Thursday, February 25, 2016


February 24, 2016 at 11:05 am

I’m glad someone is noticing that the people are sick of business as usual. Our politicians have been gutting America with trade deals that say Made In America isn’t allowed to be a selling point. They want to run a dirty oil pipeline across the largest aquifer in America, oil so heavy it can’t be cleaned up. And they need to push it through at high pressures using chemicals that are as bad as the oil itself. A spill occurs on average every 2 weeks and a spill of not much magnitude would destroy America breadbasket. America and Americans don’t matter to these bought politicians, pieces of America are being sold to whoever is the highest bidder to line their own pockets. And what’s being sold is the soul of America, manufacturing and good jobs, our laws and justice, people homes being foreclosed because of crimes the banks committed, monopolizing media propaganda, socialism for the rich and rugged individuality for the rest of us. I don’t like Australian lamb, I don’t like New Zealand beef, I don’t like Mexican avocados, I no longer eat corn because it’s GMO and on and on. Where is the American food I grew up on and loved? It’s being saved for the elites and their restaurants. America 1st !! means nothing nowadays. We have to fight almost every day against the bad for America choices our politicians are making ! It’s not supposed to be that way. That’s my rant for the day.
But I state the obvious, as does Reich.

I just have to say, thanks for that story Paul.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016


Current Issue

February 24, 2016: [Donald Trump][Nevada][Vladimir Putin][Hand pump]
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Online Exclusive — February 19, 2016, 11:06 am
Nor a Lender Be

Hillary Clinton, liberal virtue, and the cult of the microloan

By Thomas Frank

An exclusive first look at Thomas Frank’s new book Listen, Liberal! which will be published next month by Metropolitan Books. Frank wrote the Easy Chair column for Harper’s Magazine from 2010 to 2014.

The day after International Women’s Day in March 2015, I attended a Clinton Foundation production put on by its No Ceilings initiative at the Best Buy Theater in New York City. It wasn’t a campaign event—the 2016 race had not really started at that point—nor was it a panel discussion, as there were no disagreements among the participants or questions from the audience. Instead, it was a choreographed presentation of various findings having to do with women’s standing in the world. But if you paid attention, the event provided a way to understand Hillary Clinton’s real views on the great social question before the nation—the problem of income inequality.

Onto the stage before us came former secretary of state Clinton, the Democratic Party’s heir apparent; Melinda Gates, the wife of the richest man in the world (the event was produced with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation); various NGO executives; a Hollywood celebrity; a Silicon Valley CEO; a best-selling author; an expert in women’s issues from Georgetown University; a Nobel Prize winner; and a large supporting cast of women from the Third World. Everyone strode with polished informality about the stage, reading their lines from an invisible tele­prompter. And back and forth, the presenters called out to one another in tones of supportiveness and sweet flattery.

In her introduction to the event, for example, the TV star America Ferrera, who has appeared at many Clinton events both philanthropic and political, gave a shout-out to the “incredible women who have brought us all here today” and the “amazing girls” whose conversation she had been permitted to join. Then Chelsea Clinton, who announced herself “completely awed” by the “incredible swell of people and partners” who had participated in some event the previous day, invited us to hearken to the “inspiring voices of leaders, of communities, of companies, of countries.”

Those were just the first few minutes. It kept on like that for hours. When someone’s “potential” was mentioned, it was described as “boundless.” People’s “stories” were “compelling” when they weren’t “inspiring,” “incredible,” or “incredibly inspiring.” A Kenyan activist was introduced as “the incomparable.”

But the real star of this show was the Creative Innovator, the figure who crops up whenever the liberal class gets together to talk about spreading the prosperity around more fairly. In this case, the innovations being hailed seemed mainly to be transpiring in the Third World. “Every year, millions and millions of women everywhere are empowering themselves and their communities by finding unique, dynamic, and productive ways to enter the workforce, start their own businesses, and contribute to their economies and their countries,” said Chelsea Clinton, introducing an “inspiring innovator and chocolatier” from Trinidad.

Melinda Gates followed up the chocolatier’s presentation by heaping even more praise: “She is an amazing businesswoman, you can see why we all find her so inspiring.” Then, a little later on: “Entrepreneurship is really vital for women…. It’s also their ability to advance into leadership roles into corporations. And corporations play such a big role in the global economy.”

