Their ornateness and their discongruity from the neighborhoods that surround them tends to engender equal parts awe and hatred, and this is by design. They could also be a place, however, where the working class captures the attention of those who have long ignored their voices. A place where we make democracy something tangible, something real. However, there are few moments in our political process that crystallize the limits that are placed on popular participation in our government than the public comment period of legislative hearings.
Michael Wolff’s alleged exploration of the Trump administration, Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House, is now a best-seller. The most explosive claims documented by Wolff center around the dysfunctional personality of Donald Trump and a band of political characters that seem to treat him with kid gloves. They tell him what he wants to hear to his face to hold onto their paychecks while jeering behind closed doors, making him out to be a deadheaded emperor with no clothes.
Donald Trump, who is often found tweeting at the break of dawn after clearly having watched a stream of Fox News clips, is currently being assessed by the public, or—more specifically—his mental health is being assessed and has been called into question on numerous occasions. This accusation has incensed him to such a degree that it has driven him into describing himself as “a very stable genius”. So not only is Trump a national embarrassment, but he’s become senile and incapable of doing his job.
But that isn’t the story here.
This is all absurd theater, a frivolity that serves no purpose and creates no substantive answer to what must be done not only about Donald Trump. Moreover, it creates no substantive answer about what must be done to stop the whole ideological and political process that has created and fostered him, his class, and those who hang on his every word.
The eventual nominee, former Republican National Committee chair Ed Gillespie, is probably the worst candidate to have running in a year where his party is about as popular as head lice, syphilis, and root canals. He is a Washington insider, a Virginia outsider (from New Jersey!), and is emblematic of the worst elements of the current rendition of his party.
The Democrats even have history on their side: With the exception of 2013, the opposition party has won every gubernatorial election in the Commonwealth since 1977. Boosting the opposition party’s chances this year is a historically unpopular president who could not even garner the votes of his party’s only living presidents in last year’s presidential election. And people are not passively disapproving of Trump, either: they’re getting active, building movements, and running for office, giving the Democrats the kind of energy that has not been seen since 2008. The national media has helped in a way, framing this as the first statewide electoral test of Donald Trump’s presidency, and it is one that is happening in the administration’s backyard.
And, yet, here we are: in the final hours of this election, the Republican candidate is now even-money to become the Commonwealth’s 73rd governor.
(This is a guest post by Olivier Jutel, lecturer of journalism at the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji. You can find him on Twitter at @OJutel.)
For those looking for an escape from Trump’s America, New Zealand appears to be a choice destination to ride out the catastrophe, with historic achievements like the first welfare state, a robust anti-nuclear movement successfully staring down the United States, and the Waitangi tribunal that monitors the government’s progress on keeping its obligations to the Maori.
Yet, fantasies born out of one’s own political desperation do not tend to hold up well under scrutiny.
It is telling that misanthropist billionaire vampire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel became a citizen of New Zealand, indulging in equal parts his Lord Of The Rings fantasies and bunker style apocalypticism. The role New Zealand plays in the dreams of the rich was recently captured in a Forbes column featuring cataclysmic projections of sea level rises and land reclamation. The author states, “New Zealand will grow in size…will quickly become the glory land, and ultimately become one of the safest areas in the entire world.”
I was a teenager when I first felt this shiver so deep that it made my blood run cold.
I still remember his face, and what he told me after I grabbed his hands as forcefully as I could, and moved them away from my breasts. “What, are you a lesbian?”, he laughed. His friends smirked as a rage quickly swelled up inside me. Yet all I could muster was a balled up fist, and clenched teeth. I would fight myself each day for months, asking why I hadn’t been brave enough to excise every tooth from his face. I’d go through these same battles as I grew older, and one day I realised that all the harassment, and violent assaults began dictating not only how I behaved but what I thought of myself and my humanity.
There is no way to describe what it feels like to know that once the totality of what you’ve endured leaves your lips you’ll be forever changed in someone else’s eyes, even those of your loved ones, and comrades. It is now out in the world, and the consequences are beyond your control.
Jilani’s piece is a mess from beginning to end. From claiming that it was a student who gave up their seat in first-class to a soldier — it was, in fact, an older businessman — to the notion that George’s call for “the spirit of John Brown to visit upon North Charleston” was a call for “vigilante mass murder”, the piece is a masterclass in lacking basic reading comprehension.
Something I have always said about Ronald Reagan is that his “greatness” depended largely on the haplessness of his opponents. Whether it was a fading Gov. Pat Brown, whom Reagan defeated in a nearly one million vote landslide in the 1966 California gubernatorial election, or former Vice President Walter Mondale, whose 1984 annihilation by Reagan is unlikely to be repeated by any presidential candidate, the Gipper had a talent for drawing the weakest opponents as he blazed his path through American political history.
Williams places his piece within the German concept of sonderweg, the notion that the German people traveled a particular path on the road from a collection of nation-states to the democracy that it would eventually become. While this was seen as a positive thing prior to World War I — in that Germany did not experience the kinds of sociopolitical upheavals that, say, characterized France’s transition from monarchy to republic to empire and back again — the rise and fall of the Third Reich transformed this historiography into a profoundly negative inquiry with a simple question: what prompted Germany’s turn towards fascism? It is hard to disagree that such a discussion casts a pall over German life as a whole since the war, as the debates around the rise of far-right formations such as PEGIDA and the Alternative For Germany party continue to show.
Williams argues that Coates is at the helm of such a push in the United States, except that the all-encompassing issue is white supremacy. It is from here, however, that Williams’s argument goes terribly awry.
Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam is running for governor of Virginia. The same Virginia that white supremacists descended on for their mini-version of the Nuremberg rallies, and the same Virginia that Heather Heyer gave her life defending from the same. Donald Trump’s response to the rally and Heyer’s death was to state that there was violence “on many sides” and to condemn the efforts to remove Confederate monuments.
After all of that, though, Ralph Northam still believes that Trump is someone that can be “worked with”.
There is a common sense about democracy in the United States.
We elect people to government. By and large, we allow them to do their work. If we like their work, we re-elect them. If we do not like their work, we sometimes get angry, but that anger is mostly confined to the ballot box every two to four years. The power and agency afforded to one in this system is largely based on class: the wealthy are sought out for consult and decision-making, while the working class is almost entirely shut out of such channels of power completely.
This common sense complicates the everlasting tensions between the Left and the electoral process.
On one hand, the crafting of this two-party system is not natural, and is the product of a long line of decisions taken by the privileged and powerful to limit the acceptable realm of solutions to the problems plaguing our society. Barriers such as onerous signature requirements and the lack of alternative electoral options — such as fusion voting or proportional representation — means the choice that one is presented with on their November ballot often constitutes shades of the same. As such, socialists are right in denouncing the American political process as a kind of sham: democracy for the bosses and authoritarianism for the worker.
Yet national mythologies and common senses are rarely formed without at least some acquiescence from the working class, and it is no different with the electoral process. The truth of the matter is that, for now, the ballot box is the way that a plurality of the working class marks their political preferences. Because of this, socialists cannot afford to completely dismiss the electoral process, lest we be out-of-touch with the class that we seek to elevate, liberate, and emancipate.