BluecollarAl on Our Divided Nation

Yves here. Lambert and I have been discussing that the Democratic Party’s persistent efforts to undermine the orderly transfer of power (which as Lambert described long form, was a major concern of our nation’s founders) look uncomfortably like a threat to the constitutional order. Similarly, ongoing marches and rallies appear to be simply against the Republicans taking power, as opposed to traditional issue-driven protests, like equal rights for blacks, opposing the war in Iraq, preserving net neutrality, and more recently, Black Lives Matter and NoDAPL, which had clear messages and aims.

As a result, the protests against Trump and the Republicans look unlikely to succeed since it’s the same coalition, people from upper middle income groups and/or people living in blue cities, that already managed to lose a winnable election to traditional Republicans and the Trump base. And this loss came despite the presidential campaign sucking resources and dollars out of down-ticket races, with the results that the Democrats continued to bleed losses at all levels of government.

Worse, much of the messaging is all about stirring up hatred, too often on dubious claims, with Russia scaremongering one of the biggest, while underplaying serious, legitimate causes for concern, like the rise of oligarchy and the threat to gut regulations on a widespread basis. But the Dems are chary about talking about any economic issues since they have their pet oligarchs but keep them under wraps a bit better.

The Dems and the press seem intent on continually intensifying fear and hatred of Trump and his Rust Belt supporters. Lambert and I find it hard to see a logical endpoint of this effort to delegitimize not merely the person of the President, but his voters and their States, other than civil war (they “will rule or ruin in all events”). And this makes no sense, strategically, given that the Democrats are heavily concentrated in cities that do not make up a contiguous land area and are not even remotely capable of supporting themselves physically, and that most of the people in this country who carry guns as part of their job voted Republican. Yet were these protests to jell into something effective, it’s hard to see any other end game.

Hoisted from comments:

In June, 1858, in one of the great speeches in the history of our country and our politics, Lincoln declared, quoting the New Testament, and in the teeth of the undeniable and unresolvable antagonism between pro and anti-slavery citizens, that “A house divided against itself cannot stand.”

Lincoln’s hope was that this country would not “dissolve”. But at the same time he foresaw the inevitably of civil war as the only realistic albeit tragic way in which an America divided on grounds as fundamental as slavery for some versus (political) freedom for all, could resolve its “crisis” and “cease to be divided”.

For Lincoln there was no other alternative. There are many times when inhabitants of the “house” disagree. Such is to be expected and disagreements are normally resolved sooner or later. The house endures. But there are those other (rare) times when “agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented”. A “crisis” is reached, and eventually the nation “will become all one thing or all the other.” Civil war cruelly declares a victor and a loser.

There was no way to compromise. The deepest narratives by which each side, pro-slavery and pro-“freedom” (Lincoln’s word), understood the meaning of the American Republic, the great Enlightenment-inspired experiment in representative democratic government, and ultimately what it means to live in community, organize ourselves politically, socially, economically, and what counts to being a human person, were mutually exclusive. How do you “negotiate” away this conflict? How do you dialectically transcend it? Either the laborer in our cotton fields and plantation households is a human person or not. When the organization of society depends on how we answer explicitly in argument and slogan or implicitly in our unquestioned assumptions, questions about the origins and purposes of life itself, war could only appear to Lincoln as inevitable, even if he refused at this point (1858) to come right out and say it.

A question for us to think about: When, since the time of Lincoln, slavery, and the Civil War, has America been as fundamentally divided as it is now, today, 2017? When have the basic stories that we tell ourselves and that we have assimilated into our habits of head and heart, been more deeply and irreconcilably opposed? Where and what is the dialectical resolution between coastal cosmopolitans chasing a “good life” understood as an ever expanding, protected, and affirmed “market” for individual choice and self- inventing “lifestyles”, and the flyover country provincials living in communities devastated by the corrosive solvency of aggressive finance capital on the make, weakened by disappearing communities, impotent traditions, mocked religion, broken families, and constant anxiety about providing the daily bread? And when have the imaginations of those so opposed been less able to conceive workable solutions that embrace both sides? Are there solutions that are able to embrace both sides?

Can the institution of representative democracy, arguably a product of the Age of Reason with its belief in “nature and nature’s God” and the “inalienable natural rights” that can be discovered by the enlightened human intellect, survive in post-Enlightenment post-modernism with its hermeneutics of suspicion in which there are no admitted “facts”, no unifying “truths”, and “right” is a function of “might”, the Will to Power.

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  1. Skip Intro

    When, since the time of Lincoln, slavery, and the Civil War, has America been as fundamentally divided as it is now, today, 2017?


    As I just said in the other thread, Many viewed Obama as illegitimate. In 2008 it was the birthers and teabaggers who claimed the president was illegitimate, now it is the bicoastal bourgeoisie. Probably the numbers are about the same, now the NYT and MSNBC are on board instead of WSJ and Fox.

    1. BeliTsari

      Is funny, no? Union “Rust Belt” honkeys sort’ve started this whole nightmare, suicidally voting against our own interests in 1980. With 12k new gas wells in PA alone, self-driving commercial vehicles since the 80’s & WATER, the area’s… y’know, starting to feel it’s oats, an’at? CA & TX can talk secession… but looky who actually won a war between the states? Pittsburgh alone has 3.4% recent immigrants, lotsa ofay boomers along with robotics, pharmaceutical, the planet’s oldest nuclear industry, steel, aluminum, glass, energy efficiency, composites, coal, wind, IT, communications, state-of-the-art medical & regenerative agriculture; shit, we invented half this stuff? Piss-poor peckerwoods here KNOW they’re being bad, inbred wet-brains, with truly abysmal impulse control & a tendency towards projection, displacement & specious misconstural. But, damn… all FOX’s cage-rattling has finally paid-off. 35 years of “them or US” reality infomercials has (even Hispanic, female & young) the locals just waiting for some pay-for-view smack-down of “coastal elites,” they’ll likely be drinking Yuengling & eating nitrosamine-flavored hog offal as they watch?

      1. craazyboy

        After 35 years of “divide” and the divided tally yielding 1 winner for every 99 losers, making smackdown great again has just gotta happen.

        1. BeliTsari

          When Graham Yost wanted to shoot Elmore Leonard’s “Fire in the Hole” pilot for “Justified” in West Virginia… they realized the locations, there, simply weren’t scary redneck enough? They quickly moved to Pennsyltucky. Better beer, lotsa Lithuanian shiksa, halushki & kishka!

    2. Wyoming

      What is going on now certainly has potential, but, as someone who lived through it, today is still an order of magnitude further away from such divisions which manifested themselves in America during the height of the Vietnam War and the Civil Rights movement.

      When cities are burning and there are bodies in the street come back and make this claim again.

      How quickly we forget.

      1. RUKidding

        Agree. I well remember the burning cities of the ’60s Civil Rights movement, along with the murders in the south, and all the rest of it. A lot have forgotten that or are too young to have lived through it.

        We did get through that, and we came out on the other side in a bit of a better place, including after the all the Viet Nam war hullabaloo. Sadly, the Oligarchs and the right couldn’t stand it that citizens were flourishing and doing rather well for themselves, so the right planned things out – in big part via Nixon’s Southern Strategy – and this is the end result.

        Divide and conquer. And the Oligarchs have certainly conquered the 99%. And most of the 99%, no matter how they vote, still don’t get it. Don’t get this huge divide amongst us is killing us, while enriching the Oligarchs. Davos man laughs and laughs… how well it’s all going.

      2. PhilM

        I find the historical insights in Al’s post compelling because they go to the deepest ways people think about organizing themselves–not just about policy, fraught as that is with strife. What Al is talking about is the philosophy of government.

        The philosophy of government behind the Civil Rights movement was Constitutional: the all-important 14th Amendment (a restatement and expansion of the most fundamental Right Of Man, the one butchered by the slavery provisions of the original Constitution, namely, equality of men before the law). To me, it seemed that the 1960s battles were more about how far to carry the fight for the principle, than which principle to follow.

        What is happening now is completely different. It is a death-match between Enlightenment-rooted, classical-liberal principles like “equality before the law,” and another organizing principle of government: that of “privilege,” (literally personal laws), which is the ideological foundation of feudalism. Privilege organizes a society so that, individual rights depend, legally, on the groups that people belong to. It accords primacy to specific contracts regulating the rights and burdens of those groups. It inevitably arises when government arrogates all authority for social welfare to itself: not only security, but also all the social and ideological functions that classically devolved upon private bodies, such as charity, nutrition, education, and management even of the most traditionally intimate functions, such as procreative rights, or choice of intoxicants.

        Under such a system as that, familiar to everyone in late ancien regime France, nobody is equal before the law; almost no two people belong to the same set of groups (known as bodies, or corporations), of which there were tens of thousands. Everyone really was a unique snowflake in the ancien regime.

