Tag Archives: left-wing

An anthropologist looks at the empty identity politics of America’s left

Summary: Here is the last chapter of anthropologist Maximilian Forte’s series about America’s New Victorianism. It explains many of the otherwise baffling aspects of Campaign 2016. This essay is worth a ton of journalists’ reporting about the sound bite circus that dominates the news.

Queen Victoria and family by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1846)

Queen Victoria and family by Franz Xaver Winterhalter (1846). It could be a modern campaign portrait.

The Working Class, Identity Politics and New Victorian History

Against the Labouring Classes: Identity Politics in the New Victorian Age.
By Maximilian C. Forte. Part 4 of 4.
From Zero Anthropology.
Reposted with his generous permission.

The New Victorianism serves to not only divert politics into issues of morality and identity, it works to obfuscate the bases of increasing inequality. Focusing on the Democratic Party, and its abandonment of the working class over the past forty years, Adolph Reed Jr. (professor of political science at the University of Pennsylvania) would appear to have seen from early on how these issues are linked — though he does not use the phrase “New Victorianism,” he describes it in other words. Speaking of Democrats and liberals in general, he wrote of,

“their capacity for high-minded fervor for the emptiest and sappiest platitudes; their tendencies to make a fetish of procedure over substance and to look for technical fixes to political problems; their ability to screen out the mounting carnage in the cities they inhabit as they seek pleasant venues for ingesting good coffee and scones; their propensity for aestheticizing other people’s oppression and calling that activism; their reflex to wring their hands and look constipated in the face of conflict; and, most of all, their spinelessness and undependability in crises”.

— “Liberals, I Do Despise” by Adolph Reed, Jr. in The Village Voice, 12 November 1996.

Twenty years ago he criticized “their refusal to face up to the class realities of American politics” and how liberals “avoid any linkage of inequality with corporations’ use of public policy to drive down living standards and enhance their plunder”. Instead, when it comes to the marginalized within the US they opt for a maudlin “save-the-babies politics” that demonizes working-class parents, much the same way that the right-wing has done. He concluded that liberal politics are “motivated by the desire for proximity to the ruling class and a belief in the basic legitimacy of its power and prerogative. It is a politics which, despite all its idealist puffery and feigned nobility, will sell out any allies or egalitarian objectives in pursuit of gaining the Prince’s ear” (Reed, 1996).

Reed’s critique later expanded beyond the confines of the Democratic party, moving to include left activists and the labour movement, raising an issue that I recently touched upon when I wrote that, “it now seems clear that every single sector and shade of the US left has made some sort of peace with neoliberalism, with the basic structure of the status quo, from which their hopes hang even if by the thinnest of humanitarian, cosmopolitan and reformist threads”. This is how Reed argued the point…

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Does Donald Trump have a perverted attraction to Ivanka? Details of a smear.

Summary: Having failed to convince a majority of America that Donald Trump is Hitler, a racist fascist, they turn to a vile smear — that he has perverted fantasies about his daughter, Ivanka. It’s typical of them to prefer smears rather than dealing with the vital issues that Trump has raised. Here are their accusations and the evidence they cite. You decide.

Trump and Ivanka

The polls show a virtual tie between Clinton and Trump is perhaps explained by the Democrats’ odd reluctance to debate Trump on his positions (here and here), especially globalization, mass immigration, and our foreign wars. Instead they devise memes that only a leftist can love. Trump is a racist (like all who disagree with them). He’s Hitler (ditto). He aspires to be Putin. And now, a new low even for the Left, they say he has a perverted sexual attraction to his daughter, Ivanka.

These accusations play well on the Left (as similar smears do on the Right). But will they change any minds? Decades of indiscriminate overuse by the Left have eroded away their force. I hope this doesn’t become another chapter in my “why the Left loses” series (see them listed below).

Is Trump a pervert?

