Diatribes of Jay

This is a blog of essays on public policy. It shuns ideology and applies facts, logic and math to economic, social and political problems. It has a subject-matter index, a list of recent posts, and permalinks at the ends of posts. Comments are moderated and may take time to appear. Note: Profile updated 4/7/12

30 August 2016

Our New Serfs

[For a major post on failures of our print journalists that threaten our democracy and global leadership, click here. For two posts on the fluid situation of Turkey and its impact on the Syrian civil war, click here.]

Heed Michelle, Hillary!

Rarely is current news so compelling that I relegate a long-labored post to second place. The last time I can remember doing that is when Steve Jobs died.

But today is one of those days. Two front-page NYT stories suggest that Hillary may be turning toward the dark side in her quest to crush Donald Trump. The first reports how Hillary’s debate coaches are focusing on how to “unnerve Mr. Trump and provoke him to rant and rave.” The second reports how Huma Abedin, a dead weight on Hillary’s campaign like Debbie Wasserman Schultz, is still making frightful waves.

Gossip is not politics or policy. It’s not even “news.” Confusion on these points is destroying our media, our government and our collective ability to see ourselves and think straight.

Already gossip has obliterated our ability as a people to focus on what really matters. That’s why so many voters, including me, loved Bernie.

Whatever his flaws—and he has some big ones—Bernie focused like a laser on the big, important issues that trouble us. He never lost that focus. When he said he didn’t “give a damn” about Hillary’s e-mails, he wasn’t belittling the security of executive communications. He was saying that, after years of investigation and no smoking gun, “emailgate” had descended to the level of gossip, and it was time to get back to real, important issues.

Donald Trump is the King of Gossip. If you jump into the mud-wrestling pit with him, he wins. Every time. He has sixteen shrunken GOP heads on his waistband to prove it.

Why is he King? Because he has no shame, no conscience, no logic and no need for consistency or sense. He will lie, curse, insult and mock so that—to a male adolescent mind like his—he wins, every time. He’s not just the frat boy in chief, like Dubya. He’s the apotheosis of the frat boy.

If Hillary gets in that pit with him, she risks what she has labored all her life to build. If she stays on a high place of policy and dignity, she wins, because Trump knows none and has none. We, the people, also win, because we will have a president who has won with intelligence, wit, dignity and grace befitting the office.

One other thing. I have worked in and around legal affairs for 41 years. Every experienced litigator has told me that the “Perry Mason ploy” of getting witnesses to break down on the stand is pure fantasy. It can happen, but it’s a once-in-a-blue-Moon event. You don’t want to bet your campaign, your presidency, or the future of your country on it happening.

As for Huma Abedin, she should go. True, her bizarre husband’s public flirtation and “sexting” is not her fault. But other things may be. As the Times wrote, “Ms. Abedin [is] already a major figure . . . in controversies over Mrs. Clinton’s handling of classified information as secretary of state and over ties between the Clinton family and Mrs. Clinton’s State Department.” In other words, if Abedin didn’t get Hillary into e-mailgate and foundationgate, she sure didn’t keep her out or get her out.

If Hillary is going to remake this nation, she’s going to need people like Barack Obama, Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, Sherrod Brown, and Martin O’Malley to help her. She’s also going to need Nobel-Prize-winning economists like Paul Krugman and Joe Stiglitz. These men and women will be in her Cabinet, or on the Supreme Court, not on her campaign staff. But she needs to have people as indisputably clean, smart and talented on her staff. The time to start is now. Loyalty to staff ought not supersede loyalty to party, nation and higher ideals.

As for dealing with Trump, there is no better advice than Michelle Obama’s from her Convention speech: “When they go low, we go high.” Stooping to Trump’s level would only demean the office that Hillary seeks. She might still win, but she might also greet inauguration day bereft of dignity and grace, and with an entrenched reputation for the kind of gossip-as-policy that is destroying our society.

Our New Serfs

What a field day for our so-called “press!” Our presidential campaign is better than mud-wrestling, and much more consequential. And it’ll go on for another 2.5 months, filling the media’s coffers with insults, hate, counter-hate, gossip galore, and fevered speculation. It sure as hell beats thinking about our longer-term future!

But predicting the outcome is not so much fun. Why? Because, barring the assassination of Hillary that some think The Donald has called for, the outcome is pretty much foreordained.

No, The Donald is not going to win. Yes, the GOP’s resort to such a bizarre and ugly candidate is going to do it huuuuuge damage. That damage will cast the Senate and the Supreme Court into the Dems’ hands, so there will be some reason for longer-term optimism. But however desirable, a three-branch sweep for the Dems is probably not in the cards.