Roughly speaking, there were two groups present at this distinctly First World gathering. Many of the people making presentations came from Third World countries—a midwife from Haiti, a student from Afghanistan, the chocolate maker from Trinidad, a former child bride from India, an environmental activist from Kenya—­while the women anchoring this swirling praise fest were former secretary of state Hillary Clinton and the wealthy foundation executive Melinda Gates.

What this lineup suggested is that there is a kind of naturally occurring solidarity between the millions of women at the bottom of the world’s pyramid and the tiny handful of women at its very top. The hardship those Third World women have endured and the entrepreneurial efforts they have undertaken are powerful symbols of the struggle of American professional women to become CEOs of Fortune 500 companies (one of the ambitions that was discussed in detail) or of a woman to be elected president, which was the unspoken theme of the entire event.

What the spectacle had to offer ordinary working American women was another story.

That was my first experience of the microclimate of goodness that always seems to surround Hillary Rodham Clinton. The mystic bond between high-achieving American professionals and the planet’s most victimized people, I would discover, is a recurring theme in her life and work.

But it is not her theme alone. Regardless of who leads it, professional-class liberalism seems to be forever traveling on a quest for some place of greater righteousness. It is always engaged in a search for some subject of overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness with which it can identify itself, and under whose umbrella of virtue it can put across its self-interested class program.

There have been many other virtue objects over the years, people and ideas whose surplus righteousness could be extracted for deployment elsewhere. The great virtue-rush of the 1990s, for example, was focused on children, then thought to be the last word in overwhelming, noncontroversial goodness. Who could be against kids? No one, of course, and so the race was on to justify in their name whatever your program happened to be. In the course of Hillary Clinton’s 1996 book, It Takes a Village, for example, this favorite rationale of the day—think of the children!—was deployed to explain her husband’s draconian crime bill as well as more directly child-related causes such as charter schools.

1 I am taking Democrats to task here, but of course Republicans do it too. The culture wars unfold in precisely the same way as the liberal virtue-quest: they are an exciting ersatz politics that seem to be really important but at the conclusion of which voters discover they’ve got little to show for it all besides more free-trade agreements, more bank deregulation, and a different prison-building spree.

You can find dozens of examples of this kind of liberal-class virtue quest if you try, but instead of listing them, let me go straight to the point: this is not politics. It’s an imitation of politics. It feels political, yes: it’s highly moralistic, it sets up an easy melodrama of good versus bad, it allows you to make all kinds of judgments about people you disagree with. But ultimately it’s a diversion, a way of putting across a policy program while avoiding any sincere discussion of the policies in question. The virtue quest is an exciting moral crusade that seems to be extremely important but at the conclusion of which you discover you’ve got little to show for it besides NAFTA, bank deregulation, and a prison-building spree.1

For all that, the Clinton Foundation event I attended gives us a context in which to understand Hillary’s most important moment as a maker of policy—her four years as Barack Obama’s secretary of state. Although her purview then was foreign policy, we can see from her deeds at State how she intends to tackle the great economic question of our time. The themes will be familiar to anyone who follows Democratic politics closely. She cast herself as a high-minded ally of Silicon Valley. She enshrined a version of feminism in which liberation is, in part, a matter of taking out loans from banks in order to become an entrepreneur. And between these two doctrines, it seems clear that income inequality has little role in the grand sweep of her political career.

In emphasizing these aspects of her tenure at the State Department, I do not mean to brush off the conventional diplomatic triumphs that Hillary Clinton engineered, like the international effort to isolate Iran. Nor do I mean to soft-pedal her conventional diplomatic failures, like the cataclysmic civil war in Libya, a conflict Clinton worked so hard to stoke that the Washington Post in 2011 called it “Hillary’s War.” But I want to focus for a moment on one of her early initiatives as secretary of state: something she called “Internet Freedom.” This was to be the very “cornerstone of the 21st century statecraft policy agenda,” according to the State Department, and Clinton returned to the principle frequently. In a high-profile speech in January 2010, she declared that, henceforth, the United States would stand “for a single Internet where all of humanity has equal access to knowledge and ideas.” Committing ourselves to defending this unified Internet from all who would censor it, she continued, was a logical extension of what Franklin Roosevelt had been after with his Four Freedoms; it wasn’t all that much different from the U.N.’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights either.

