Moral Action in Trump’s America

I’m way deep in a big project, and rather significantly behind on it too, so my blogging for the next few months is going to be quick-hit stuff rather than anything thought through.  I’ll try to make up for that by making it as regular a practice as I can to toss good reads your way.

Todays comes from Masha Gessen, someone y’all know I greatly admire.  About a week ago she posted a piece on The New York Review of Books site.  In it, she asks if the realist stance in politics can function in the context of Trump.  To find out, she looks to her own family history — including choices she made — to answer no.  She takes no prisoners:

In Bialystok ghetto, my great-grandfather’s responsibility in the Judenrat was to ensure that the ghetto was supplied with food. He ran the trucks that brought food in and took garbage out, he ran the canteen and supervised the community gardens that a group of young socialists planted. He also discouraged the young socialists from trying to organize a resistance movement: it would be of no use and would only jeopardize the ghetto’s inhabitants. It took him almost two years to change his mind about the resistance efforts, as he slowly lost hope that the Judenrat, by generally following the rules and keeping the ghetto inhabitants in line, would be able to save at least some of them.

As in other ghettos, the Judenrat was ultimately given the task of compiling the lists of Jews to be “liquidated.” The Bialystok Judenrat accepted the job, and there is every indication that my great-grandfather took part in the process. The arguments in defense of producing the list, in Bialystok and elsewhere, were pragmatic: the killing was going to occur anyway; by cooperating, the Judenrat could try to reduce the number of people the Nazis were planning to kill (in Bialystok, this worked, though in the end the ghetto, like all other ghettos, was “liquidated”); by compiling the lists, the Judenrat could prevent random killing, instead choosing to sacrifice those who were already near death from disease or starvation. These were strong arguments. There is always a strong argument.

But what if the Jews had refused to cooperate?

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Was Arendt right that fewer people might have died? Was Trunk right that Judenrat activities had no effect on the final outcome? Or would mass murder of Jews have occurred earlier if Jews had refused to manage their own existence in the ghetto? We cannot know for certain, any more than we can know now whether a scorched-earth strategy or the strategy of compromise would more effectively mitigate Trumpism. But that does not mean that a choice—the right choice—is impossible. It only means that we are asking the wrong question.

The right question…or better, the right stance, the right scale on which to weigh any choice of action?

We cannot know what political strategy, if any, can be effective in containing, rather than abetting, the threat that a Trump administration now poses to some of our most fundamental democratic principles. But we can know what is right. What separates Americans in 2016 from Europeans in the 1940s and 1950s is a little bit of historical time but a whole lot of historical knowledge….

Armed with that knowledge, or burdened with that legacy, we have a slight chance of making better choices. As Trump torpedoes into the presidency, we need to shift from realist to moral reasoning. That would mean, at minimum, thinking about the right thing to do, now and in the imaginable future. It is also a good idea to have a trusted friend capable of reminding you when you are about to lose your sense of right and wrong.

I’m convinced Gessen is correct.  More, I believe her demand that we make the moral choice first, and then pursue whatever particular tactic seems most likely to embody that choice, will be the most effective, as well as the right thing to do.  A Democratic response to Trump that says we can make this work a little better enshrines Trumpism, and all the vicious GOP assumptions as the ground on which such matters get decided.  One that says “No. This is wrong.  Democrats will oppose, not mitigate…” is the one that creates a real choice going forward on the ground on which we want to fight.

Read the whole thing.

Image: Charles Le Brun, Horatius Cocles Defending the Bridgec. 1642/3 (I know it’s not dead on point, but it’s close, and I always loved the story, so there.)



Blue Monday

Kay has written a lot about the Moral Mondays protest movement in North Carolina. PPP believed it made a big difference, and if it can work there, it can work anywhere.

Moral Mondays became a very rare thing- a popular protest movement. In August 2013 we found 49% of voters had a favorable opinion of the protesters to only 35% with an unfavorable opinion of them. And their message was resonating- 50% of voters in the state felt state government was causing North Carolina national embarrassment to only 34% who disagreed with that notion.

Pushing back hard on McCrory worked. The seeds of his final defeat today were very much planted in the summer of 2013. And it’s a lesson for progressives in dealing with Trump. Push back hard from day one. Be visible. Capture the public’s attention, no matter what you have to do to do it. Don’t count on the media to do it itself because the media will let you down. The protesters in North Carolina, by making news in their own right week after week after week, forced sustained coverage of what was going on in Raleigh. And even though it was certainly a long game, with plenty more frustration in between, those efforts led to change at the polls 42 months after they really started.