        But all that was overthrown; and it was supposed to have been replaced by a universal Social Contract, if not in 1787, at least in 1865. To fall back to ancien-regime corporatism, and worse, to mix it with race as a dividing corporatist principle, is recidivism at the most fundamental level, and that makes it truly different from anything since the Civil War.

        To return to the idea some people are different from others before the law is poisonous: it is the inevitable road to feudalism, a method of organizing society where all human relationships, economic and political, are determined by contract; and serfdom, indentures, and slavery are nothing more than contracts under the big umbrella.

        Now you will surely say, “that is just the principle–nobody ever behaved that way.” Nolo contendere. But what we are talking about is the world as it is, and which principles to follow in organizing our world. To me, I would rather strive for the world that is equality before the law, than a world where how much money people have–in either direction; or the color of their skin, or their sex, or what they do in the bedroom, or their employment contract, permits, or even requires, the polity to treat them differently.

        1. Fec

          That was wonderful. It seems to me Saturday evinced a metamorphic, maybe genetic rage against those incapable of comprehending how much they cared.

        2. lambert strether

          > almost no two people belong to the same set of groups

          Rather like the gate-keeping and worthiness determination built into ObamaCare.

          > serfdom, indentures, and slavery are nothing more than contracts under the big umbrella.

          Gee, that sounds like libertarianism.

      3. barrisj

        Precisely correct…dear God, political assassinations during the 60’s were a hallmark of a country at war with itself, a manifestation of intolerance, hatred, and irreconcilable posture that also played out in the cultural and political arenas. Young v. old, longhairs and hippies v. the straights (and this doesn;t refer to sexual orientation!), war v. peace, cities ablaze, disgraceful racial pandering by white “leaders” who should have known better, etc, etc. By Nixon’s second term, much of the overt acrimony had subsided, though the causes remained, as did hard positioning on both sides of the immense divide brought to light in the previous decade; the first of the “oil crises” also heralded the massive economic changes to come. What we see today is the continuation of those dynamics, sharpened considerably by the decline of the middle- and working-classes in general, and left-behind white people in particular. Bobby Kennedy was looked upon as a “saviour” by the liberal and center-left in 1968 as much as Trump is today amongst his constituents; Kennedy was killed before he could realise his ambitions and those of his adherents, while Trump has been thrust into the “redeemer’ role on a wing and a prayer, and represents the reification of “the great divide”…plus ca change…

      4. Temporarily Sane

        Granted, the upheaval in the 60s and 70s was before my time but from what I can piece together one important difference between then and now is scale. The Trump victory/Democrat implosion crisis and reality show circus surrounding it are just one set of symptoms of a crisis that encompasses the west. Brexit, the rise of the nativist European right, rampant xenophobia, the ongoing economic crisis (for the 99.5%), the implosion of the liberal-left, calls for a new cold war with Russia etc. etc. are all linked.

        In the 1960s the crises were about specific issues within the system and limited to America (or in the case of the 68ers, to Western Europe). The middle-class was still going strong, jobs were available and pay was good. Western culture was undergoing a renaissance with new music, new drugs, new ways of living and rebelling against post-war (cultural) conservatism.

        Despite the assassination and murders and war the optimistic vibe of the times was not crushed. The future had promise and the people were making it happen. Important victories were won. Today, the vibe is pessimistic and there is seething hate and mistrust on all sides. The political order has lost legitimacy and the support of large numbers of people in America and the EU. Many people struggle to make ends meet. The middle-class is collapsing and wages stagnating or falling. The media has aligned itself with one faction of the ruling “elites” (the neoliberal globalist side) against the surge of popular discontent that resulted in Brexit and Trump’s election victory.

        The crisis today is one that calls into question the future of western society.

      5. rob adams

        Agreed. My kids, who are grown, simply don’t register when there is talk about what happened before them, as I suspect it has been since 1866. We are not now anywhere close to the violence hatred and division that was unleashed with the riots of 1964 – 1970, the assassinations, and Nixon’s “divisa et vinces” Silent Majority politics.
        I would add too that protests associated with the Women’s March recently were not bicoastal affairs but across the nation north-south-east-west.
        And, further, I’ve long noted my own generation hold (and should hold) little respect even now for what they became in the 80’s that enabled American Selfishness to override national self interest.

    3. Lord Koos

      1970? The country was extremely polarized during the Vietnam war. It seems to me that his current division is primarily media-driven.

      1. Temporarily Sane

        The country was extremely polarized during the Vietnam war. It seems to me that his current division is primarily media-driven.

        The media doesn’t control the economy. You may be living in comfort and security…but many people are not. The crisis is as real as the laws of physics.

  2. vlade

    “they [Dems] have their pet oligarchs”.

    Wrong way around.

    Nevertheless, to the main question. I suspect that some of the angst is driven by the feeling that the process itself was subverted. Of course, it wasn’t – the process of democratic election assumes that the electorate is reasonably rational (de minimis on can tell lies from facts basis), at least in a majority. The assumption is dubious, but there’s not much else that can be done. As you say, the election was eminently winnable – much more so than Brexit vote in the UK TBH, which suffers from similar (including a choice between two evils – the major difference is that with any luck US can get out of this within two years, while UK looks like it will only start the pain after two years).

    On the civil war – TBH, I don’t see this yet at the level of civil war. Remember, it took US more than 40 years to get to the stage where civil war actually happened. I’d say now you’re about the level of mid 1850s, so still have some time.

    But you’re already starting to run what Bruce Catton (my favourite ACW historian) described as “although there was still a little time left, it was running out fast, and angry words might make it run faster. Yet angry words were about the only kind anyone cared to use these days. Men seemed tired of the reasoning process. Instead of trying to convert one’s opponent it was simple just to denounce them, no matter what unmeasured denunciation might lead to.”

    1. Tom

      January 24, 2017 at 3:25 am

      Nevertheless, to the main question. I suspect that some of the angst is driven by the feeling that the process itself was subverted.

      Agreed, but isn’t it funny that when you point out that it was the DNC and Clinton that were actually caught subverting the process, they are quick to label that observation as “a nothing burger.”

      Why let facts stand in the way when you need more fuel for the narrative?

      1. RUKidding

        It’s undeninably true that Clinton and the DNC were the ones who were found out to be subverting the process, which most D voters wish mightily to be in total denial about.

        That said, and as egregious as that was, there are the overarching issues of voter suppression by the right – via draconian Voter ID laws and other means of suppressing the vote, plus all the rightwing gerrymandering. So the process is also subverted by the rightwing/Republicans.

        That said, what the eff has the D party done about that? Sweet Eff All. As some pointed out here, there’s John Lewis taking his “principled stand” against Trump and refusing to attend the inauguration. BFD. Where has Lewis been since his admittedly admirable work for civil rights? What has Lewis done about voter suppression efforts by Republicans? What has Lewis done about getting rid of the EC, which was instituted to give slave owners more weight with their votes?

        The coastal so-called “elites” have some ground to stand on in terms of feeling like the process is subverted against us, but looking to our so-called “leaders” in the D party is a mug’s game. They’ve done absolutely nothing to address the problems, and that’s on top of the fact that the D party has an appallingly horrid record in terms of refusing, basically, to run a really good GOTV campaign, engaging in registering citizens and assisting them to get to the polls.

        So yes, the bicoastal elites have been screwed by the process, but what we all need to realize is that it’s just the Republicans who have screwed us.

        Wake up, sheeple, indeed.

        1. PhilM

          “To give the slave owners more votes.” And what would the rebellious colonies have done without the slave owners, whose money funded the Revolution? Not that it’s necessarily a good thing that it turned out as a win for the Colonies–personally I think that was a historical calamity, and we would all be better off as part of greater Canada.

          But in any case, that is a bit of reductionism. The EC is a product of rational attempts to incorporate Enlightened thought into the design of the new republic; about Montesquieu, and the attempt to blend the (dangerously volatile) Many into a system of government that assigns policy-making to the Few and executive power to the One (or Two, if you count the vice-president). This country still has not figured out the answer to that balance, because there isn’t an answer.

          Is one person, one vote even a good thing? Sure, universal suffrage is what we have, so most people assume it is right, at least until it conflicts with their own political aims. But it may be downright pernicious. And certainly now, on every side, the right to vote is being systematically misrepresented as meaningful participation in the political process, when rather it is a sham, as the institutions themselves are corrupt. Voting is a fake moustache on a system of ersatz representation that a truly free people would reject as effective serfdom.

          The classic formulation is that only those who serve the nation should be vested with the power to direct its course. That means either you serve (as in, you are subject to a draft—military or peace corps, your choice); or you pay net taxes towards the function of government; or both. That would be a good start to restoring a republic to the American people, and to tearing down the oligarchy we all suffer.