Maybe Hillary will get an anomalously high “Yes, Dear” vote. That would be the votes of women who tell their overbearing husbands they’ll vote for Trump, or for anyone but Hillary, and then do what they please in the privacy of their voting booths. Maybe there are as many or more “Yes, Dear” women as there are men for Trump too cowed to say so.

No one knows now, and probably no one can know now. This election has a lot of reasons for people of all kinds to lie about their preferences, so polls are not much good.

After all the sturm und drang, when we wake up January 21, having partied all night congratulating ourselves on electing our first female chief executive, not much likely will have changed. The Donald will continue his egotistic ravings, but as an “anchor” for Breitbart or Fox—a male Sarah Palin. Isn’t that the pattern now: lose a long-shot election and then get a high-paying job whipping up the rubes?

The GOP will still have the House, so Congress will do nothing. In fact, Congress will become an official, recognized and certified do-nothing institution, just like the Roman Senate before Rome decayed into empire.

If President Hillary Clinton wants to get anything done, she’ll have to do it just as Barack Obama did during the last several years: through laborious bit-by-bit regulation and succeeding decades of litigation. We will have progress, if at all, by pitched battles of paid lawyers, with all the spontaneity, alacrity and enthusiasm that entails. And all of Fox’ legions—you know, the ones who jeer and shout for the chance to become American serfs—will still be there, with all their guns.

Except for McCain, the GOP’s recent presidential wannabes will have shown an interesting mathematical progression of years in public office. Dubya will have had six, Romney four, and Trump zero.

Why is that so? Well, you don’t need much knowledge or experience to ask people to be serfs. You just need the power to persuade, the charm to lull, lots of money to motivate you, and Fox at your back.

Think about it. If your policies are more power to the rich and powerful, with reduced regulation and safeguards for the rest of us, lower taxes for the rich, and “trickle down” for the vast majority, you don’t need many philosophers or economists on your team.

The GOP has not changed that mantra since Reagan cried “It’s your money!” over 35 years ago. Why change it when it’s working for your plutocratic donors and your “operatives,” and when gerrymandering and vote suppression put you in charge of most states?

Anyway, there are now whole legions of “useful idiots” who will brandish their guns on any provocation, just to show how proud they are to be serfs. They want the bankers and CEOs to live in castles and dole out jobs like the feudal lords of old. They want it because Fox and the GOP operatives told them to want it.

How can we be sure of this? Because of a little-noted tectonic shift in American popular culture. In the fifties and sixties, we were a restless, cocky people—every one of us. The standard working-class response to a firing was a middle finger raised in healthy defiance. The title and refrain of a popular late-seventies song said it best: “Take this job and shove it!” Now, in sharp contrast, some 40% of us idolize a man whose most notorious meme is cruelly declaring, “You’re fired!”

How could a proud and vibrant people sink so low?

Our working class could be cocky then for three reasons. First, there were plenty of jobs in good companies, with good futures, lifetime employment, and secure retirement. If you were reasonably smart and willing to work hard, you could get one. (There were also a lot of family farms then; if you wanted that sort of life, you could have it, and so could your hired hands; you didn’t have to worry much about futures trades on Wall Street.)

Second, management then was by people, not computers or “human-resource” drones. The managers wanted to get things done. No matter how bad your record of defiance or poor schooling, if you could find a manager who would give you a chance, you could make it. You didn’t have to have a perfect resume from high school on, complete with politically correct extracurricular activities. Late bloomers were always welcome.

Third, the nation and its industry were growing like topsy. There was so much opportunity, and so few dossiers on ordinary people, that you could make a new life just by moving to a new town, let alone a new state. Electronic dossiers did not follow and record your every move, youthful indiscretions and petty crime, and so cut your employment opportunities like a scythe.

Today, of course, all these things are otherwise. If you show defiant individuality, let alone real defiance, you will be marked for life. Every potential employer will know, and the “human resource” specialists, who are themselves serfs, will never take a chance on you. You’ve got to fit the corporate mold, and you’ve got to don it early, or you won’t be able to make a living, let alone a decent one. Your only other option is to join Bernie’s Revolution or the military.

So why not be a fervent serf? If you’re going to be one anyway, you might as well be loud, proud and rude about it. You might as well as pick up that gun and work for the plutes. If you do so convincingly enough, you might become part of their private armies.