Now, understanding the Internet as a force of pure nobility is a pundit tradition in the United States, and in the days when Clinton declared humanity’s Internet Freedom, those ideals were on the lips of every commentator. In the summer of 2009, the Iranian regime had violently suppressed a series of enormous street protests—protests that, the American pundit community immediately determined, were as much a testament to the power of Twitter as they were about any local grievance having to do with Iran itself. The so called Twitter Revolution fit neatly into the beloved idea that new communications technologies—technologies invented or dominated by Americans, that is—militate by their very nature against dictatorships, a market-populist article of faith shared everywhere from Wall Street to Silicon Valley.

Then there was the economic side of the single, unified Internet, and it, too, was all about liberation. For the “people at the bottom of the world’s economic ladder,” Hillary Clinton averred on that day in 2010, the Internet was a savior. She knew of farmers in Kenya who were using “mobile banking technology,” and of “women entrepreneurs” somewhere else in Africa who were getting “micro­credit loans,” and of a doctor who used a search engine to diagnose a disease. I guess she hadn’t heard about what these same technologies were doing to the livelihoods of journalists or musicians or taxi drivers in her own country, but I quibble; as long as this technology was free, anyone could see that it pushed in one direction only, and that was up.

Clinton’s other great initiative during her State Department days was the so-called Hillary Doctrine: the recasting of the United States as the world’s defender of women and girls. Now, here was a virtue quest of the most principled kind. The single remaining superpower was no longer to be an overbearing hegemon or a bringer of global financial crisis—it was actually determined to improve life for half of the planet’s population.

The secretary described the elements of the Hillary Doctrine in 2010 at a TEDWomen conference, that great agora of the liberal class. “I have made clear that the rights and the roles of women and girls will be a central tenet of American foreign policy,” she said, “because where girls and women flourish, our values are also reflected.” It was, Clinton continued, “in the vital interests of the United States of America” to care about women and girls. Her reasoning: the subjugation of women is a “threat to the common security of our world and to the national security of our country.”

I was a little bit alarmed when I heard Secretary Clinton speak these phrases in her deliberate way. Ordinarily, the words “vital interest” and “national security,” when combined like this, suggest strong stuff: that the United States has a right to freeze assets, organize embargoes, and maybe even launch air strikes—in this case, I suppose, against countries that score poorly on the gender-equality scale.

Not to worry. Like so many high-minded Democratic virtue quests, this one turned out to be largely concerned with the personal, with foundations and private companies that would partner with the United States to do things like “improve maternal and child health,” “close the global gender gap in cellular-phone ownership,” “persuade men and boys to value their sisters and their daughters,” and “make sure that every girl in the world has a chance to live up to her own dreams and aspirations.”

The idea that unifies and explains these disparate initiatives is the theology of microfinance. It is hard to overstate the attraction of this magical idea to the liberal class, or at least to that part of it working in the foreign-aid sector. Micro­lending, such people have come to believe over the past few decades, was the magic elixir for sexism and poverty, the financial innovation that would save the Third World. Foundations embraced it. Careers were built on it. Billions were spent advancing it. The United Nations declared 2005 the International Year of Microcredit. Muhammad Yunus, the Bangladeshi economist who popularized microlending, won a Nobel Prize in 2006. Three years later, Barack Obama gave Yunus the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

And it was all so simple. While national leaders busied themselves with the macro-matters of privatizing and deregulating, microloans would bring the science of markets down to the individual. Merely by providing impoverished individuals with a tiny loan of fifty or a hundred dollars, it was thought, you could put them on the road to entrepreneurial self-sufficiency, you could make entire countries prosper, you could bring about economic development itself.

What was most attractive about micro­lending was what it was not, what it made unnecessary: any sort of collective action by poor people coming together in governments or unions. The international development community now knew that such institutions had no real role in human prosperity. Instead, we were to understand poverty in the familiar terms of entrepreneurship and individual merit, as though the hard work of millions of single, unconnected people—plus cell phones, bank accounts, and a little capital—was what was required to remedy the Third World’s vast problems. Millions of people would sell one another baskets they had made, or coal they had dug out of the trash heap, and suddenly they were entrepreneurs, racing to the top. The key to development was not doing something to limit the grasp of Western banks, in other words; it was extending Western banking methods to encompass every last individual on earth.