          Right now, in Broward County, they define the pool for jury duty from DMV records. Not having a driver’s license disqualifies you to sit on a jury, by nature of the administrative process. LOL. Magna Carta is spinning in its case.

        2. Questor

          “That said, and as egregious as that was, there are the overarching issues of voter suppression by the right – via draconian Voter ID laws and other means of suppressing the vote, plus all the rightwing gerrymandering. So the process is also subverted by the rightwing/Republicans.”

          “Draconian Voter ID Laws”? Don’t be so silly! California is overrun with aliens, legal and illegal, and if you can present a fake greencard to the DMV, you can get registered, and vote by mail…or someone can, in your place, even if you are gone back to your licit country for one reason or another.

          And if you are so poor in California as to not be able to afford the $10.00 fee without suffering while being illegal, the Democratic party will be more than happy to direct you to a suitable donor. I rather doubt there is anything draconian about Voter ID laws anywhere in the US…just the meme.

    2. fresno dan

      January 24, 2017 at 3:25 am

      “Wrong way around” – Nicely said. And the quote from Bruce Catton was particularly insightful.
      It strikes me that “advances” in propaganda and the internet (i.e., trolling) has done much to turn politics from policy to “othering” one’s opponents. Cui bono?
      At one time the good of the nation may have restrained this tactic (what is good for GM is good for the country or vice versa). But I can’t help but theorize that Davos man looks upon nations as a hindrance, what with all their rules and laws to prevent the complete exploitation of their populations. World man only wants the goodies and none of the burdens of citizenship…..

  3. crittermom

    Powerful piece, Yves. Thank you.

    I can’t help but believe it would have been a much more peaceful nation had the most popular candidate won office (Bernie Sanders).

    1. Katharine

      Undoubtedly true, but now we have to play the hand we’re dealt. I think Yves’s concerns about the hatred are important. People need to distinguish between anger, which can be a positive motivator, and hatred, which is poisonously destructive, of the hater as well as the hated (voice of experience, not just words, trust me, you don’t want to go there).

      I read something once that I think is true. Hatred of war will create more hatred and more war. What you need is love of peace. The same goes for anything else that can be viewed in polar terms. If you want justice, respect, kindness, honesty, or even just constitutional government, you won’t get them through their opposites. The ends are the means. We haven’t exhausted constructive remedies: on the contrary, we have scarcely begun to make good use of them. We need to get creative.

    2. Karen

      I disagree emphatically – I think it would have been worse.

      First, I think the people who are furious over Trump’s victory (as opposed to just worried) are only the true Obama-Clinton political powerbrokers, not ordinary Americans, and they would be just as scared and furious if Bernie were about to take office.

      And second, can you imagine how easy it would be for politicians of both parties to whip up Trump’s base against a President who has repeatedly called himself a socialist?

      1. john c. halasz

        It was 15-20,000 according to the police. There were thousands of people still stuck at the H.S. 3 blocks to the right. Too many people for Montpelier, population 8,000.

  4. Dita

    For irreconcilable differences and mutual demonizing I’d say Vietnam. And those differences remain resolved. Hawk v dove, a military filled disproportionately by minorities, the poor – anyone who wasn’t in a (class) position to avoid military service or scram to Canada. For me Vietnam is a forerunner of today’s hatred and stereotyping, along with with Roe v Wade. Each began with arguments about specific issues that quickly turned in a conflagration of suspect motives, hypocrisy and unreasoning, mutual hate. All that was repressed over time but not far from resolved, and in my opinion, has reemerged, with all the rhetoric intact but without the focus. Instead that angry righteous “energy” has bled throughout all relations, seemingly, bathing everything the same color in the same way non-color safe garment will stain a load of laundry.

    1. Whine Country

      From my perspective, having graduated HS in 1965, the Vietnam period was the time that our country transitioned from a basically collaborative society, having fairly recently fought the Great War and defeated enemies world wide and brought forth (at least temporarily) world peace, to a Darwinian capitalism based system based on the adversarial concept. IOW anyone and everyone, with relatively few exceptions, was a potential adversary and the system required that we defeat them at all costs and let the winner take all. Whether we like or not, being adversarial today is one of the very few things that most people can understand and agree on. This will never change until we agree to adopt a particular culture that subscribes to fundamental principles of how we wish to conduct our affairs apart from what our laws provide. Today, what is legal is what you can get away with. That must change, but it cannot merely by passing more laws. Without a natural culture and fundamental principles that we can agree to we will ultimately have a constitutional crisis (which it is beginning to look like we are having) until we amend our Constitution to adopt the unstated and/or poorly worded principles which underlie the original document.

  5. Carla

    Great writing, BlueCollarAl (which also means, great thinking) — I read it in comments but was even more impressed re-reading it today. Thanks, Yves and Lambert, for featuring this.

  6. Northeaster

    If Trump somehow delivers on bringing those Democrat blue collar jobs back, and in a swift stroke ends the “war that will not end” in The Middle East, Democrats will not see a political reversal for at least a decade.

    The People want a roof over their heads, food (even if they’re fat), and a good job, things that were literally stolen from them the past decade due to the selling out of the so-called “Party of The People”. Call it what you will, hubris, cognitive dissonance, or simple political/Party confirmation bias, but Democrats in certain demographics simply do continue to not get it. Not sure some of them ever will, or even care too.

    1. clarky90

      I have posted this before, but I feel that it is so succinct, that it can be repeated.

      Norman Kirk (NZ PM, 1972-1974) once famously said that people don’t want much, just “Someone to love, somewhere to live, somewhere to work and something to hope for.”

      1. Questor

        Kirk was partially correct…he forgot that people want the ability to determine their own destiny within the societal constraints of law, even without well intended ‘assistance from others’; someone else deciding what to hope for, or what is available to obtain..

  7. DJG

    I tend to agree with others above who point out that the 1960s were highly divisive. Also, recall that Jefferson referred to his own election as a revolution. You had the Federalists passing the famous Alien and Sedition Acts to keep Jefferson’s supporters under control. Andrew Jackson was no prize, either.

    Some of the vapors remind me of the famous New Yorker cartoon of the U S of A as seen from NYC. Steinberg, I believe. Here in the Great Lakes States, we recall the radical (Lincoln) and truly Progressive (LaFollette) traditions. Unions are still held in high regard (even if there is nostalgia for the former strength of the Steelworkers). The election results were close in Wisconsin and Michigan. Less close in Minnesota. Not close in Illinois. And it isn’t as if people in Chicago are now expecting some Michigander militia to invade.

    Another aspect to factor in is the traditional way of framing “America” as what the South wants. Southerners have always felt it to be their privilege to define American identity. So, naturally, you have secession in the air, as usual. You have Southern feudal economics in the ascendency. You have Jeff Sessions. You have people pretending that Tom Cotton is talking sweet reason. But this is hardly civil war. It comes from a long tradition of attempting to delegitimate others’ viewpoints–as we see from the history of the slaveholding class. Yes, it is a serious problem that the Republicans sought to delegitimate Obama’s election, and yes, it is a problem that the Democratic Party is attempting to delegitimate Trump (along with Wikileaks, Snowden, and the dissident press–all highly ironical). Time for the fall of more elites, I’d say.

    The women’s march in Chicago was organized by grassroots organizations. It may be that the march on D.C. was taken over by Democratic Party politicians, but here in Chicago, the politicians weren’t even invited. Protest has value.

    What you are seeing is class warfare. You are also seeing the collapse of elites, which isn’t so bad. I think that what overlays it all is stagnation in the culture and stagnation in economic thinking. We are still stuck in economic fundamentalism and religious fundamentalism. The end of the Obama administrations means that the lid came off the cauldron of his austerity programs. (At the end of the women’s march, I had lunch with several friends at Quartino on State Street in Chicago: One of the women is opposed to single-payer health insurance, and one claimed that Medicare was among the worst laws in U.S. history: With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans? But I will also submit that part of the mass panic is that many Americans still have to sort themselves into the proper political parties. And maybe there should be three, four, or five sizable parties. That’s a way of “containing civil war.”)

    So reconsider your analysis this way: Is the U S of A headed for wars of religion? Is it headed for overt class warfare along the lines of, say, Germany in the sixties and seventies, with the Baader-Meinhoff Gang? I’d say no. Geographic civil war is unlikely, unless Bill and Hill decide to imitate Chairman Mao and lead a Long March to Idaho to plan the revolution. But that seems unlikely, because both the Democratic and Republican elites are too busy looting to sit in a dirty cave and discuss tactics for redistribution of income. Collapse of rotten elites shouldn’t be portrayed as civil war, I submit.

