Trump as Tea Party Devil Spawn

teapartyRock Creek, Montana    One of the books I had thrown in my bag as I left for Montana was an updated, reissued volume published by Oxford Press and sent to me at Social Policy, called The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism by Harvard Professor Theda Skocpol, a well-known scholar of American voluntary organizations, and Vanessa Williamson, now at the Brookings Institute. The book is an extensive look at the Tea Party from its inception in 2009 to its usurpation in 2011. They’ve added an epilogue that looked at the rise of Trump before he won the Republican nomination and noted many of the same fires that stoked both these engines, but that was more like waving a red flag for all of us who may have missed the book earlier, even if we couldn’t avoid the point now.

There’s no way to think of Trump and the phenomena he represents without also seeing him as the direct descendant of the outbreak and then successful cooptation of the Tea Party, and the fact that his candidacy offered the now dispersed Tea Party base an opportunity to rise again, expand, and express their continued, unmet demand to “take back America.” Trump is the proudly embraced Tea Party’s devil spawn.

The authors point out that at its heyday, a mere seven years ago, polling put the Tea Party support at around 20% of the American electorate, which at 46 million people would be difficult to ignore. Trying to calculate its actual organizational strength they settled at something like 200,000 members, defined as activists, in about 800 chapters around the country with an average of about 200 members per group. Importantly, they do a good job at looking at the contradictory political positions of this largely older, white political movement. They raised a big tent so there were extremes of the right and racists aplenty, but they were most stone cold in their consensus against immigration. On race they were welcoming of their few black members, embraced black speakers, and most of their leadership, the authors found, tried to hew them closer to middle ground. Yes, much like Trump. They flirt with racism, but steadfastly deny it. About immigration they have no such qualms.

Similarly on social programs, they were anti-welfare, but also opposed to privatization of Social Security and very much in favor of Medicare and other benefits and even in favor of expansion, including to children, despite their heavy mouth breathing about Obamacare. They also weren’t from Kansas, and were in support of public education. The authors also did not find a tight alignment of Tea Party views with the religious right. These were often two ships meeting in the night over abortion and same-sex issues, but a long way from synonymous, which I would argue also helps explain Trump’s ability to walk a line between these forces successfully.

They don’t spend a lot of time on the theme of how successful billionaires, like the Kochs, and media manipulators, like Fox News, seized the Tea Party momentum, and politicians like the wave of candidates elected in 2010 waving their banners so to speak, like Rubio, Cruz and others, usurped their issues, co-opted their energy, and tried to graft them onto their own, often self-serving programs and causes. This is a story waiting to be told and at the heart of understanding both the Trump phenomena as a revival of the same Tea Party protests in general and the estrangement between the Trump, the base, and Republican Party elites whether Speaker Paul Ryan, the Kochs, or countless think tanks, who were willing to play with the Tea Party fire, but never really understood the heat.

Trump did, perhaps intuitively, and 2016 election is the Tea Party fire this time without the party. If we all survive, there’s a lot to learn from all of this.


Not a Walkout, but a Walk-in

walk-in1Rock Creek, Montana   There’s a difference between being off-the-grid physically and off-the-job mentally. Not surprisingly I found myself talking shop with an old friend and comrade while drinking coffee in the early dawn and sitting on a tent pad, and what I was hearing was both good and interesting news.

She works near the top of the heap of the nearly 3-million member teachers’ union, the National Education Association, the nation’s largest labor organization that is not known typically as an organizing union. Nonetheless after several years of membership losses in the state-by-state battles with increasingly conservative governors and state legislatures who have been in thrall of school privatization and anti-public school anti-teachers’ union, charter school, she shared that the NEA had won back the several hundred thousand members that they had lost and ended up net 35,000 in growth this year. They had been organizing against the potential disaster that the Fredrichs challenge to union agency fee dues programs had represented for all public sector unions until the happenstance of Justice Antonin Scalia’s death and the deadlocked 4-4 vote of the Supreme Court left in place a union-affirming Appeals Court decision. Preparing for one disaster by upgrading their emphasis on their locals, they had achieved sustained growth as a reward, so that now the challenge will be keeping it up.

