Hail to the Chief

Like everyone I have been watching events of the last few months with horror. I don’t mean the Corona virus, which most civilized nations, even the hardest-hit, have managed to confront with strength, medical science, and social responsibility — while the United States instead has chosen denial, lies, and finger-pointing.

No, as bad as it is — and it’s not over by a long shot — the world will survive this as it did the 1918 Spanish flu.

It’s our “democracy” — and the word is in quotes because I’m not convinced we actually have one — it’s our democracy’s demise that’s making me lose sleep.

No need to recite the long list of crimes and usurpations from the fascist playbook that the current President has committed in only the last few months. No need to point out the erratic, disturbing behavior on display daily. Encouraging acts violence, threats to the press, the Justice Department run by a gang of cronies defending criminals. All part of a four year nightmare from which we have not yet awakened.

Even the steady approval the President receives from his “base” of White Christian nationalists, anti-government militias, overt white supremacists and treasonous grifters — this, in one form or another, has been with us since the founding of this slave republic. Historians can fill you in on past centuries, but if you don’t know what’s transpired in your own lifetime, you haven’t been paying attention.

I’ve been relatively silent these last months. Truth is, I’ve said just about everything I’ve had to say about Capitalism, American imperialism, foreign policy, militarism, white supremacy, inequality, immigration, press freedom, democracy, criminal justice, and police accountability.

If, after the second collapse of the American economy in little more than a decade — and if, after seeing precisely on what kind of foundation American Capitalism is based, the kind of people running the show, the total disregard they have for the lives of citizens and how easily they will abuse the power of the state for their own advantage — if after all this inescapable reality people cannot recognize America’s true face, then what’s the point of hurling more words into the void?

Hardly surprising, my conservative friends and relatives don’t understand why I have a problem with things that have been working so well for them — for us, for white America — these last 400 years. But it is American Liberals that worry me the most.

Here we are, on the cusp of a national election, and Democrats — correctly identified as the party of upper middle class elites — don’t know what side they’re on. Of the several trillion dollars of COVID-19 bailout money allocated, little is actually finding its way into human hands. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez called the amount “crumbs” when refusing to support one rescue bill.

Here we are, faced with the loss of 50 million jobs and the Democratic nominee is still clinging to Obamacare — employer-based healthcare — and his party has never debated generational poverty.

Here we are, faced with a resurgence of lynchings and police abuse, viral infection of prisoners in tightly-packed prisons — and Democrats have said almost nothing about mass incarceration and police accountability.

Here we are, faced with the obvious connections between global pandemics and global environmental crises, and the need to address them urgently — and the DNC still thinks environmental policy and the Green New Deal are too controversial to discuss in public.

My Liberal friends expect me to support a gaffe machine who was just pulled out of storage and still smells of mothballs — this after watching younger, better, smarter candidates of color being systematically flicked off the primary chess board.

But of course I’ll vote for him. What’s the alternative? A neurosyphilitic white supremacist? Liberals are not wrong to describe the 45th president as a toxic menace. But he’s only a menace because he has so successfully exploited every loophole in a Constitutional government designed by slaveholders to thwart a functional democracy.

My Liberal friends tell me their man is just the guy America needs to return things to “normal.”

And this is precisely the problem. The “new normal” in America is really just the unavoidably, undeniable cartoon version of the “old normal” Democrats would have us return to. And it does nothing to address underlying problems of economic inequality, racism, militarism, and systemic exploitation and injustice that have made a lot of Democrats financially very comfortable.

Among Democrats there is an obsessive preoccupation with quashing “divisiveness,” a disturbing avoidance of committing to specific policy positions, and an even more disturbing kinship with Republicans — the obsession with “leadership.” Maybe it’s because in a Capitalist society every chief executive is a mini-Stalin, and it’s just another convention we never question. One friend wrote that a detailed party program was wrong, that we should elect Biden and then let him write it: “once elected, then comes the hard work of determining the specifics.”

What my friend describes is a very American, very corporate, fundamentally undemocratic, and frankly patronizing, process of leaving heavy thinking to a leader who doesn’t have to follow party principles. In fact, in this world parties don’t have any principles. By the time political decisions are made lobbyists are already running the show — because they were the ones whispering into the candidate’s ear from the beginning.