The reason to fight back against Trump is that’s it the right thing to do. But it’s also good politics.








Lunacy

I’ve got some brewing thoughts about what comes next, in line with and in some cases following what the other front-pagers, made of stronger stuff and able to drag words out rage and despair more quickly than I, have already written.

But Balloon-Juicers do not live by politics alone, however much we may have to over the next months and years. So here’s advance warning of a little bit of wonder, ours for the having:

But this month’s Supermoon is special. The eccentricity above is calculated based upon the Earth-Moon system, but other celestial bodies also influence the Moon’s orbit through gravity. The Sun plays the largest role, but so too does Jupiter and even some of the smaller planets. When factoring in these other influences, the eccentricity of the Moon’s orbit can actually vary by as little as 0.026 and as much as 0.077.

A more eccentric lunar orbit brings the perigee [its closest approach] nearer the Earth, and when this perigee occurs during a full Moon, we get an extra-Supermoon. That is what will happen on Nov. 14, when the Moon will come to within just 356,509km of Earth, which is the Moon’s closest approach since Jan. 26, 1948. The Solar System won’t line up this well again for a lunar approach until Nov. 25, 2034.

joseph_wright_of_derby_-_a_view_of_vesuvius_from_posillipo_naples_-_google_art_project

That sucker is going to be big, really big. A “normal” Supermoon is 14 % larger and 30% brighter than a full moon at apogee, the point on an elliptical orbit farthest away from the focal body.  It’s actually hard to perceive the effect as a casual observer, but it is naked-eye detectable.  The absolute peak of the phenomenon comes at 8:25 a.m. ET this coming Monday, but if you’re up early and/or catch the rising moon Monday evening, you’ll get a fine approximation.  As they say:  check local listings.

One of the consolations/delights I take from nature is the sense of connection to something larger than myself. That’s the same feeling I get from the acts we take to make the world better, from the kindness we show to one person at a time to the actions we’re stumbling to figure out right now, here on this blog and at every turn.

I’m going to stare at that moon Monday (sky permitting) and think of the world I want the next time this particular geometry rolls around, eighteeen years from now.  My son will be thirty four then.  If I’m fortunate enough to be here with him, I’ll be seventy six.  It will be a better world then, if we make it so.

And if it makes me a lunatic to think so, I’ll take that label gladly. Beats the alternative.

Image: Joseph Wright of Derby, A view of Vesuvius from Posillipo, Naplesbetween 1788 and 1790.



White Before Black, Men Before Women

To get things out of the way: the way I feel right now is exactly the sensation — body and mind — I’ve only felt before when I got news that someone close to me died unexpectedly.  I’m basically paralyzed, and my brain is moving…not much, and not in any coherent sequence.

That said, I’ve only one thought to add to all those below.  I’m completely down with the core themes others have already written here:  la lucha continua, the struggle continues, and in days like these the kindness we show each other is paramount.  And I agree with the hints at a post-mortem below.

My sole notion is that whatever her formidable strengths and her evident vulnerabilities, Hillary Clinton ran right into an absolutely familiar trap.  American politics is hostile to women.  We saw it in Massachusetts recently enough.  Martha Coakley was all kinds of not-great (read, terrible, especially her first time out) as a candidate for senator and governor.  But in both cases she started up with a sixty pound rock on her back male candidates don’t have to carry.  Massachusetts had, until Elizabeth Warren came along, never elected a woman to the top offices.  (And it’s notable that Warren also seems to face a woman tax as measured in approval ratings, at least as compared with her perfectly solid but unspectacular male colleague, Ed Markey.)  Several tried, but it’s clear that while women can aspire to state treasurer or AG or a House seat, gunning for the top slots engaged the fear/loathing-for-powerful-women, leading to the results we see.

That’s true nationwide, I believe.  The old line goes white men before everyone else (got the vote in 1783); then other males (black men got the vote in 1665); then women (who got the vote in 1920), with, of course, white women gaining access to power and agency ahead of women of color.

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Whatever else we may conclude about the Clinton campaign and this terrible outcome, one thing it reveals is that racism still powerfully motivates the revanchist white right, to a depth I certainly didn’t forsee.  It also reminds us that misogyny strikes deep within our body politic.  One more thing to deal with, as best we can.