Daily Kos was at the forefront of this story with their Jan 17 article: “Forget About ‘Socialist’. ‘Creepy’ & ‘Elitist’ Are Much Tougher Labels To Overcome.” by “mstoner” — “So, let look at two labels you could apply to our most likely general election opponent; Donald ‘Creepy’ & ‘Elitist’ Trump.” It’s the usual Daily Kos mish-mash. Here’s the basis for the allegations that Trump is a pervert with incestuous fantasies. First, on “The View” (6 March 2006) Trump said…

“I don’t think Ivanka would do that {pose for Playboy}, although she does have a very nice figure. I’ve said if Ivanka weren’t my daughter, perhaps I’d be dating her.”

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The Left calls Trump a “fascist”, ignoring the many experts who disagree

Summary: Trump brings dark elements into Campaign 2016, and the Left responds with hypocrisy, misinformation, and anti-intellectualism — seeking to short-circuit the proper debates of the election. There are no angels in US politics.

Trump as Hitler

Declaring their foes to be illegitimate: the Left’s first line of defense

Declaring Trump a “fascist” has became the Left’s (broadly defined) first response to the resurgence of populism, with Trump as its unlikely (and deeply flawed) vehicle. Even neoliberals like Robert Kagan joined the play in his WSJ op-ed: “This is how fascism comes to America” …

{H}ere is the other threat to liberty that Alexis de Tocqueville and the ancient philosophers warned about: that the people in a democracy, excited, angry and unconstrained, might run roughshod over even the institutions created to preserve their freedoms. As Alexander Hamilton watched the French Revolution unfold, he feared in America what he saw play out in France — that the unleashing of popular passions would lead not to greater democracy but to the arrival of a tyrant, riding to power on the shoulders of the people. This phenomenon has arisen in other democratic and quasi-democratic countries over the past century, and it has generally been called “fascism.”

Here we see a classic play of the Left: radically broadening the meaning of terms, unhinging them from their original definition for increased political utility. Racism, sexism, rape, and now fascism — all powerful terms twisted for political benefit under the assumption that the American public is too stupid to see the game. So fascism — a term with specific (if debated) characteristics — becomes “the unleashing of popular passions”. But it no longer works, after years of misuse.

This poisonous assertion echoes endlessly in the Left’s community, another demonstration of the epistemic closure afflicting left and right in America. For example see these by Jamelle Bouie, a journalist at Slate (a fount of leftist propaganda)…

  • Donald Trump Is a Fascist” — “This isn’t a partisan attack. It is the political label that best describes what the GOP front-runner has become”.
  • How Should America Resist a Fascist?” — “Violence won’t help — not while there are still legitimate means of stopping Donald Trump”.

And not just on the Left. Hillary’s neo-con warmonger supporters also join the chorus. Max Boot says “Trump is a fascist. And that’s not a term I use loosely or often. But he’s earned it.” Jeb Bush’s national security advisor also supported the Trump is fascism claim.” As did the Wall Street Journal’s staff warmonger, Bret Stephens.

Even some Republicans opposing Trump also have jumped on the bandwagon.

Before looking at what actual experts say, remember Orwell’s warning in “Politics and the English Language” (1946) about the degrading of our political speech — and therefore our thinking.

“The writer … is almost indifferent as to whether his words mean anything or not. This mixture of vagueness and sheer incompetence is the most marked characteristic of modern … political writing. As soon as certain topics are raised, the concrete melts into the abstract and no one seems able to think of turns of speech that are not hackneyed: prose consists less and less of words chosen for the sake of their meaning, and more and more of phrases tacked together like the sections of a prefabricated henhouse.

“…In the case of a word like democracy, not only is there no agreed definition, but the attempt to make one is resisted from all sides. {they} fear that they might have to stop using that word if it were tied down to any one meaning. Words of this kind are often used in a consciously dishonest way.”

What do actual experts say about Trump and fascism?
Why do so many on the Left ignore them?

“It’s very simple. If this is the beginning of American fascism, real organized political violence is called for. If it’s not, it’s not.”
Fredrik DeBoer (leftist, PhD rhetoric), on Twitter.