    1. geoff

      “Another aspect to factor in is the traditional way of framing “America” as what the South wants. Southerners have always felt it to be their privilege to define American identity.”

      Well, four of the first six US Presidents were from Virginia, and slaveholders as well. All served two terms. (Both John Adams and his son John Quincy served only one term.) Number seven, Andrew Jackson, was a Tennesseean, and yes, a slaveholder. So I would argue that it was not so much a matter of privilege as that the highest levers of power in the US were held by Southerners for about the first fifty years of the republic. So in many ways they DID define America’s identity, for better or worse.

      1. Tully

        Our early “slave-holding presidents” are much explained by “the federal ratio” – the constitutional convention compromise with the slave states that counted slaves as 3/5ths a person (and thus ceded political power to the slave states). Jefferson was known at the time of his election as the “negro president” because his election by the house of representatives was attributed to the federal ratio, aka, “slave power”.

        1. geoff

          Of course. I’m not saying the U.S.’s very politically powerful slave states and the Presidents from them were necessarily a good thing.

      2. JustAnObserver

        Of course the 3/5ths rule was put into place for just this domination-by-the-South outcome. Discuss ?

    2. shinola

      “…You are also seeing the collapse of elites”

      Perhaps I’ve grown too cynical, but that seems like wishful thinking

    3. EGrise

      Excellent analysis. I particularly like the idea of four or five political parties as a means of “containing civil war.”

      I’m less convinced of the collapse of the elites. At most, I think we’re seeing a deterioration of the “soft power” of, and societal deference to the elites. Would you care to elaborate?

      1. Questor

        Multiple parties would nice…but we need a constitutional convention to change the Constitution to make such an idea possible, and I doubt that will happen.

      2. Ulysses

        “At most, I think we’re seeing a deterioration of the “soft power” of, and societal deference to the elites.”

        Well said! It is a good thing that this reflexive deference to wealth and celebrity seems to be on the wane. A less positive development is the increasing fetishization of “military virtues.” Replacing hedge-fund manager/movie-star worship with caudillo worship won’t solve many of our problems!

      3. Waldenpond

        Yes, I’d like to see additional analysis on the position of the elite. I’m looking at land ownership, means of production ownership, financial power, overall wealth, representation in policy.. etc.

        Would be interesting to hear something on this.

    4. Marco

      “…One of the women is opposed to single-payer health insurance, and one claimed that Medicare was among the worst laws in U.S. history: With Democrats like these, who needs Republicans?”

      Thank You! This is very important as it’s not just the corrupt leaders of Team D but a sizable majority of Democratic Party voters. Solid members of the “Credentialed Class” and the “10%”. These are the people just as responsible for ObamaCare and the austerity of the Obama Age because they have no clue. They could afford to stomach Hillary’s incrementalism.


    So the protesters are just supposed to go home, shut up, get disengaged, let the government get less and less representative of the people? I’m all for addressing the economic plight of those left behind by the neoliberal order, but you don’t do that by disenfranchising the urban voters, who often feel the same way. If there was a unified theme to the protests, disenfranchisement was it. It was people who are of a populace increasingly more urban, more diverse, more socially progressive, more embracing of leftist economics, seeing their voices shut out not by democracy but by a system set up by the right and the oligarchs to handicap them in favor of neoreactionaries. And they got mad at both. The high presence and visibility of the true leftists showed that it wasn’t upper-middle class folk sucking up to the oligarchy, but rather people wanting to take it down and out of the White House.

    1. IdahoSpud

      Kinda ironic that it took the election of someone who wasn’t even responsible for selling them up the river to bring them out of the woodwork, eh?

      Someone who previously identified as a member of the “D” tribe, I might add.

    2. Fiery Hunt

      Disenfranchised, my tookus. They weren’t protesting 3 months ago cuz those urban populaces were (and frankly still are) living high on the hog.
      Here in Bezerkley , CA the “protestors” were 99% white older, well-dressed Democrats who are pissed they got told to sit down and shut up by the rest of the country. Hold that march on a weekday and no one shows up…because they’re all working 6 figure jobs during the week.

      1. PKMKII

        What about the students who showed up to the protests? Don’t think they’re living high off the hog. Or for that matter, all the urban minorities. I know that ever since Trump’s technical victory everyone’s been fetishizing the rust belt white working class (as is the ingrained cultural knee-jerk reaction to treat flyover country as the “real” America), but it’s the poor POC who’ve been screwed over the most by neoliberalism. But I’m sure their plight will be ignored when the evaluations of Trump’s policies come in.

        1. Fiery Hunt

          Only student marchers in Berkeley were high school students, indoctrinated by their very wealthy parents.

          And people of color were working Saturday. Working poor people don’t have weekends off.
          And they sure as hell aren’t getting up early, making signs and wearing stupid hats to show the world how mad they are.

          I’m not a Trump fan but the well-to-do Dems drive me nuts. Please don’t take as a personal affront, PKMKII…just want better politics and a better country.

          1. PKMKII

            No offense taken, and I understand the frustration. But as you said, the goal here should be better politics/country. Not revenge for grievances.

      2. jrs

        Urban populations are living high on the hog? Uh you’ve never heard of urban poverty? A few urban areas are exclusively wealthy, not many.

        “Hold that march on a weekday and no one shows up…because they’re all working 6 figure jobs during the week.”

        Uh don’t most people work during the week? Well not the unemployed and some people have atypical work days, a lot of service work does for instance, but working on the week is pretty common for a lot of people across a wide range of incomes. So those aren’t the only people that won’t show up because they have to work (and people who earn 6 figures have vacation days that low paid people often don’t).

        1. Fiery Hunt

          I’m in the SF Bay Area, home of the pearl-clutchers. The cost of a 1 bedroom apartment in the City by the Bay is $3,200 a month. The median cost of a house in Berkeley is north of $1,000,000.

          Not the norm for the country, I know, but it certainly makes seeing the well-heeled out for a “protest” taste funny.

          The “protesters” I saw aren’t disenfranchised, they’re the 10% ers.

      3. Questor

        Alas, mostly true everywhere that the protesters were rather insanely acting whites thinking through their emotions.

  9. Left in Wisconsin

    This is a different situation that slavery or Viet Nam. The issues are much less clear cut now even though talking heads like to make it sound like they are not. People want simple solutions but there aren’t simple solutions to our problems, in part because no one really has a handle on what the core problems are.

    I know “stage” theories of history are passe but we are in an end stage or interregnum where the future is particularly unclear. My big concern is that communications/propaganda techniques have gotten so sophisticated that those with no interest in real problem solving are able to dominate the discourse.

    1. Questor

      Can we at least agree that enforcing the law uniformly might be a great place to start? Not new laws…existing ones. Then people could sit back and reassess what they have already done.

  10. oho

    ‘ When, since the time of Lincoln, slavery, and the Civil War, has America been as fundamentally divided as it is now, today, 2017?’

    Pretty much every every since 1783. We forget about a lot of the past controversies cuz of the passage of time—

    Mexican-American War, Spanish-American War + Phillipines Occupation, Vietnam, Reconstruction, Federalists v. Whigs, Jacksonian populism, Suffragette movement, Labor rights movement, etc

    1. Questor

      Division only matters when you cannot get your side of the question argued openly, and the MSM is preventing that, because they are not factual in their reporting, and no longer care about it.

  11. Norm

    No crystal ball do I have, but I suspect that if there ever is a breakup it will be heralded by events like Michigan not being able to provide clean water to its citizens, or California not being able to pay for it education system, or whatever while an inept and corrupt DC continues to funnel money into the more wars and more weapons. When even a minimal version of civilized life becomes unrealizable (as is already the case in lots of places (West Side of Chicago and too many other places to list, both urban and rural) then somewhere someone will start to proffer the notion that it just makes more sense to disassociate from the dying empire. And that notion whether fundamentally sound or crazy will start to take root.

  12. Tully

    DJG: “And maybe there should be three, four, or five sizable parties. That’s a way of “containing civil war.”

    When taking about “electoral systems”, the US is the only western democracy without “proportional representation” (where every vote counts and small parties can compete). Instead we have a “winner-take-all, single-district” electoral system where not every vote counts and where small parties cannot compete.

    Our two-party duopoly neatly divides us.

    1. George Phillies

      ” the US is the only western democracy without “proportional representation””

      Totally wrong. Canada and Britain come to mind. France at the Presidential level…There is only one President.

      1. broadsteve

        True, the Westminster parliament is elected on a first-past-the-post system, but the Welsh and Scottish Assemblies have a mixed system which includes proportional representation. The Northern Ireland assembly (where dealing with the fact of longstanding sectarianism and a bitterly divided polity was arguably the single most important aim) is elected by PR.