One afterthought.  Typing that sentence about racism above, I’m reminded of the ways privilege so subtly seeps into one’s bones.  Y’all know my politics, I think, and I’ve come by them through life-long engagement from a childhood in Berkeley in the 60s.  But I’m white, male, working in the elite, pretty secure, still pretty damn white-and-male setting that is an R 1 university.  I’ve got a good friend , a Latino writer who has some of the same cocoon now, but certainly didn’t come up within those comforts and protections.  He’d been freaking out about Trump’s rise, especially after the Comey ratfucking, and I kept reassuring him with the polling internals and the early vote stuff and all that.

I emailed him this morning to tell him the obvious: he’d been right and I wrong.  He wrote back saying he’d known that disaster was looming — and that is was time to fight.  On that last, of course, he’s right.  It was the first half of that response that pulled me up, because I realized in that moment what should have been obvious: a nice liberal white guy like myself, whatever my politics and however deep my convictions doesn’t have the deep knowledge my friend does of just how much pure racial hate and resentment is out there.  I can get glimpses, and through my friends can get to empathy (I certainly hope), but the truth remains: I don’t live in daily direct confrontation with that hate.  And that, I think, as much as anything else, led me to miss whatever signs there might have been that our disaster was upon us.

As noted, that’s a penetrating glimpse of the obvious, of course.  But it’s also key.  I have no idea at this moment how to climb out of the deep hole we’re in.  I hope its not a grave.  But whatever else we do, we have to out work and out number the reserves of awful that have proved so potent this year.

And that’s all I got, rambling away, on this grim morning.   To end mindful of Tim F.’s injunction, I’m deeply grateful for all who make Balloon Juice a community, from Blog Leader John (and animals) to all the rest of us. I’m going to try to duck away from the ‘net for a while, just to get my head clear. I’ve already deleted the Twitter app from my phone and iPad, and I’ll be trying not to surf anything more exciting than Sports Illustrated for a while.  But I’ll be checking here, even if I don’t plan to post much, if at all (what’s new w. that — ed.).  Jackals you/we may be.  But we’re our jackals, and I love you all.

Image:  John Singer Sargent, The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit  1882.



Keep fighting, never give up

Whatever the final tally is tonight, we’ll get through this.



Seriously: Donald Trump Is A Penny-Ante Swindler

… and David Farenholdt, at the Washington Post, deserves at least one Pulitzer. I’ve been working on a post about his findings for the last couple of weeks, but he keeps churning out new information. None of which the cable-news Media Village Idiots have deigned to discuss — until now.

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.

In two cases, he has used money from his charity to buy himself a gift. In one of those cases — not previously reported — Trump spent $20,000 of money earmarked for charitable purposes to buy a six-foot-tall painting of himself.

Money from the Trump Foundation has also been used for political purposes, which is against the law. The Washington Post reported this month that Trump paid a penalty this year to the Internal Revenue Service for a 2013 donation in which the foundation gave $25,000 to a campaign group affiliated with Florida Attorney General Pamela Bondi (R).

Trump’s foundation appears to have repeatedly broken IRS rules, which require nonprofit groups to file accurate paperwork. In five cases, the Trump Foundation told the IRS that it had given a gift to a charity whose leaders told The Post that they had never received it. In two other cases, companies listed as donors to the Trump Foundation told The Post that those listings were incorrect….

This guy is Max Bialystock without the charm. Read more



No money, mo’ problems

As many of you know, I’m fueled creatively by my massive hatred of the Washington Post editorial board. I hate Jeff Bezos too, not just because he’s reinvented the sweatshop but also because I hate smug bald people in general — Moby, Matt Bai, the Rock.

That said, the Washington Post newsroom is absolutely killing it with its coverage of Trump. David Farenthold should get a Pulitzer:

The Donald J. Trump Foundation is not like other charities. An investigation of the foundation — including examinations of 17 years of tax filings and interviews with more than 200 individuals or groups listed as donors or beneficiaries — found that it collects and spends money in a very unusual manner.

For one thing, nearly all of its money comes from people other than Trump. In tax records, the last gift from Trump was in 2008. Since then, all of the donations have been other people’s money — an arrangement that experts say is almost unheard of for a family foundation.

Trump then takes that money and generally does with it as he pleases. In many cases, he passes it on to other charities, which often are under the impression that it is Trump’s own money.