A recent example of the Liberal preoccupation with “leadership” is a Washington Post article by Karen Tumulty attempting to connect Joe Biden’s COVID-19 remarks with Robert Kennedy’s after Martin Luther King’s assassination: “Though Kennedy was a white man of enormous privilege, he spoke with the moral authority of one who had lost his own brother to a murderer’s bullet […] Barely two months later, Kennedy himself would be slain. But the words he said still live. They speak not only to what this country can still become, but its need for a leader who can point the way in that direction.”

But nostalgia, name-dropping, and ham-handed metaphors don’t cut it for a lot of Americans. If you hadn’t noticed this week, African Americans are fed up with being killed and fed up with meaningless verbiage.

From Bakari Sellers to Derecka Purnell to Van Jones to Trevor Noah Liberals have had a recent opportunity to hear (again) from black intellectuals and notables in media outlets they are familiar with. And these men and women are not saying anything past generations haven’t told white Liberals. The question is: why haven’t we been listening?

Van Jones took aim at Liberal hypocrisy: “It’s not the racist white person who is in the Ku Klux Klan that we have to worry about. It’s the white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter walking her dog in Central Park who would tell you right now, ‘Oh I don’t see race, race is no big deal to me, I see all people the same, I give to charities,’ but the minute she sees a black man who she does not respect, or who she has a slight thought against, she weaponized race like she had been trained by the Aryan Nation.”

I guess some of us are just a special sort of stupid. If Trump was promising “shooting” for “looting,” New York City major Bill DeBlasio was shooting himself in the foot. After NYPD police officers actually ran over demonstrators with patrol cars, the mayor defended their actions, attributing unrest in the city to “out-of-towners” — apparently the Northern version of “outside agitators.”

Liberals just don’t know (without running a focus group or consulting pollsters) whose side they’re on.

An article in the Root ridiculed the White need to “contextualize the anger, frustration and desperation that forced protesters to recreate the lawlessness and chaos that black people experience on a daily basis.” “Alright,” it began. “August 1619…”

It is not a single person, a particular president, or a specific “leader” who is the cancer destroying the United States. It is not bad leadership but Capitalism and White Supremacy that are killing people, impoverishing families, oppressing people.

If Liberals think that replacing one old white hair-plugged, dental-veneered geezer with another is the only remedy for what ails us, I have some hydroxychloroquine I’d like to sell you.

The issue is not leadership, but the system that the leader leads.

The America of 2025

Each day we are reminded how corrupt, incompetent, mentally ill, and cognitively impaired Donald Trump is. His administration is a nightmare from which we awake only to discover that the new day’s reality has become even more frightening than the day before.

With over 1.2 million COVID-19 cases and over 73,000 deaths [as of today], Trump is more concerned with “reopening” the country than saving lives, providing testing and masks, or issuing a national shutdown order. Trump’s leadership has been as lacking as with every other GOP response to a natural disaster.

Trump has hawked snake oil cures, peddled multiple conspiracy theories involving China and the World Health Organization, his scientists have been muzzled, he has sidelined and censored the CDC, and his son-in-law is in charge of phantom ventilator contracts. Just as with deals involving the mafia, when doing business with the White House Don it seems it pays to “know a guy.”

In the midst of all this chaos, ineptitude and deep division over how (or whether) to socially distance, people have no recourse but to fend for themselves, make their own masks, help their neighbors, try to nurture social connections, and somehow keep body and soul together. Trump’s followers, however, are prepping for the apocalypse, stockpiling weapons and ammunition, placing their neighbors in the crosshairs, and putting them in spitting (and coughing) distance — all because it’s their “right” as God-fearing White Americans.

In Michigan, armed militia members opposing the governor’s stay-at-home orders entered the state capitol, forcing legislators to don kevlar vests. In contrast, the full weight of the State has come down on any Black person found ignoring masks or social distancing orders. That is, when Black folks aren’t being harrassed for actually wearing a face mask. In Texas, a white woman refused to obey an order to close her salon and became a hero in a state that objects to asylum seekers crossing the border because “we are a nation of laws.” But laws only for some.