That way, of course, lies empire. Indeed, all we need now is a new perpetual sink of war and pestilence in the South China Sea, to match that in Syria. Then we can validate George Orwell’s dark vision of three great empires—China’s, Russia’s and ours—crushing their people internally and disposing of “misfits” in perpetual border and proxy wars. (Orwell didn’t foresee the EU.)

How do we Yanks, with a paralyzed Congress just like ancient Rome’s Senate, avoid its historical fate: decay and eventual dissolution? The answer is very much in doubt. It will remain so even if Hillary wins, for no single election, however precedential, can undo the forces of history.

Nevertheless, we small-d democrats still have three things going for us. First and foremost are our African-Americans. With biblical perseverance, they have spent four centuries trying to gain full citizenship and freedom for themselves. They are getting closer, but they still haven’t gotten there yet. They aren’t about to give up after four centuries, and they’re never going to fall for serfdom: to them it looks too much like slavery. That’s why only 1% of them reportedly favor Trump; if that number holds, theirs will be the greatest demographic electoral landslide in human history.

Barack Obama and Cory Booker are just two of many. Once white people get over their childish fears, blacks will become ubiquitous as political leaders, just as the Irish did in the last century. If blacks don’t forget their own trials or lose their empathy, they will give us all humanity and hope. They will never fall for Fox, Trump or any straw boss.

Hispanics are a bit different. Traditional Hispanic culture has always been aristocratic and authoritarian. Even the mother country, Spain, never had a real democracy until the Transition from Francismo in 1975. And the Catholic Church—a mainstay of Hispanic culture—has been one of the most authoritarian institutions in human history. It still is, despite the breath of fresh air that is Pope Francis.

Many Hispanics have been in the US long enough to acquire a taste for freedom and self-reliance similar to our African-Americans’. But many have not. When you’ve spent years hiding from “la Migra” and just hoping to live, work and raise your family in the shadows, the habits of serfdom are hard to shake.

That, in fact, is why the GOP has been so insistent in keeping our Hispanic migrants in the shadows for so long. Not only are they cheap, docile labor. Keeping them thus fits precisely the plutes’ long-term agenda: a new corporate serfdom much more robust and resilient than medieval feudalism. The new serfs will have residual upward mobility as a motivational goal but will be subject to stringent control at every stage of the corporate ladder. And of course corporations will be much more powerful than governments, as they are becoming even today.

So for those of us who still believe in democracy, getting our eleven million undocumented workers regularized and out of the shadows is one of the most vital tasks of the next decade. It’s so not just for them, or for the abstraction of “justice,” but for every still-free American. We must bring them into the light and make them full Yanks, with all our traditional self-confidence and defiance. If we fail to do so, the eleven million could become a huge new class of docile serfs, as well as a nice private army for the plutes in their future empire.

The last thing going for us small-d dems is one of the things this election is all about: women. Women in power are the wild cards that could shake our politics and our society up.

Even without a three-branch sweep, Hillary could make big changes in our culture and self image. She might follow in the footsteps of Queen Elizabeth I, who took a small island nation riven with internecine warfare and religious strife and forged it into the world’s dominant culture of democracy, science, technology and business.

What will Hillary do in the White House? Whom will she pick for her team? Those, too, are still unanswered questions. Even against the background of Hillary’s ample personal history, they are unknowns.

Oddly, all of Hillary’s few real accomplishments to date could be categorized as “women’s.” She tried and failed to get everyone better health insurance; then she did it for eight million children. She took care of the injured and sick first responders after 9/11, almost as if she were their collective mother. She fought hard to get authorization for the President to use force in Libya so she and he could save the cornered Benghazi rebels from annihilation, which they did. Even her mistake in supporting Dubya’s war in Iraq, at first, could be viewed as trying to save the Iraqi people from the depredations of Saddam.

Hillary is, after all, a woman. In that respect she’s nearly unique as a leader, especially at the helm of a great empire. But she has the example of Elizabeth I, who by reasoning and making deals, not war, founded humanity’s most advanced culture, to which we Yanks are heirs.

Even in the worst case, Hillary as president might stave off our new feudalism for a short time yet. Maybe, just maybe, she could get us to bring those eleven million out of the shadows of their new serfdom and, with their help, begin to restore the cockiness and defiance that is every working Yank’s birthright. Keeping eleven million serfs in every restaurant, hotel, and slaughterhouse in America, as well as the elite’s nurseries, homes and gardens, hardly serves as a good example for our working class. Our workers don’t need scapegoats; they need reinforcements.



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