Party and, from abroad, by none other than Henry Kissinger) for the 1973 coup, history will not absolve him.

 

*For younger readers or those who may not closely follow events in Latin America, the title of the post refers to the title of the famous speech by Fidel Castro, “History Will Absolve Me,” which he delivered in his own defense on 16 October 1953 while in court (as one of about 100 defendants) after he led an attack on the Moncada Barracks.

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Throughout American history, whenever workers try to organize, they’re opposed by their employers.

That was true in the period of manufacturing, and then with the growth of the service sector. Now, it’s true in the so-called sharing economy.

Seattle [ht: sm] was the first city in the nation to allow drivers for companies such as Uber and Lyft, as well as taxi and for-hire drivers, the right to collectively negotiate on pay and working conditions.

Back in January, Uber tried to stop workers from organizing by having their customer service representatives engage in union-busting by reading anti-union statements to drivers.

“Drivers choose Lyft to earn extra money when, where and for however long they can work,” a company spokeswoman told PCMag. “We continue to share concerns raised by city officials that the ordinance threatens the privacy of drivers, conflicts with longstanding federal labor and antitrust law, and may undermine the flexibility that makes Lyft so attractive both to drivers and passengers.”

Now, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is suing Seattle over the new ride-sharing ordinance.

“This ordinance threatens the ability not just of Seattle, but of every community across the country, to grow with and benefit from our evolving economy,” Amanda Eversole, president of the Chamber’s Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation, said in a statement.

“Technology companies are leading the charge when it comes to empowering people with the flexibility and choice that comes with being your own boss, and that is something to be championed, not stifled,” she added.

Seattle’s ordinance—approved unanimously by the city council but opposed by Mayor Ed Murray—threatens the viability of that economy, the Chamber said.

The U.S. economy today is radically different from what it was in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. And, yet, some things have not changed: Workers are exploited and they try to organize unions to bargain over their wages and working conditions. Meanwhile, their employers do everything they can to try to stop them.