The Coronavirus has also illuminated America’s festering racial, class, and economic inequalities. For Republicans the pandemic has been a bonanza for extracting greater tax and loan advantages for Big Business, enacting bans on travel and abortion while the public is distracted, and for returning the country to the 1950’s. For Democrats, the economic and health crisis on our doorstep hasn’t fully registered. Democrats managed to choose a 78 year-old Centrist with a massive #MeToo problem who just wants to return the world to 2012 and to tweak Obama’s flawed health plan as little as possible. In the meantime, the world has completely changed. Even with Biden’s candidacy in shambles, they’re still sticking with their man and his vision for the past.

Although people of color and America’s working poor have borne the brunt of the pandemic, there is little indication that help is on the way. Although $3 trillion has been disbursed to save American jobs, most of the money is predictably not finding its way into human hands.

Black Americans account for a staggering number of Coronavirus deaths. In Louisiana, the percentage of African American mortality among all COVID-19 deaths is 70%. The same percentage describes the situation in Chicago. Black Americans have long had high rates of asthma (lack of environmental protections), diabetes and heart problems (lack of healthcare and insurance) — and these are all “underlying conditions” which reduce COVID-19 survivability. It’s no exaggeration to say that America is literally killing Black people.

Despite the fact that the the Navajo Nation has the third highest infection rate in the country, it has not received emergency funds for testing. Similarly, the Seattle Indian Health Board, a Native American health center, “asked for tests, and instead they sent us a box of body bags,” according to the center’s CEO. White America seems to be trying to tell Native Americans something.

LatinX workers in the nation’s meat processing plants have been forced to work-while-sick at their jobs despite massive infection levels. Likewise, people in the jails and prisons of this nation with the greatest incarceration rate in the world — overwhelmingly poor and people of color — are at risk of contracting the virus in crowded, unsanitary conditions, deprived of soap, face masks and testing.

Many Americans are now literally starving, people are unable to pay for rent or food, and everyone wants an expansion of antibody testing and vaccine development. But corporate immunity is about the only immunity the Trump administration and its collaborators in the Senate really care about. Democrats just signed off on the greatest corporate giveaway in American history, and only one House representative protested the “crumbs for our families.”

I am confident that America will survive a global pandemic — just as it did 102 years ago. Whether we end up with a quarter of a million or several million deaths is largely up to the lunatics running the asylum. Some of us will be statistics; others will be survivors. Life will go on.

But it’s the survival of anything resembling a democracy that’s got me worried. Unless a substantial number of Americans have had enough, the world of 2025 will be run by the same Capitalists who have profited the most from a series of corporate bailouts beginning in the Seventies. For all the lofty Liberal expressions of “rethinking America” and “reconsidering” who is actually an essential worker, don’t expect to see any change unless we — collectively — decide that an essential worker ought to be paid at least as much as a supply chain consultant. But please, somebody, tell me how that happens in a Capitalist economy.

We don’t have a democracy now, and we won’t have one in 2025 unless everyone is equal under the law. Without a serious effort to erase long-standing economic and racial injustices and completely restructure criminal justice and policing in America, cops will still be harassing and even lynching Black men in America in 2025, and the jails will still be full of poor people who can’t make bail. Without health care as a right, some of us will live decades longer than others. Without reparations or a plan to lift up generationally disadvantaged communities, many Black and Native and LatinX Americans will still live in a Third World America while White America continues to live in its dreamy version of Pleasantville.

A new society is possible. But I fear White America, comfortable in its privilege, really has no incentive to tinker with what’s been working for them so well all these years.

Friedman’s Cabinet

A New York Times editorial by Tom Friedman making the rounds offers specific recommendations for a Biden cabinet. Friedman’s terrible picks deserve both scrutiny and comment.

For starters, the “Team of Rivals” approach is even more ill-conceived today than it was in 2016. And backing up for a second, what’s the rush to anoint Joe Biden before he survives the Coronavirus, the last Democratic primary, and a convention? Joe Biden is not Juan Guaidó: he can’t simply proclaim himself president (or nominee) before an election says he is. Premature anointment is a 2016 mistake Democrats seem determined to repeat in 2020. This is a party that never learns.