Microlending is a perfect expression of Clintonism, since it brings together wealthy financial interests with rhetoric that sounds outrageously idealistic. Microlending permits all manner of networking, posturing, and profit taking among the lenders while doing nothing to change actual power relations—the ultimate win-win.

Back in the 1990s, Bill Clinton’s administration had made microloans a proud point of emphasis in U.S. foreign policy, and Hillary has been a micro­lending enthusiast since her first days on the national stage. She promoted it as a form of female empowerment in a famous 1995 speech she made in Beijing, and she supported micro­lending efforts wherever the First Family traveled in the 1990s—there’s an exhibit on the subject at the Clinton Presidential Library that shows Hillary giving a speech in the Gaza Strip in front of a sign that reads, women’s empowerment through micro-lending. In 1997 she cochaired a global Microcredit Summit in Washington, D.C., replete with the usual Third World delegations. Hillary’s own remarks on that occasion were unremarkable, but those of the president of the Citi­corp Foundation were well worth remembering. Here is what he said to the assembled saviors of the Third World: “Everyone in this room is a banker, because everyone here is banking on self-employment to help alleviate poverty around the world.” At the closing session of the summit, bankers joined national leaders in singing “We Shall Overcome.”

In the decade that followed, the theology of microlending developed a number of doctrinal refinements. There was the idea that women were better borrowers and better entrepreneurs than men; the belief that poor people needed mentorship and “financial inclusion” in addition to loans; the suggestion that they had to be hooked up to a bank via the Internet; the discovery that it was morally okay to run microlending banks as private, profit-making enterprises—many of the arguments that I had heard at the No Ceilings conference, expressed in the unforgettable tones of international female solidarity.

These ideas made up the core of the Hillary Doctrine. Melanne Verveer, her ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues, declared in 2011 that “financial inclusion is a top priority for the U.S. government” and announced her terrible chagrin that “three billion people in the world remain unbanked; the majority of them are women.” Hillary’s under­secretary for democracy and global affairs, Maria Otero, came to State from one of the biggest American micro­lending institutions, ACCION International. Now, in her official government capacity, she expressed her joy at how microfinance had evolved “from subsidized microloans to a focus on self-sufficiency, to an emphasis on savings, to a full suite of financial products delivered by commercial regulated banks”—and how all this had “affirmed the capacity of the poor to become economic actors in their own right.” Hillary herself proudly recalls in her memoirs how the State Department rebuilt Afghanistan by handing out “more than 100,000 small personal loans” to the women of that country.

These are fine, sterling sentiments. They suffer, however, from one big problem: microlending doesn’t work. As strategies for ending poverty go, micro­lending appears to be among the worst that has ever been tried, just one step up from doing nothing at all to help the poor. In a carefully researched 2010 book called Why Doesn’t Micro­finance Work? the development consultant Milford Bateman debunks virtually every aspect of the microloan gospel. Microlending doesn’t empower women, Bateman writes—instead, it makes them into debtors. It encourages people to take up small, futile enterprises that have no chance of growing or employing others. Sometimes micro­borrowers don’t even start businesses at all; they just spend the loan on whatever. Even worse: the expert studies that originally sparked the micro­lending boom turn out, upon reexamination, to have been badly flawed.

Nearly every country where microlending has been an important development strategy for the past few decades, Bateman writes, is now a disaster zone of indebtedness and economic backwardness. When he tells us that “the increasing dominance of the microfinance model in developing countries is causally associated with their progressive deindustrialization and infantilization,” he is being polite. The terrible implication of the facts he has uncovered is that microlending achieves the opposite of development. Even Soviet-style Communism, with its frequently mocked Five Year Plans, worked better than this strategy does, as Bateman shows in a tragic look at microloan-saturated Bosnia.

No matter. The liberal class is unlikely to abandon its romance with micro­finance, for yet another reason: it is profitable. Lending to the poor, as every subprime-mortgage originator knows, can be a lucrative business. Mixed with international feminist self-righteousness, it is also a bulletproof business, immune to criticism. Naturally the international goodness community discovered that empowering poor women by lending to them at usurious interest rates was a fine thing all around.