        As for parties, from this side of the Pond it has always been a mystery to me how an electorate as large and varied as the US could possibly think itself represented by just two. The very idea smacks of control from the top and what we would call ‘a right ol’ carve-up’.

  13. freedomny

    Huh?? Sorry, but I agree to disagree with some of the perspectives in this post. While in the WDC march, the politician’s (like DWS) might have tried to get in on the action, the issues were very much tied to the issues at hand – like Black Lives Matter. Jonelle Monae had the mothers of the black men/women killed in police brutality up on the stage where the audience spoke their names out loudly – I’ve never seen that happen. I did notice some of the minority “speakers” in DC harp on the fact that 53% of white women voted for Trump – so they still don’t seem to really “get it” with the DNC and Hilary. However, they did speak quite frequently about coming from a place of “love” and inclusion. Also, the minority women leaders of this event are very politically ambitious. They want it… they need it….to succeed. And they will have to practice inclusion in order to have any measure of success. Do I blame them for a certain mindset? Not really. I would say the majority of my female friends are black and as a demographic they are one of the most marginalized and least optimistic. Ironically, the also are the demographic who most likely start their own businesses (if I find the link I will post it).

  14. Sluggeaux

    What an uplifting way to start my West Coast day!

    However, the real divide appears to be between those who voted and those who didn’t. Sources are all over the place, but late reports suggest that barely 55% of eligible voters cast ballots. That means that Clinton got the suppport of 26.5% to Trump’s 26.3% of eligible voters.

    This non-participation is not a democracy. It also suggests resignation rather than the sort of passion that leads to burning down cities and pitched battles. The people who turned out for the “Women’s Marches” (the marchers, not the speakers) seemed to be there to speak out against the election of an avowed serial abuser of women — “Keep your dirty little fingers off my pussy!” — rather than for any political cause. Not a bad thing, but hardly a political movement.

    Wikileaks (or the Russians, or a DNC staffer with a conscience) exposed that the system is indeed rigged. Ironically, the RNC collapsed by playing it straight. The end result is that people stayed away in droves from both candidates.

    1. noinspiration

      It also suggests widespread difficulty in simply voting. Washington state has mail-in ballots, and the turnout here was close to eighty percent.

      1. Sluggeaux

        One of my children lives in the state of Washington (not in Seattle), and I was just visiting there last week. Perhaps there is enthusiasm in the wealthy bubble of Pramila Jaypal’s Seattle, but things elsewhere aren’t as rosy for the average Washingtonian. The Washington Secretary of State reports that turn-out of eligible Washington voters (who could have simply voted by mail) for the 2016 Presidential election was 60.52%, so I’ll stand by my thesis that many eligible voters have been turned-off from participating in a rigged system:

      2. Questor

        I voted for the first time in person in decades, having had mail-in voting for ever in CA by simply requesting a ballot, and because of the electoral process, don’t even get counted.

        I want an electoral system…I just want it done on the County level, because party doesn’t matter on that small of a scale.

      3. Eleanor

        MInnesota also makes it easy to vote. 2016 turnout was 81% of registered voters and 75% of those eligible to vote.

  15. WFGersen

    By defining themselves as “Not Republicans” since 1992, the Democrats have contributed to— or maybe even created— the divide in this country. Maybe the way to avoid civil war is to change the conversation away from the Republican agenda toward a truly liberal-socialist one. There has been a lot of coverage about the rise of the right wing in Europe… but until yesterday I was unaware of the rise of the left wing of the socialist party in France:

    Maybe a critical mass of the progressive who remain in the Democratic party and the progressive who are part of the 42% of registered independents in this country could coalesce around a platform that calls for “…traditional (left-wing) positions on workers’ rights, redistribution, civil liberties and the environment.” Maybe even a guaranteed minimum wage and guaranteed health care might connect with those who are working two part-time jobs to make ends meet.

    1. PKMKII

      Bleh, same old same old establishment Republican response: “Please give up your social issues”; “Let me wax poetically about flyover country people that I would never, ever leave my ivory tower to live among”; “Please be Republican Lite.”

  16. flora

    ” Lambert and I find it hard to see a logical endpoint of this effort to delegitimize not merely the person of the President, but his voters and their States, other than civil war ”

    I watched the inauguration on TV. I could not figure out why Chuck Schumer was reading from a Civil War soldier’s letter home and going on about how he, Chuck Schumer, is willing to die for this country. It seemed completely out of step to me. Now I wonder: Is this the Dem plan? Don’t talk about the economy, don’t analysis why you lost, talk about a divided country and encourage division? ugly thought. Note to Schumer: the country is tired of war.

    1. jrs

      I have a feeling there would not be near so much criticism of delegitimizing say Romney or McCain voters, but though they didn’t win (neither did Trump if it was a popular vote) they had a sizable chunk of voters as well, if that’s all that matters. Also we must not delegitimize George W Bush voters, even those who reelected him I guess. If we were consistent.

  17. From Cold Mountain

    Elections are won by getting the attention of the middle class. The middle class; which sits in the constant, precarious state of the fear of being poor and the hope of being rich.

    So the politicians of fear will blame the poor, and the politicians of hope will blame the rich. And the politician who wins is the one who guesses the current sentiment of the middle class; do they have a hope of becoming rich or a fear of being poor? Obama won because the middle class had a hope of being rich, Trump won because the middle class had a fear of being poor. But let me be clear, all politicians do not care about the poor, they care about the middle class. Hillary lost because the middle class is more afraid of being poor and saw her as a continued failure of Obama’s “hope”. Sanders was popular because he provided more “hope credibility” than Hillary; that if you are middle class and become poor, you will not get screwed. (Sanders, I feel, was an exception to this rule which is why he cut through a lot of the fear of the middle class to give them comfort they will not get screwed by the capitalists.)

    The divide everyone is suddenly seeing in politics, it is always there, but only people who are really rich or really poor see it all the time. When the middle class is threatened by poverty the divide is widened, and magically, it becomes visible. This is why Obama won his first term, because the middle class were still doing relatively well.

    This can be seen in the pre-civil war era as well. The civil war was about economics. (Note the period) The panic of 1857 threw economic certainty into doubt with a recession lasted until the civil war. The divide between rich and poor became more obvious to the middle class, and in the south that meant they needed slavery (fear), and in the north that meant ending the economic power of the south (hope).

    And in the 60’s, it was not until middle class kids started getting drafted and killed that the divide between the rich and poor began creeping in the middle class’s G.I. Bill purchased living rooms. Johnson won on a mixture of hope and fear, aka, the “Daisy Girl” ad and hope; the “Great Society.” (In fact, I would dare to say that I would compare Obama more to Lyndon Johnson more than any other president.)

    So here we are again, the fear of being poor, or fear in general, is the sentiment of the middle class and Trump is president. Nothing more to say, just this will go back and forth until we address the underlying cause of the yo yo of fear and hope that causes us to switch presidential parties so much.

    1. Fiery Hunt

      Not sure I can agree with this.
      Remember, Obama was elected at the height of the financial meltdown. i.e. the middle class was losing everything… not hoping to be rich or “doing well”.

      1. From Cold Mountain

        He was offering hope not of financial betterment, but hope that people would be taken care of if they were poor. In the end, he gave the middle class neither, hence Trump. Remember, Occupy was big, and they were against the “rich”. Now we have elected the “rich”.

        From Obama’s acceptance speech:

        “We are more compassionate than a government that lets veterans sleep on our streets and families slide into poverty; that sits on its hands while a major American city drowns before our eyes.”

        “For over two decades, he’s subscribed to that old, discredited Republican philosophy – give more and more to those with the most and hope that prosperity trickles down to everyone else. In Washington, they call this the Ownership Society, but what it really means is – you’re on your own. Out of work? Tough luck. No health care? The market will fix it. Born into poverty? Pull yourself up by your own bootstraps – even if you don’t have boots. You’re on your own.”

  18. centaur

    Of course Yves is right that knowing our enemy and responding accordingly is most fruitful. Nonetheless the modern era of deligitimizing the other party’s president started with Bill Clinton and the impeachment. Democrats did not deligitimize W, even though at that point Democrats had a better case for W’s deligitimization than Republicans had had with Clinton, what with Florida in the 2000 election. Then with Obama’s election Trump initiated the birther thing. It became clear that the Republicans decided that America had no right to elect a Democrat, period.

    It should be no surprise that after a convincing win of the popular vote, the Democrats would finally respond in kind after decades of restraint. It might not be the wisest response, it might even be tactically foolish, but it sure is understandable. It’s the way we live now.