Instead of a “Team of Rivals” that magically makes Republicans sing Kumbaya along with Democrats, what we really need is an experienced Democratic cabinet that reflects America’s neighborhoods and not America’s boardrooms. We need a kick-ass team of Democrats who believe in science and education and health and economic and racial justice — including Democrats usually relegated to the sidelines while people like Friedman’s choices run America into the ground as ineptly as their Republican golfing buddies.

The Democratic Party is being held together with duct tape and spearmint gum. If Democrats need anything, it is to give power to people already inside the tent, especially progressives and African Americans — rather than handing Republicans, Think Tank ideologues, CEO’s, and Friedman’s Davos crowd any more power than they already have.

Where Friedman casts a few crumbs to progressives and African Americans, they are cynical and ill-fitting posts akin to ambassadorships. With Friedman’s picks, Corporate America can rest assured that Neoliberalism and reckless foreign policy will continue — and his choice of so many American oligarchs all but guarantees it.

Worse, Friedman’s cabinet assignments are an extension of the Centrist Democrat election “strategy” of sidelining progressives and minorities in favor of America’s imagined “heartland” and “center.” The enthusiasm with which Friedman’s half-baked notions have gathered appreciative sighs is discouraging. It confirms my belief that Democrats are a party of small ideas and wishful thinking.

Who on Friedman’s List will finally deal with reparations, student debt, or the formation of a single-payer National Health Care System? Who on his list is prepared to implement economic, criminal, policing, and racial justice reforms? Remember: this will be a Biden monster cobbled together from human parts harvested from the Clinton and Obama administrations.

Basically, the best Friedman has come up with is an offer to share Democratic power with Republicans immediately after being won — that is, if a lackluster candidate and an uninspiring cabinet can even inspire voters to choose a Democratic slate.

Below are my comments on Friedman’s specific choices. Among them are too many Centrists and Republicans, a frightening number of oligarchs, numerous Think Tank and Davos buddies, and a racial and socioeconomic mix that looks little like the real America.

Post Person Notes
Vice President Gov. Gretchen Whitmer of Michigan, former Health and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala or Gov. Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island This is a giant “F*** You” to African Americans. And from which section of his colon did Friedman pull Gina Raimondo?
Treasury Secretary Mike Bloomberg Another member of the Ruling Class?
Health and Human Services Secretary Bill Gates Another member of the Ruling Class?
Secretary of Oversight for the trillions of dollars in emergency Coronavirus spending Elizabeth Warren Instead of letting Warren create a single-payer national healthcare system
Attorney General Merrick Garland Why not Kamala Harris and save Garland for SCOTUS (again)?
Homeland Security Secretary Andrew Cuomo Another Giulani in the making; he is not acceptable to progressives
Secretary of State Mitt Romney A White Republican, and not even one most White Republicans like
Defense Secretary Michèle Flournoy A Clinton neoconservative, just what we don’t need
Labor Secretary Ro Khanna An attempt to buy off a progressive critic of reckless “Defense” spending
Secretary of National Infrastructure Rebuild (Friedman’s new cabinet post) Walmart C.E.O. Doug McMillon Another member of the Ruling Class?
Commerce Secretary Former American Express C.E.O. Ken Chenault Another member of the Ruling Class?
O.M.B. Director Gov. Mike DeWine of Ohio Why is Friedman afraid to let a Democrat run the OMB?
Education Secretary Laurene Powell Jobs Friedman has been hob-nobbing at Davos too long with celebrities like Steve Jobs’ widow
U.N. ambassador Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Why not put AOC in charge of the Green New Deal? Maybe because Centrists don’t believe in it.
HUD secretary Ford Foundation chief Darren Walker Walker is Friedman’s only African-American pick but is not exactly in touch with its problems
Interior Secretary Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham of New Mexico Friedman treats this like an inherited position: Grisham’s father, Manuel Lujan, was Bush’s Interior Secretary
Energy Secretary Andy Karsner (a green Republican who led renewable energy for George W. Bush) Another from the Davos crowd, and affiliated with Laurene Jobs. But why not an author or cosponsor of the Green New Deal?
E.P.A. administrator Al Gore Gore made some nice movies back in the day, but my choice would be Jay Inslee