Some journalists have debunked these claims, fighting the anti-intellectualism that’s infected much of the Left and the news media. For a historically insightful analogy see “Donald Trump Isn’t a Fascist; He’s a Media-Savvy Know-Nothing” by John Cassidy in The New Yorker. “Why you should stop calling Donald Trump a fascist” by Max Ehrenfreund at the WaPo. He’s not an expert, but compares Trump to the academic’s descriptions of fascism. “I Know Fascists; Donald Trump Is No Fascist” by Gianni Riotta (Italian journalist; see Wikipedia) in The Atlantic — “Can you imagine Mussolini being accused of endorsing ‘New York values?’” The Economist gave a historical comparison in “Donald Trump is not a fascist“.

More importantly, many experts have spoke out against these claims. Dylan Matthews at VOX made some calls: “I asked 5 fascism experts whether Donald Trump is a fascist. Here’s what they said.“ Opening…

“Donald Trump is not a fascist. ‘Fascism’ has been an all-purpose insult for many years now, but it has a real definition, and according to scholars of historical fascism, Trump doesn’t qualify. Rather, he’s a right-wing populist, or perhaps an ‘apartheid liberal’ in the words of Roger Griffin, author of The Nature of Fascism. He doesn’t want to overthrow the existing democratic system. He doesn’t want to scrap the Constitution. He doesn’t romanticize violence itself as a vital cleansing agent of society. …Griffin, who is a professor of history and political theory at Oxford Brookes University, puts it best: ‘You can be a total xenophobic racist male chauvinist bastard and still not be a fascist.’”

Here are some of the many articles by other experts debunking the Trump fascism claims.

  • Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” — An interview of Robert Paxton (professor emeritus of history at Columbia; famous expert on fascism). “There are certainly some echoes of fascism, but there are also very profound differences.” Here’s another interview with Paxon, in which he Amy Goodman tries valiantly but unsuccessfully to bait him into saying Trump is a fascist.
  • Who’s A Fascist? Not Donald Trump” by Michael Ledeen (PhD history, dissertation on fascism; see Wikipedia) at Forbes.
  • Trump is a far right populist, not a fascist” by Jan-Werner Müller (Prof of politics, Princeton) — “The Republican presidential front-runner rejects democratic pluralism and claims to speak for the true people.”
  • No, Donald Trump is not a fascist” by Matthew Sharpe (Assoc Prof Philosophy, Deakin U in Australia).
  • Donald Trump is not a fascist, and violence is nothing new in American politics” by Tim Stanley (British historian).
  • Is Donald Trump a Fascist?” by Jeffrey Herf (Prof History, U Maryland) — “The short answer is “no,” but there’s plenty of room for discomfort. … Despite the important differences between the Trump phenomenon and the extreme Right of Europe’s 20th century, his campaign brings to mind dangerous echoes from the past.”
  • David Kaiser (eminent historian, see Wikipedia) said “Fascism Isn’t Our Problem” at Time. “Trump is not Mussolini or Hitler. And, no matter what you think of him, he is not by any stretch of the imagination a genuine Fascist.”
  • CNN interviewed Federico Finchelstein (Prof History at the New School for Social Research; noted scholar on fascism): “Fascism sometimes becomes an attribute to describe someone that is intolerant or totalitarian or even racist … {Trump is better described a populist} When dealing with an important part of the nation such as Hispanics, I think he definitely fits those categories.”

Two populists: Andrew Jackson and Donald Trump

What the Left does not want us to see:
Trump has raised important issues.

The left screams that Trump is Hitler, an authoritarian, and a fascist. It’s their way to avoid debating the issues he raises. Trump advocates policies with deep roots in American history:  immigration’s effect on wages (which is why corporations love it), the overwhelming power of America’s banks, our mad interventions in foreign lands, elites’ attacks on social security and medicare, and a host of other issues not covered by “racism”. (But populism carries a full measure of America’s original sin of racism.)

Fascism is a serious threat

Colonel Stok (Soviet secret police): “These Germans, sometimes I wonder how we managed to beat them.”
Vaclav (Czechoslovakian secret police): “The Nazis?”
Stok: “Oh, we still haven’t beaten them. The Germans, I mean.”
— From Len Deighton’s Funeral in Berlin (1964)

As America’s Second Republic (founded on the Constitution) dies, powerful elements maneuver to create its replacement. See these articles about this looming threat…

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