    (Not sure this went through so apologies in advance if it seems to post twice)

    1. aab

      I would buy this more if they were actually DOING ANYTHING IN GOVERNMENT ITSELF to undermine Trump. Instead, his cabinet of horribles is just sailing through. Once the opportunity to bloviate and grandstand in front of a camera is over, they’re apparently just playing the rotating villain game while Schumer sits on his hands and counts money in his head.

      And the Democrats are elevating the CIA in their little delegitimization campaign. There’s just no excuse for this.

  19. noinspiration

    I think the Democrats are banking on Trump being as big an idiot as they’ve made him out to be and failing spectacularly, at which point they will be there to pick up the pieces. The efforts to delegitimize him also make sense, if you assume that Trump is so beyond the pale that any opprobrium will attach to him alone and not to the office. If the Dems take their rhetoric seriously, then they may actually believe this.

  20. James F.

    Thank you, Yves and Lambert, for your excellent work. It provides a welcome respite in an increasingly crazy world. I, too, am worried by our descent into prewar hatred. I had a friend from Dubrovnik in the’80s. She was a typical Yugoslav – half Croatian, quarter Serbian, and a quarter Russian. She was full of hope, smart, pretty, and heartbreakingly naïve. If she survived the war, I’m pretty sure my friend lost what made her a beautiful human being. She haunts me. Civil wars seem implausible until they start and then they follow the devil’s logic. People like my friend tend to die in them or turn into something less than they were in order to survive.

    I’m an old man now working on my doctorate through a senior citizens’ scholarship. I grew on the North-East Coast. I live in the rural South now. I know people from everywhere because I’ve been around a long time. Comfortable people from the cities, Democrat or Republican, want to hit someone, hard… but they have by and large never worn a uniform or had a gun pointed at their heads. They’re frustrated which makes sense but they don’t know when a bloody fight is coming. You can smell it coming like folks down here can smell a tornado or like mothers smell death on its way and snatch their children off the front porch.

    Here in Flyover Country things are bad, really bad. I recently visited family in Northern California. Things were pretty nice. Not opulent by any means but the shelves were stocked. Security guards in Target let the kids play around. Around here – not so much. Not so much as a Target. We have long lines, empty shelves, and the kids, black and white, always seem aware that they’re not safe. Comfortable people in cities worry about reproductive health care. We worry about getting a four-dollar antibiotic for pneumonia at Wal-Mart without having to spend several hundred bucks for the prescription (real life experience with insurance). Our mean income is about a quarter of Northern California’s. Housing is cheaper but it’s not cheap and it’s a lot worse housing. Food and utilities are a lot more expensive. Everything including food and medicine is taxed. We’re dying here, slowly perhaps but we’re dying none the less. Even so, my Democrat and Republican friends and family from the coasts couldn’t care less about my neighbors. They couldn’t care less about fifteen years of war or the kids we send to fight it or the kids our kids kill. I understand. It’s only natural to look to one’s own interests and what happens in Natchez or Mosul doesn’t hit home. However, they’re all angry – angry at Flyover people for being sick and poor and tired of being cannon fodder. And so I have to listen to why we don’t deserve jobs or health care because we’re stupid. We should move or die because markets. I had to justify FDR, religion, the very idea of peace, and social solidarity. I have to defend unions and explain why my state voted for Trump – sometimes to the same person. I have to advocate for veterans, the majority of cops that don’t murder kids, and BLM while I’m trying to eat my potatoes. It’s exhausting. It’s depressing.

    Statistics show that urban areas are ‘bluer’. They have better health care, better functioning government, and better opportunities. However, not all urban dwellers are comfortable. Chicago has world class hospitals, universities, and pizza. It also has an astronomical murder rate and a police force that got caught torturing its citizens. It has a deep blue machine that excels in privatization. Blue cities are rough with their mostly black and brown poor citizens but poor whites suffer too. I know. I spent decades doing social work in city hell-scapes. I know what it’s like to step over bodies and have people bleed all over me. Crime isn’t out of control when statistics say so. Crime is out of control when you or people you love get hurt. Likewise, cops shooting unarmed black people is a problem; cops shooting unarmed white people is a problem; people deciding to start an idiosyncratic revolution by shooting cops is a problem; criminals killing kids is also a problem. Statistics and social theory don’t really matter at a child’s funeral. Life is statistically better in blue enclaves but there is a difference between Compton and Hollywood, Brookline and Dorchester, Harlem and Manhattan. That’s a brute fact that uncomfortable people face every day.

    Flyover people and the uncomfortable urban poor fight the never-ending wars. We provide commodities like food and coal and oil and metals. We provide cheap labor. Comfortable people have decided that most of us aren’t really needed. Immigration, free trade, and automation have made us redundant but we’re not going away. At least we’re not going away fast. Flyover people and the uncomfortable urban poor have no real place in establishment Democratic or Republican thinking. We are the establishment’s problem and the establishment is our problem.

    Where do we go from here? Bernie had some good answers to some burning questions. Trump has some very questionable answers to the same problems. I don’t know if the Anarchists on Inauguration Day had any answers but they recognized the problem. The comfortable people who posed with pussy hats leave me questioning whether this country can or even should be saved. The comfortable protesters certainly have the legal right to their comfortable lives and they have the legal right to advocate for war with Russia and they have the legal right to hate the President and wear silly hats. They have a legal right to despise the Deplorables and to petition to have sleeping homeless people removed from their places of business. They have the legal right to demand respect for their sexual choices. They have these legal rights because the government guarantees them and if they tear down the civic peace of government, who will protect these rights? I don’t know whether to laugh or cry when I see the postmodern farce of Madonna in an orange prison jumper. Is she supposed to be King Christian wearing the Star of David during Nazi occupation? Are Ashley Judd And Julia Roberts supposed to be our Red Emma and our pistol packing Connie Markowitz? Is Lena Durham supposed to be our Marianne or our Greece Expiring on the Ruins of Missolonghi? What I really want to know is will those people drinking Starbucks die with us on the barricades because the differences between guerrilla theater and guerrilla war are getting really blurry.

    I don’t want to get too snarky but I am getting pretty cranky. Revolutions, as Lenin insisted, are not tea parties. In revolutions resisters get shot for showing courage; in films about revolutions actors get applause for making a courageous performance. The Democratic Resistance may be as silly looking as Teapartiers dressed in revolutionary drag but it is much more dangerous. In 2008, Obama was really popular and he had the support of his own party. Obama failed to ram through his agenda because he refused to rally the people who put him into office. By the time the Republicans hamstrung his administration, he had already lost his momentum. Obama was defeated in the Massachusetts senatorial campaign and by his failure to support Wisconsin’s unions. McConnel’s obstructionism and Trump’s birtherism were obnoxious but they didn’t destroy Obama’s agenda. Failure to push for card check, Medicare for all, voter registration, prosecuting Wall Street fraud and war crimes, new trade deals, authorizing the extra-judicial murder of US citizens, and overthrowing the government in Guatemala, Ukraine, and Libya were the real disasters.

    In 2016, Trump is much less popular than Obama in 2008. His most progressive polices (which he shared with Sanders) like reversing trade agreements, renegotiating drug prices, building infrastructure, and stopping a war with Russia depend on Democratic support. His own party hates him. Impeaching or (God forbid) assassinating Trump would throw the entire government into the hands of Pence and Ryan. That would re-gear the war on Russia, reinstate the trade deals and guarantee the end of the New Deal and the Civil Rights era. Does anyone on the so-called Left really think that’s a good idea? There’d be a real fight then; the kind where lots of people die in loud and messy ways. Who is going to do the fighting and dying then? I don’t think it’s going to be the people in pussy hats but I’m sure I’ll be going to plenty of funerals if I live that long.

    1. Left in Wisconsin

      What I really want to know is will those people drinking Starbucks die with us on the barricades

      Good one.

      And great overall perspective.

    2. Questor

      Failure to push for card check, Medicare for all, voter registration, prosecuting Wall Street fraud and war crimes, new trade deals, authorizing the extra-judicial murder of US citizens, and overthrowing the government in Guatemala, Ukraine, and Libya were the real disasters.

      Equal Justice under law; equal access to CItizens and Legal Aliens; and minding our own business as a nation…that would be a great start!

    3. freedomny

      Hi James F. – I am sorry for your despair over the current situation. Trust me when I say that the NYC boroughs are not much better than the “flyer-over” zone. I have my own apartment, but you wouldn’t believe the number of people living in one bedrooms in my neighborhood. I believe there was a poster recently who said that it has been “Racism” that has separated us all. I believe this is true. I also think, call me crazy, that this has been done on purpose. Yo – Because if I was an Elite – wouldn’t I want to keep the “serfs” divided? Call me an optimistic – (and I could give you so many reasons why I shouldn’t be :)) But – once we all figure out/get educated about who the real enemy is – do you really care about what color skin someone has?