Other virtue quests have proven just as attractive. Companies needing a stiff shot of P.R. whitewash fell over one another to enlist in the State Department’s crusade to build “solutions for good.” Goldman Sachs partnered with the State Department in 2011 to give out business-school scholarships to women entrepreneurs from the developing world. The following year, Clinton’s old friends at the wage-crushing retailer Walmart announced a $1.5 million gift to the department’s Women’s Entrepreneurship in the Americas program. (“The effort will support the dreams of up to 55,000 potential women entrepreneurs,” the company boasted.) ExxonMobil was on board, too, helping State to register women-owned businesses in Mexico.

The figure of the female Third World entrepreneur, rescued from her “unbanked” state by Wall Street–backed organizations, mentored by her friends in the American professional class, expressing herself through social media, remains to this day among the most cherished daydreams in the land of money. Everyone is infatuated with her: the foundations, the State Department, the corporations. Everyone wants to have his picture taken with her. Everyone wants to partner with everyone else to advance her interests and loan her money.

The fantasies blend seamlessly one into another. The ideas promoted by Goldman Sachs’s 10,000 Women project, for example, are not really different from those of Hillary’s own Vital Voices Global Partnership, or Coca-Cola’s #5by20 initiative, or even the conscientious statements you find in State Department press releases. People move from one node of this right-thinking world to another and no one really notices, because the relocation signifies no meaningful change. They give one another grants and prizes and endowed chairs; they extol one another’s ideas and books; they appear together with their banker pals on panel discussions in Bali or maybe Davos; and they all come together to fix Haiti, and then to fix Haiti again, and then to fix Haiti yet again.

Hillary herself moved in this fashion from State to the Clinton Foundation, where she presided over a dizzying program of awards for the usual people, grants for some genuinely good causes, and the organizing of great spectacles of virtue like the one I attended in New York, a costly praiseorama featuring many of the very same people who worked for her in government.

What I concluded from observing all this is that there is a global commerce in compassion, an international virtue circuit featuring people of unquestionable moral achievement: Archbishop Tutu, Bono, Sting, Yunus, Angelina Jolie. They travel the world, collecting and radiating goodness. And in doing so, they come into contact with the other participants in the same market: the politicians and billionaires and bankers, who warm themselves with the incandescent virtue of the world-traveling moral superstars.

But let’s be clear. What drives this market are the buyers. Like Walmart and Goldman Sachs locking arms with the State Department, what these virtue-consumers are doing is purchasing liberalism offsets, an ideological version of the carbon offsets that polluters sometimes buy in order to compensate for the smog they churn out.

And at the apex of all this idealism stands the Clinton Foundation, a veritable market-maker in the world’s vast, swirling virtue trade. The former president who runs the whole show is “the world’s leading philanthropic deal­maker,” according to a book on the subject. Under his watchful eye, all the concerned parties are brought together: the moral superstars, the billionaires, and of course the professionals, who organize, intone, and advise. Virtue changes hands. Good causes are funded. Compassion is radiated and absorbed.

This is modern liberalism in action: an unregulated virtue exchange in which representatives of one class of humanity ritually forgive the sins of another class, all of it convened and facilitated by a vast army of well-credentialed American technocrats, while the objects of their high and noble compassion sink slowly back into a preindustrial state.

One of the motifs of that Clinton Foundation event I attended in 2015 was the phrase not there, a reference to the women who aren’t present in the councils of state or the senior management of powerful corporations. The foundation raised awareness of this problem by producing visuals in which fashion models disappeared from the covers of popular magazines like Vogue, Glamour, SELF, and Allure. According to a New York Times story on the subject, the Clinton people had gone to a hip advertising agency to develop this concept, so that we would all understand that women were missing from the high-ranking places where they deserved to be.

There was also another act of erasure going on here, but no clever adman will ever be hired to play it up. International Women’s Day, I discovered, began as a socialist holiday, a sort of second Labor Day, on which you were supposed to commemorate the efforts of female workers and the sacrifices of female strikers. It is a vestige of an old form of feminism that didn’t especially focus on the problems experienced by women trying to be corporate officers or the views of some megabillionaire’s wife.

What we were there in New York to consider, among other things, was how unjust it was that women were underrepresented in the C-suites of the Fortune 500—and, by implication, how lamentable it was that the United States had not yet elected a woman president. There was no consideration—I mean, zero—of the situation of women who work on the shop floors of the Fortune 500—for Walmart or Amazon or any of the countless low-wage employers who make that list sparkle. Working-class American women were simply … not there. In this festival of inclusiveness and affirmation, their problems were not considered, their voices were not heard.