All that was good, but what I really enjoyed hearing her describe was an exciting new tactic that the union had initiated this year: a walk-in. We all know what a walkout means when workers, teachers in this case, leave the workplace, schools in this situation, and hit the sidewalks and streets to protest or strike for better wages, hours, or working conditions. Every new school year presents the almost predictable drama of teachers walking out, though the names and places may be different, it is going to happen somewhere as predictably as the fall weather.

NEA though tried something different during this last school year to make sure administrators of schools got their messages by calling a walk-in. They didn’t care if it were a dozen teachers or hundreds, and the issues were deliberately left to the local chapters to sort out what was on their minds – which was ingenious as well and strengthened the local’s individual incentives for action – but in a perfect showcase of what I have always called “coordinated autonomy,” the key was that it would happen at the same day and roughly the same time all around the country. Much of NEA’s strength is in smaller districts and cities around the country, but they also got traction in some bigger cities where NEA and AFT have merged. The result was that 80 to 100 districts did walk-ins all over the place, exciting the organization internally and helping set the tone for more potential innovation and actions in the future.

This is not something that any of us had heard about perhaps, but knowing that this kind of thinking and action is happening is encouraging and leads us all to hope that a thousand more flowers will bloom in this and other unions trying to revitalize around the country and the world.


A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to….America?

Signal-encryption of WhatsApp

Signal-encryption of WhatsApp

Denver    The modern world is a conundrum in an exploding time capsule. Every time we make the mistake of thinking that what we’re reading in the news is strange, exotic or frightening, we are still surprised when we trip over it, and it slaps us up the side of our faces.

I thought this as I read my email yesterday and got a delayed message from one of ACORN’s ace organizers in France. The first message was usual business, following up on this and that, but I scratched my head as he referred to an earlier message he had sent, as if I had received it already. And, later I did, and that was weird, and the message was disturbing. Despite his having a pre-approved visa to visit the United States, including spending a week in New Orleans later in August for extensive planning with me at our offices, he had been denied access to the airplane and told that his visa had been inexplicably revoked yesterday. He was hit by a bolt of lightning out of nowhere.

This has happened to me twice earlier this year as I was denied a visa renewal – with no explanation – to India. I’m the least paranoid person in the world. I assume “they” know everything and just keep on rolling, putting it in the category of something like a hurricane – past my ability to control or predict. Today though, I found myself reading closely a story in Wired about a crack encoder and rebel with many causes with the nom de guerre of Moxie Marlinspike who had developed a super encryption program called Signal which is embraced by all the right people and feared by all the wrong people. I’ve never been an encryption guy, partly because as a techno-peasant, who is still not sure Windows 10 is even a good thing and pretty certain I don’t have 4 to 6 hours to do the changeover, I always worry that if I encrypt my emails, I won’t be able to get in them, but all of this is getting worrisome to me. I also don’t like coincidences.

In this case maybe there’s an explanation, but in every case “maybe there’s an explanation,” but that doesn’t mean that the ways we want to rationalize events matches reality. On my India visa, I continue to hope that I just filled out the application incompetently, even though I applied twice with the same result, and my local Congressman’s office who promised assistance isn’t responding to my calls and emails anymore.

In France, in the wake of the recent massacre in Nice, the president had renewed a state of emergency through July 26th, which was the day my colleague was flying. Did he get caught somehow in that mess? He speculated that the fact that he had been in Lebanon and Syria a decade ago might have red flagged him in these crazy “end” times. Maybe work in Tunisia and Morocco were also a problem. Who knows?

And, that’s my point? Who knows how national security forces are working these days? The Obama Administration might not have gone all Trump on keeping people out of the USA, but when the French and Americans put their heads together and add an “excess of caution,” as they call it, with no explanation ever offered or available, maybe the Moxie’s and the rest of the gang are on the right track, and I’m the last citizen of Lulu-land.

Meanwhile, I read that Trump is asking Russia to get its hackers on the job to cough up more emails lost on Hillary’s server. If he were living on Pennsylvania Avenue, would any of us – I mean people like me – be able to travel at all?