      1. craazyboy

        I have an apartment overcrowding anecdote to relate from an Occasional Landing State. It could be Irish Racism, but I’m not an expert in this subject, so I’m never so sure about these things.

        This one bedroom apartment was home to a single redhead Irish mom and her six! redhead teenage and younger daughters. One day, the Eldest Daughter, whom was much too hot for her own good [and mine], approached me and said, “I know what you’re thinking. My front door is a portal to Ireland.” Well, guffaws ensued and we talked about her favorite TV show, “Stargate SG-1”, and how hot the MacGyver dude is. That’s all. I swear.

      2. James F.

        Thanks for the sympathy freedomny. It’s not despair, not exactly but pretty close. More like breathing the despair of others. My wife works with kids and that brings her hope and hopelessness in about equal measure. Twice a week I drive to campus to take classes and that is a lot of fun. Sorry about the boroughs today. I had people in Queens back in the Bush years. It was grim. I worked with some folks in Cambridge who had full time jobs and could only rent floor space during the same period. When I hear about the homelessness in SF today I want to gag. The elites have done a good job dividing us, mores the pity. At a certain point people’s pain just shrinks their horizons and they can’t grasp other people’s pain. It’s strange that we seem to have less human sympathy now than we did in the 1930’s. I spend a lot of time looking at old Depression era photos and listening to old blues and C&W. Sometimes it makes me feel less lonely and reminds me that people more divided that us managed to do something great together. Anyway thanks for your kind thoughts and my best to NYC.

    4. Marco

      Excellent comment James! I am always saddened when I hear about my 2nd hometown (of 15 years) Chicago. Decided it was time to pack up and go when someone got shot outside my condo (East Rogers Park). Just another poor black 17 year old kid. It amazed me how my “liberal” white well-educated Team D voting friends thought I was being melodramatic for giving up on Chitown. Crazy that property values are still going up for the 10% but a jaded uncaring moral numbness has set in regarding the gun violence that made me ill. I miss Lake Michigan but I don’t think I can go back.

    5. redleg

      Excellent analysis!
      One assumption that you made, IMO, is faulty: that Obama failed to act because he lost initiative. I think the more likely reason is because he did not intend to walk the talk.
      This brings up an apparent difference between Obama and Trump: Obama never believed what he was saying, while Trump does or sure appears to in his first week.

        1. flora

          +1. my thoughts exactly. great comment about what is happening in flyover country that the MSM and the Dem estab refuse to see.

          1. freedomny

            I know exactly what is happening. And it is happening in NYC, so don’t give me your sh#t that is only happening in certain areas of the country. I had to quit my job because I can’t walk. I was an athlete and they wanted to replace one hip in my 40’s. I let it go until my 50’s and I have my other hip done. I have spent the past 5 years living on barely anything to save everything I could just in case my Cobra screws me….So…please…spare me on how life is so hard for you. But, apparently Flora – you didn’t get the MEMO – that is what they are trying to do…divide us. Get a clue.

            1. flora

              Sounds like the MSM and the Dem estab is also refusing to see what is happening economically to a large number of their voters in Dem cities like NYC and Chicago and SanFran.

            2. Fiery Hunt

              It’s exactly this kind of story that should be laid at the feet of former President Obama! We should have national health care…

              Hard as it is to hear, freedomny, and trust me, I KNOW how hard your world is….other people in this country have it just as hard. Just because you’re getting screwed in NYC doesn’t mean they’re not getting screwed in Pennsylvania.

              I feel like we have to remember that we are all in this together…50-something you in NYC, 40 something me in SF, 60 something woman in flyover states…

            3. lambert strether

              >so don’t give me your sh#t that is only happening in certain areas of the country

              From the original comment:

              Flyover people and the uncomfortable urban poor fight the never-ending wars

              The difficulty I think is stylistic; “flyover people” is vivid and plays off “flyover states,” a well-known trope; ” uncomfortable urban poor” is analytically correct (IMNSHO) but lacks the vividness, so it’s not as sticky.

        2. PhilM

          Seconded, deserves a guest spot. (I do realize this isn’t a democracy, though.) This piece could be a leader in the text-book of primary sources for the social history of the decline of the American Empire.

  21. templar555510

    As a foreigner , but being a frequent visitor to the US and having a daughter living there, married to an American I offer a few thoughts :

    1. The loss of confidence in any sort of better future ( a fundamental of Enlightenment thinking ? ) and therefore failure to advance one by the political class is what has led to Trump . He offered a future however nonsensical or debased that none of his adversaries did. He beat sixteen other candidates remember.

    2. There isn’t a country in western Europe where some sort of acknowledgement of economic equality has not occurred even if, over the last thirty years, this ridiculous notion that you can build a society based on the vagaries of market economics has become the only ideology in town . That acknowledgement – call it social democracy if you like – has never come about in the US . There are many, many reasons for this I fully accept, but so far we have not produced a Trump. Not to say that we won’t .

    3. The Thatcherite notion that there is no such thing as society has been embedded by the technology of the internet and social media which makes it very difficult for any common narrative to be sustained.

    4. Trivialisation. Trump is a trash President for a trash culture .

    No-one knows where this is going, but I agree with the commentator quoted at the start ” A house divided against itself cannot stand .”

  22. foghorn longhorn

    The National Guard is not shooting up college campuses yet, so no this is not as bad as the 60’s.
    But we are working on it.
    Patience grasshopper

    1. lambert strether

      Well, we do have cops whacking black people with impunity, and a paramilitary crackdown on Occupy in 17 cities simultaneously orchestrated by the DHS, thanks to that classy elegant Democrat, Obama, liberal paragon.

      So there’s that.

    2. redleg

      The national guard in the Vietnam war era was not equipped with armor, air support, and heavy weapons like the police are today.

  23. verifyfirst

    “Either the laborer in our cotton fields and plantation households is a human person or not.”


    It will take a civil war inside the Democratic party to answer this question, but this is the question that must be resolved.

  24. Oregoncharles

    Where I live, there were effectively two marches. The first was on Friday, Inauguration Day. It was about 1500 people (estimated) in a town of 50,000, led in part by high school students who’d walked out, colorful, and never mentioned Trump. It was focused on familiar left-wing issues, and represented essentially all the lefty groups in town. Needless to say, the Pacific Green Party was one of them. Even my wife went, and she’s very negative on anti-Trump messaging.

    It was put together, partly as an organizing tool, in the course of forming a very broad coalition of lefty groups in town. As many as 50. The core were Bernistas, but the rest were mostly not Democrats; there was only one Hillary supporter in the whole group, that I knew about. I think this group had it right: Organize!

    The other, of course, was the Women’s March, in both Portland and Eugene, on Saturday. Several Greens took time off from the convention in Eugene to show the flag at that march; others missed the convention to join the one in Portland (the convention was planned first). But my wife was against it, as were some other Green women.

    The big question: was the Women’s March an organizing tool? What will it organize?

    And more broadly: I think we owe a vote of thanks to Mr. Trump for inspiring so much much-needed organizing, where Obama mostly pacified it.

    Edit: the real issue for the Women’s March is going to be abortion rights, and they’re goiing to need defending. That’s an existential issue.

    1. Questor

      The real issue for the Women’s March is going to be abortion rights, and they’re goiing to need defending. That’s an existential issue.

      Existential for whom…the parent, the society or the embryo?

      Woman can refuse sex most of the time, or use birth control; society can mandate birth control, or life itself by weapons of chemical or non-chemical means however distasteful…sorry…I don’t see eliminating embryos as existential except for the embryo…just selfishness except in cases of rape and incest.

  25. blucollarAl

    What thoughtful, reflective comments. Thank God for NC!

    Allow me to make a few additional points without I hope overextending my welcome.

    I think there is truth in the claim that the great divide we witness today harkens back to the Vietnam War era. Actually I would argue it even in some ways goes back to the labor struggles of the early 20th Century and the discontent and radicalization of at least some American workers during the Depression. Nevertheless, where we are today, while connected in very important ways to these earlier American divisions, represents something far more radical. Yes, more radical and on deeper level than even the violence at Kent State or the antics of the Weather Underground. It is the full-flourishing abscess of a slow growing, deep rooted sore that has for a long time infected the body politic.

    One way to see this is to focus not so much on the visible expressions of division as on the question of individual and social identity. There was a kind of complacency in the “Average White American” by the late 60’s or 70’s. Not of course in many of the students or those subject to the draft (although on many campuses the ROTC flourished throughout the Vietnam era, and many campuses remained rock-solid politically conservative. Nixon carried most Southern college campuses in straw polls in 1972). The War was a serious issue and we fought it hard, at least until we were comfortable with our places in the draft lottery and, later, heard that the politicians had decided to go to an all-volunteer military. But the average worker by the early 1970’s was the product of 25 years of almost steady growth in wages and wealth. He (mostly it was “he’) was able to own his own home (with a bank mortgage), take longer and more diverse vacations, enjoy a shorter work week, count on regular salary increases, and plan (and pay for) to send his kids to college. And many had pensions and the prospects of a better old age than the prior generations.