Hillary Clinton is not a callous or haughty woman. She has much to recommend her for the nation’s highest office: for one thing, her knowledge of Washington; for another, the Republican vendetta against her, which is so vindictive and so unfair that I myself might vote for her in November just to show what I think of it. And she has, after all, made a great effort in the course of the past year to impress voters with her feelings for working people.

But it’s hard, given her record, not to feel that this was only under perceived pressure from her primary opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders. Absent such political force, Hillary tends to gravitate back to a version of feminism that is mainly concerned with the struggle of professional women to rise as high as their talents will take them. No ceilings.

As I sat there in the Best Buy Theater, however, I kept thinking about the infinitely greater problem of no floors. On the train to New York that morning I had been reading a book by Peter Edelman, one of the country’s leading experts on welfare and a longtime friend of the Clintons. Edelman’s aim was to document the effect that the Clintons’ welfare-reform measure had on poor people—specifically on poor women, because that’s who used to receive welfare payments in the days before the program was reformed and turned over to stingy state governments.

2 Hillary Clinton describes her role in the welfare-reform debate in her 2003 book, Living History. The old AFDC welfare arrangement, she writes, “had helped to create generations of welfare-dependent Americans… I strongly argued that we had to change the system, although my endorsement of welfare reform came at some personal cost.” She then recounts how the Republicans in Congress passed two versions of welfare reform that she found too punitive, but that their third try was acceptable. Bill Clinton signed this third version. “Even with its flaws,” Hillary continues, this bill “was a critical first step to reforming our nation’s welfare system. I agreed that he should sign it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage—though he and the legislation were roundly criticized by some liberals, advocacy groups for immigrants and most people who worked with the welfare system.”

Edelman was not a fan of the old, pre-1996 welfare system, because it did nothing to prepare women for employment or to solve the problem of day care. But under the old system, at least our society had a legal obligation to do something for these people, the weakest and most vulnerable among us. Today, thanks to Hillary and her husband, that obligation has been canceled, and we do very little.2 The result, Edelman maintains, has been exactly what you’d expect: extreme poverty has increased dramatically in this country since Bill Clinton signed welfare reform in 1996.

For poor and working-class American women, the floor was pulled up and hauled off to the landfill some twenty years ago. There is no State Department somewhere to pay for their cell phones or to pick up their day-care expenses. And one of the people who helped to work this deed was the very woman I watched present herself as the champion of the world’s downtrodden femininity.

Sitting there in gilded Manhattan, I thought of all the abandoned factories and postindustrial desolation in the surrounding regions, and I mused on how, in such places, the Democratic establishment was receding into terminal insignificance. It had virtually nothing to say to the people who inhabit that land of waste and futility.

But for the faithful liberals at the Clinton Foundation gathering in New York, none of that mattered. The party’s deficit in relevance to average citizens was more than made up by its massive surplus in moral virtue. Here, inside the theater, the big foundations and the great fashion magazines were staging a pageant of goodness unquestionable, and the liberal class was swimming happily in its home element.

They knew which things were necessary to make up a liberal movement, and all of the ingredients were present: well-meaning billionaires; grant makers and grant recipients; Hollywood stars who talked about social media; female entrepreneurs from the Third World; and, of course, an audience of hundreds, who clapped and cheered enthusiastically every time one of their well-graduated leaders wandered across the stage. The performance of liberalism was so realistic one could almost believe it lived.

Monday, February 22, 2016


Not that I Agree mind you

Bruce Wilder 02.20.16 at 9:18 pm

bexley @ 319

First of all, it is a silly sort of navel-gazing politics to treat a “preference” for one candidate over another, drawn from a visceral reaction to their public personas, as if it you were engaged in a detailed examination of your own conscience foundational to your self-esteem. Voting for Hillary Clinton is not going to make you a better person, no matter who else may be on that particular ballot, or posed in that particular polling question.

If I could get people to hear one thing in my comments on this thread, it would be the protest against this fine-grained less evilism, where you put candidates side-by-side in your mind, and ask which one a decent, good moral person (your own lovely self and possibly your friendly interlocutor, if you are being friendly and not one of the Mean Girls™ that day) would choose, if forced to choose. It’s like some adolescent’s game, where they choose which of two famous actors or fictional characters they would prefer to have sex with, if isolated with them on a desert island. Only the total goofiness of the scenario is part of the fun for the idle adolescent mind, but is apparently totally lost on many commenters here who take the moral weight of the comparisons very seriously indeed.