What was the name of that encryption program, Moxie? Was it Signal? Is there a user friendly techno-peasant version for the rest of us?


The Transactional Democratic Party Revealed

election-image-800x530New Orleans   This has all the makings of one of those shaggy dog stories: 19000 emails hacked from the staff of the Democratic National Committee, dumped on the eve of the convention, maybe by crazy commie Russians and Vladimir Putin for whom Donald Trump is supposedly a current fanboy, all showing a bit of favoritism towards the Demo-establishment’s main candidate, Hillary Clinton, forcing Deborah Wasserman Shultz, Congresswoman and party chair, to dive on the spike of her heels and resign. Finally, this really seems like the kind of chaos and clamor we all associate with a Democratic National Convention! The Republicans were stealing the show with their earlier dramarama, but now the Democrats are catching up. Is anyone really surprised, I mean really?

What interested me much, much more were the crassly cold and calculating emails at the intersection of politics and money and the cashbox transactional demonstration of the inner workings of the party, or as reported in the Times:

the leaked cache also included thousands of emails exchanged by Democratic officials and party fund-raisers, revealing in rarely seen detail the elaborate, ingratiating and often bluntly transactional exchanges necessary to harvest hundreds of millions of dollars from the party’s wealthy donor class.

Ok, none of this was a surprise either, was it? We all knew in our hearts that this was probably the way big time politics worked at the confluence of big, rich donors and party fundraising staff charged with fueling the tank with mega-dollars, but still having it displayed in all of its gory and inescapable details is pretty disgusting.

Reading the emails was a bit like what you imagine life with the “mean girls” is like or any high school popularity contest: who’s in, who’s out, who’s going to be standing closest to the star, and pretty much who’s who and what’s what among the rich and famous in a world usually and thankfully obscured from the view of most of us joe and jane sausage heads out there. More seriously it reminds all of us of the venal nature of money and the rich and Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. We might ask what these rich donors get from all of this body rubbing. Is it just access, as some would argue? Perhaps, but even if that’s all that is bartered in the exchange, it also seems undeniable that many, many of these donors hope for more, and undeniably some must get enough of it to make the investment worthwhile in some shape or form.

I’m past mourning Sanders’ loss, but I still rue the fact that he was not able to pivot his amazing grassroots, small donor fundraising machinery in such a way that it would create a new paradigm to replace the seamy, transactional system now put on full display. What a tragic loss that could have re-established the Democratic Party – or at least some party – with an apparatus that guaranteed that the rich and insiders are not calling the shots but regular folks with their hard earned dollars are driving the train.

Even worse, and this is perhaps a confession too jaded by too many years in the vineyard, if any other party might be built in the alternative universe that defines all levels of politics, if it depends on big donors, how many would resist the impulse to respond in the same transactional manner to the beck and call of purchased entitlement no matter the rest of the politics and program? We have to create a new and better way to make sure we are certain of how that question would be answered.


Hope for Cities or Just Developers?

Looking northeast at soon to work LinkNYC station

soon to work LinkNYC station

New Orleans   It seems like cities are starting to get more attention, and if that’s true, that’s a good thing, but reading a recent special feature on cities, it’s not something without contradictions and concerns. This is true especially if you try to figure out where low-and-moderate income families and minorities fit into the coming profiles of the future. In some ways they just are not in the picture at least the one offered in the main from the New York Times, and this despite a recent feature in the same paper that talked flatly of the almost irreversible “whitening” of San Francisco where high housing costs and extreme inequality is leeching out the African-American community.

Part of the premise of some of the new hope for cities from the pundits and professors is the world seen dimly through the grim view from the suburbs. There is finally a consensus that cities are “safer,” which means they are ready to come back in again. Once again the question of “safer” for whom is unavoidable, but facts are facts, so we’ll ignore the bias for a moment. The same lens from the Trumpistas has all of us drowning in crime and gore in the urban space without being accompanied by the full disclosure that many of the zealots have done little more than drive quickly through cities for years, do their business, and leave before nightfall.