    At the same time by the 70’s at least something new was in the air. Small-town America, along with the older close-knit urban neighborhood enclaves and the 1950’s close-in Levittown suburbs, was on shaky ground. The underlying material conditions of the “Average White American” way-of-life started to erode. We witnessed the rise of 2-income-by-necessity families, the beginning of habitual household debt, hyper-inflation, resource deprivation (oil embargo, etc.), union demise, factory relocations (at first to move to “right-to-work” South, then overseas), job loss and wage stress caused by the former as well as by various technological developments, the beginnings and thereafter increasing economic inequality, and the feeling of political powerlessness and cynicism. The roots of a new kind of finance capitalism. Neoliberalism.

    I think Martin Luther King was able to see in the years before his assassination what would soon unfold in the 70’s and beyond. King in many ways bought into the American “way” while simultaneously radically criticizing it from the ground of its own basic assumptions, rooted as they were in natural rights, political and economic equality, and most deeply, the obligations on every American imposed by natural and biblical-revealed (he was after all a Christian) justice.

    What King may not have seen clearly was that the moral ideals embedded in many American institutions and practices – stable 2-parent families, integrated and vibrant neighborhoods, community fellow-feeling, humanizing traditions and customs, solid, secure, decent work, leisure, recognized and respected religion – were increasingly subjected to relentless criticism from the newly ascending cultural Left. Increasingly the new-leftist understood herself in terms of “counter-culture” rather, say, than from a more Marxian economic viewpoint that prevailed in the 1920’s and 30’s. Individual self-discovery and the expansion of lifestyle choices, as Christopher Lasch described, were replacing worker solidarity and celebration of the Common Man. 1970’s rock was increasingly introspective, self-congratulatory, all about self-fulfillment. It was met by the rise of southern rock and the revival of country music with its in-your-face celebration of all things “down-home American”.

    The lines were being drawn musically as well as in other popular media (the 70’s were the decade of “All in the Family” and a “Saturday Night Fever” in which Brooklyn neighborhood guy Tony finds salvation by crossing The Bridge and reinventing himself in the glitter of Manhattan hipsterdom). Woody Guthrie was not singing on behalf of the union strikers any more. The art, literary, popular media, and academic world began to embrace a new set of assumptions, fundamentally antagonistic to those held by Dr. King that suffocated with skepticism, disdain, and ridicule even the mildest assertion of religious, cultural or moral values that, up until then, were pretty much accepted by almost all sides in our long standing political debates.

    We may not remember but we should that even during the dark days of the 1930’s, the political debate was mainly about how to restore and strengthen the material-economic conditions that support an “American Way of Life” that all but the most radical fringe groups unquestioningly accepted. When Capra made “It’s a Wonderful Life” in 1946, almost no one, I would imagine, Republican or Democrat, liberal or conservative, yes, black or brown or white, would have failed to recognize that Bedford Falls incarnated the “good life” and Pottersville was an evil to be avoided at all costs! The argument was mainly about how to preserve, protect, and expand. Even the reprehensible excesses of the most rabid anti-communists of the 1950’s in last analysis involved defending the “way” of America against Manichaean darkness from without (the evil USSR and “Red” China, mainly).

    I am writing of course about the American “sensus communis” (in Cicero’s, not Kant’s, meaning as the term), the set of deep and usually unquestioned set of political, social, and economic axioms (Aristotle’s “ethics” conceived broadly) rooted in tradition, custom, religion, and perhaps even genetics. My argument is that for the first time since the decades leading up to the Civil War, this sensus communis is broken. It still existed in the 1960’s. (I too was there, a philosophy student living in Greenwich Village. I was fully engaged in the politics of the day. I remember well.) For some time, however, it has no longer existed. Perhaps it is only with the election of Trump that many of us can see this clearly. Since multiple contradictory anthropologies and a single social/political regime create an existential contradiction, a “house divided”, this kind of radical disequilibrium cannot stand. Something and someone will have to give.

    1. flora

      ” Increasingly the new-leftist understood herself in terms of “counter-culture” rather, say, than from a more Marxian economic viewpoint that prevailed in the 1920’s and 30’s. ”

      Indeed. I would say that the McCarthy Red Scare witch hunts of the early 50’s all but destroyed that aspect of the American left, after which it interested itself primarily with “counter-culture” and “identity” politics, ceding the economic questions and fights to others. The neoliberals were waiting in the wings when Keynesian economics was challenged by rampant inflation in the late 70’s. There was no economic counter balance from the left leading to a moderate middle economic program where both labor and capital would see benefits. imo.

      (When I read the egregious WaPo propernot story I thought of McCarthyism not only in its electoral political terms but also of its basic economic effects.)

      1. flora

        to be clear: because there was no effective economic counter balance from the left to the neoliberals’ theory, there was no way to create a moderate middle economic path. Both the Dems and the GOP estab agreed that capital should get the lion’s share and labor should get very little of all the increased productivity of the past 30 years. The Dem estab tries to hide that fact behind good PR and advertising.

    2. Ulysses

      “Something and someone will have to give.”

      Things fall apart, the center cannot hold. Our civilization may well collapse simply through our wanton destruction of this planet’s environmental resources. Yet, the cultural stresses that you identify are also very real. One possible outcome of a cultural collapse would be a neo-feudal devolution– in which our current empires perish and frightened people seek the protection of warlords.

      I fear that my daughter may never see much peace and harmony in her lifetime.

    3. James F.

      Great post Al and great comment. Your point about Bedford Falls and Pottersville being readily understood symbols really sticks out. I think your notice of the importance of the centrality of our cultural consensus in Dr. King’s thought is also spot on. Please keep up this conversation. I need it – and thanks again to Yves and Lambert.

  26. VietnamVet

    Please continue the great posts like this. The divisions in the 60s and 70s were different than now. Back then, they were anti-war, civil rights and feminist mass movements. Today, there is lots of anger but it is unfocused because the root causes are purposefully hidden. We are witnessing the fight between nationalist and globalist oligarchs over control of the West. I’ve not seen this before. The closest match I can think of in the past is the conflict between plantation owners and robber barons that led to the American Civil War. This does not bode well for our future.

  27. Fiery Hunt

    Yes, without a doubt this is a great post.

    On the best site I know.
    Huge gratitude for the work of our hosts, Yves and Lambert.
    And for the commentariat whose depth and breadth is frankly amazing.

    As for the main question this post raises:

    I don’t see neoliberalism capable of adapting or embracing the traditional rural ways. And it will require much, much more pain and inequality for the armed right to revolt.

    So more of what is now… getting worse and worse for at least 12 years (4 Trump, 8 Democrat). In 2029, we’ll see the return of the Great Depression.

    And then we’ll see if we’ve chosen to talk or chosen to fight.

  28. Scott

    You seem make the Give him a Chance argument; Then point to the stupidity & double dealing of the Democrats. The picture is nationalistic. Of course there is a deadline and one can’t say the whole of it all in the column space of one day.
    Really the conflict is between the Oligarchy, Corporatist multi nationals who have changed it so far that people forget entirely that the corporations were given charters in fear of them, with caveats that they serve the public good.
    It’s flipped to corporations rule, an objectionable fascism. We know where Mussolini took his nation. (History by Else Morante)
    Of course by “Between” I meant Labor, or those who join with honest people of ethical beliefs not dependent on morality since morality may well be unethical. Loosely the band of ethicists.
    You are right to see a failure of Democrats who I over and over say fail for not doing things in order, or doing follow-up, and then lie about their failures in the fine print.
    “Democracy is delicate.” and its delicacy is that it depends on an educated populace. Now in the US there is put up this Betsy who is a proponent of selective gross ignorance.
    School choice ought not be Private or Public. Public schools ought be big enough a system to allow for school choice.
    I myself just walked to the next over bus system. From harassed and forced to fight I of a sudden was popular.
    I understand the benefits of changing locations.
    The world is at war as it was before WWI.
    “Same difference.”
    There was made the League of Nations, then the UN, and now as we approach WWIII we had better pretend the worst has already happened, and eliminate nuclear weapons.
    There will be war enough for the destined warriors on that score.

    Quote is from William James Harvard Lectures 1905. He is considered significant for “Pragmatism”.
    P.S. Benito is objected to for being so really rude all the time. Plus being a congenital liar. Both Parties give the Financial Terrorists not just the US Treasury, but the Treasuries of the US & Europe.

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