It is not hard to see why people fall so easily into this pattern: we are trained in it by skilled propagandists. Identity politics is all about setting up these levers on your loyalties, so that you can be reliably herded into the proper partisan divisions, into your Tribe and away from the their Tribe(s), aka the tribe of the evil or misguided people (depending upon how ungenerously you view those who appear to differ in their political tastes and preferences).

I, myself, am only a recovering addict partisan. My epiphany was my disillusion with Obama over his failure to prosecute banksters or turn away Bush policy and personnel in the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq or in security/surveillance state matters. I didn’t vote for him in 2012. I watched people who thought the most morally serious political act of their lives was voting for Obama against Romney because the election was so close and the Republicans such a threat. I did so with a mixture of curiosity and stunned self-awareness: I recognized those patterns of distorted thinking in my self. I abandoned my life-long identification with the Democratic Party with regret and from demoralization; it was painful and depressing, because it carried with it a hopelessness and despair. That’s my personal experience, if you’re interested in where I am coming from. No one should think I am unaware of psychic costs of stepping out of the illusions of partisan pseudo-struggle. But, it is not about me, as they say.

bexley: What I’m getting from your contributions is that the economic issues that affect Bruce Wilder are the only ones that concern you. The worries of minorities of a Trump presidency can just be handwaved away.

Thank you, thank you for an admirably clear statement of your reaction.

In comments, I often come back to economics because that’s often the aspect of a question that I feel I understand best, but Hillary vs teh Donald doesn’t turn on some wonky b.s. about Glass-Steagall.

And, to the point, I am more personally detached from the politics than you imagined, and I am consciously trying to be more detached, and I am advocating that others try to be more detached. Let politics be less about personal identity and more about the society and the political economy. (And, yes, I can and do support society and culture becoming less racist or sexist, not that you should need to ask.)

Peter T (who is one my favorite commenters) @ 175: Clinton would be a battle against the plutocracy one failed to win. Trump with a Republican Congress and appointments to the Supreme Court would be a stain on America’s political conscience it would take decades to scrub clean.

That puts it very starkly, I think, as a choice between the economic issues and the identity politics issues, in a way that seems to compel choosing identity politics because of its moral import. And, I don’t disagree with his implied view of Trump. Trump is a horror show. (I said that before.) What I am trying to get across is how it distorts one’s thinking to focus on a side-by-side choice of evils. That “stain on America’s political conscience”? I think it is already there, folks. More than one stain. And, I don’t see much in Hillary’s self-presentation that suggests she sees a need to scrub. (Or repent, washing her own hands.)

When I wrote that Trump has been a talker, but Hillary has been a doer, I was trying to draw attention to that difference. Hillary doesn’t have a self-presentation that includes a lot of provocative, bombastic crazy talk; she’s a very serious person, doncha know? The very serious person, who thought invading Iraq was a good idea, who thought bombing Libya and undermining Assad were going to be winning policies, and who thought Gaddafi’s gruesome murder was a good joke.

I am not advocating Trump over Hillary. I am protesting against a political analysis where you lay the personas of those two side-by-side in your imagination, and conclude to a deep moral certainty, that one is acceptable and one is not. Like this election is a chance to assassinate Hitler during the Beer Hall Putsch and Save the World. We don’t know, can’t know, what Trump would do with power, or even if he would have the slightest capacity to wield it, because he’s never been in office and has few partisan ties. (Let me be clear: I wouldn’t risk giving Trump power, if it were up to me personally, which it is not and never will be beyond the infinitesimal degree given a voter in a State where the outcome is a foregone conclusion, no matter who is on the California ballot in November. And, if it is in your power, whoever reads this, don’t let me discourage you from your existential duty.)

What I am protesting against is what RNB did @ 238 and @ 240. @ 238, I was excoriated for ignoring a great “social problem”. OK, honestly, I don’t care that much about the personal insults hurled @ 238 — not about me, right? What I am protesting is the argument @ 240 (a bare 15 minutes later), where RNB sarcastically refutes the thesis of an allegedly anti-militaristic Trump: “Trump is not for militarism? Is this a joke?” And, as far as I know, every thing he said about Trump’s affection for blowing things up far away and Trump’s general posture of belligerence toward the world is spot on. What’s wrong with his comment @ 240 is the way he uses the side-by-side contrast with Hillary to imply that Hillary is practically the Opposite. All of a sudden, Trump the Militarist is the Manichean Opposite of Hillary the Diplomat whose successor(!) negotiated the nuclear deal with Iran.