Unfortunately, reading the various pieces it was hard to feel comfortable about these new twists on urban revival. First of course there are huge, glaring omissions already mentioned, but followed quickly behind is the realization that the dominant perspective is not people-oriented really, but more developer promotions.

The examples of innovations are telling. There’s LinkNYC which would replace all remaining public telephone booths in New York City with wifi enabled terminals that can do tricks like recharge smartphones faster. Not surprisingly, this is paid for by tech companies and digital ads that will be on the booths, an expropriation of a public utility, and of course forget about lower income folks who still need those pay phones. There’s an apartment & condo complex in Austin and billionaire-driven building developments in Seattle that are at best ho-hum, but here are passed off as part of “remaking the modern cities.” There’s a story of Reno hoping to be Seattle and Kansas City about to have a “the largest co-working space in the world,” which is neoliberal, developer speak for building a monument to the gig economy and the decline of fulltime, firm-based employment.

The exceptions prove the rule in this parallax view of urban development and the modern dilemmas of the city. There is a piece on the rightly well-publicized and highly touted repurposing of a bank on Chicago’s South Side by Theaster Gates, Jr. in a celebration of black culture and an indictment of racism in the 97% African-American community there. There is also a discussion with an architect of the development of public space, which cannot paper over his conclusion that there is little and less being done.

The unaddressed problem is inescapable: where are the people – all the people – and what is being done to make a better place in the city for them and not just for young, white professionals and tech workers so many of these cities desire.


Democrats Making a Left Turn

21ps-hilogoNew Orleans   Ruy Teixeira is a senior fellow at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. He made an interesting argument in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that he took to be obvious to any observer that the Democratic Party, that even its standard bearer, Hillary Clinton, had moved decidedly and determinedly to the left. For many progressives, and count me as one, who judge the party and its candidates by where we want them to be, rather than where we have been, that seemed much less than obvious, but Teixeira makes an interesting and important case which is worth keeping in mind no matter where we stand on this question.

First, he argues, fairly incontestably, that demographics are driving the party leftward, which they should:

Every year there are more minority voters, more unmarried voters, more secular voters, more college-educated women voters, more millennial voters, and so on. It isn’t simply that these groups lean Democratic; they also tend to favor policies that are distinctly to the left and comport well with the Democrats’ new platform….

Secondly, he argues that Democrats have been forced to confront what he calls the “Piketty problem,” which simply put lies in the fact that no one can really continue to argue that without serious intervention the crisis of inequality can be met. Laissez faire is not going to get it. Nothing is trickling down, so the pretense on which the first Clinton presidency was founded has not crashed and burned. Thomas Piketty has famously argued that society tends towards inequality, that growth alone will not produce more equality, that even unequal distribution of economic growth delivers some narrowing of inequality, and that widening inequality itself slows economic growth.

Teixeira argues that even more than Bernie Sanders, this has pushed Hillary and the Democratic platform left, and, furthermore, that all polls indicate this direction is broadly popular with the American public, not just Democrats. To make this work, Hillary has to have a way to prime the pump for more growth. This is where the work gets harder.

The heart of Teixeira’s argument and it’s worth remembering if she becomes President is that we should,

“Expect Mrs. Clinton to move aggressively to strike bargains that advance key parts of her program, especially those that would directly boost growth in the short run. Reflecting this priority, Mrs. Clinton has repeatedly said that during her first 100 days she would call upon Congress to dramatically increase spending on roads, bridges and other public works, including to provide universal broadband and build a clean energy grid. Her $275 billion program, if implemented, would represent the greatest investment in American infrastructure since the development of the interstate highway system in the 1950s. Mrs. Clinton probably would also prioritize measures that directly benefit the economically squeezed, like raising the minimum wage and mandating paid family leave.”

T-shirts saying “Build Infrastructure, Vote Hillary” may not seem like a catchy slogan, but it might wrong foot the Republicans and catch them in the bind of their own base, including the angry and entitled white voters, who want to see this kind of economic interference that delivers growth and visible progress.

This will be worth watching way past November.