Granted RNB is a committed advocate for Hillary — and I’m not saying RNB shouldn’t have that opinion; let the case for Hillary Clinton be made by someone who knows and believes it — what I am trying to argue is that the fine-grained lesser evilism of these side-by-side comparisons distorts one’s thinking. The moral certainty of the imagined consequences and the psychological need to heighten the contrast in the dichotomy is overwhelming not just natural ambivalence but balanced and informed judgment. The contrast with Trump doesn’t add any information about Hillary’s foreign policy stance; if anything, in RNB’s partisan hands, it subtracts some. The technique itself is wrong, because it always subtracts information and distorts the consequences.

Some people see some kind of neo-isolationism in Trump’s 3rd grader’s stream of consciousness, and I don’t know that is wrong, though I tend to see Trump’s rhetoric as that of a salesman mirroring the Id of his mark. He says what they want to hear and clearly revels in his control of them (shoot someone on 5th avenue). His target audience hates and fears The Other, wants to hear that they themselves are part of a “good” and deserving In-Group, and so on. I think the way the Republican Party coalition has been evolving is frightening, not least because I think the political psychology of authoritarian followers makes isolating them in one Party or one political faction is political dynamite. (See Kevin Phillips.) So, yes, very alarming.

But, none of that changes anything about Hillary Clinton’s pro-plutocratic, pro-war, pro-Deep-State militarist agenda or helps us to understand it and its implications. And, really, feel free to make the case that Hillary Clinton’s deep seriousness is less blood-thirsty than her record suggests to me. Just don’t distort your own judgment (which may well be better informed than mine) with specious lesser-evil comparisons. To address Peter T, at least consider the possibility that the Plutocracy drives foreign policy sin and conceding power once again to the Oligarchy of the Globalized Rich almost guarantees that they use the U.S. military for their own irresponsible purposes with all the usual, regrettable, reprehensible consequences.

The politics of personal identity and partisan tribalism distorts how we view people with whom we disagree — or just don’t have that much in common with — as well as the candidates we are presented with by a corrupt Media. When I made that remark: “Black Lives Matter” may suggest that your life doesn’t; it sure doesn’t feel like it matters.” I was trying to make a point about the dynamics of tribal politics. I was trying to say, think about how it is heard by someone who is fearful, and hurting and feeling neglected and isolated — maybe someone who doesn’t think much about politics and isn’t highly educated — empathize with that person and ask if you are doing anything to bring that person into a coalition, to represent that person among the oppressed. Political partisanship and coalition-building is always partly a matter of the push-pull of the Big Tent — everything the political entrepreneur does to attract one constituency risks pushing away another. Suck up to the Protestants and you alienate the Catholics, to bring up an example that probably doesn’t work with very many people any more, but did once, and illustrates the problem. I suspect the (often privileged) leaders of Black Lives Matter either don’t appreciate how others might hear their rhetoric or they may actually revel in the reaction they imagine getting from an imagined faction of racist opponents. The snide references to white privilege that have cropped up in this thread suggest a degree of personal contempt for economic suffering that may be driving the populist impulse in the Republican Party especially.

It is a problem, I think, for the Democratic Party, that they no longer have much credibility on economic issues as a party of the people, that the loyalty of the old working class — once a big part of the Democratic coalition — is so faded. Of course, the working class itself has faded; it is not all race, but on the economic issues, identity politics can create obstacles to electoral power. (Even the memory of the New Deal is distorted, as it has become a shibboleth on the Left to say the New Deal excluded African-Americans or that industrial Unions were racist institutions back in the day. These unqualified generalizations are seriously misleading at best.) You don’t have to be the white working class guy in despair to have some empathy for him, to understand how the sense that no one in the political establishment cares about him (where “him” can be defined by class or race or geography or education or as her and who knows what else) leads to the political revolt emerging behind Trump and/or Sanders (but not Clinton, I think).

OK, I’ve run out of steam. I’ll risk bad editing or just poor phrasing and I am sure to be misunderstood . . . again.

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