Professor of Political Science, University of Maine - Farmington
Posted in Uncategorized on November 18, 2018
Fascism is hard to explain as a political ideology. Since it disavows reason and rationalism in favor of emotion, power and will, it has clear ideological framework. It’s main traits are extreme nationalism, love of war, rejection of rationality, anti-intellectualism, and hero worship – of the leader, and of military heroes. So does Trump fit the description?
For Fascists, truth is a product of will and power. They operate with the belief there are only competing narratives – different interpretations of reality. Whoever has the power to get people to believe their narrative is thus able to shape truth.
This can be done with force – in class I stand by a student and demonstrating fascism say “the sky is green. What color is the sky?” The first inevitably says “blue,” and I make a pistol out of my finger and shoot her in the head. “It’s green.” The next student meekly says “green” when asked the same question.
But if they relied completely on force they’d be ineffective. By the end of the Soviet Union their totalitarian system relied on force and bureaucratic routine – it collapsed. Fascists succeed when people want to believe their narrative.
Italian Communist Antonio Gramsci was arrested by Mussolini’s fascists and died in prison. But before his health deteriorated he penned his Prison Notebooks which laid out his theory of why the working class had followed Il Duce – the leader, Benito Mussolini.
Marx was wrong, Gramsci said, when he put economics as the only causal factor in historical development. The Fascists, he noted, did not only take power, but created a narrative that told the workers that they were part of a great movement, and had an entire belief system which permeated the culture – what he called cultural hegemony. Once people became believers they were uncritical about the narrative – like religious converts who do not question their new faith, the workers embraced fascism. Moreover, Fascism overtly appeals to emotion – fear, anger, resentment – and that often gets a more visceral response than trying to make a logical argument.
Trump’s rhetoric mirrors this trait of fascism. When Kellyanne Conway talks about “alternative facts,” people laugh. But Gramsci described it as an “alternative narrative” – which is precisely what a fascist version of facts represents. President Trump persistent antipathy to the truth a trait he shares with Fascists.
Another commonality is that fascism puts spectacle over substance – the show and the feelings it generates are what motivate people. Again, emotion moves the masses, not reason. President Trump’s desire for a large military parade, his raucous and rowdy rallies with him at the center would look familiar to Italians and Germans in the 1930s.
Finally, fascism is by definition hyper-nationalist. It puts nation first, and has a clear set of criteria for whether someone is really a part of that nation. Even if you were ethnically Germany, if you were gay, communist, pacifist or Jewish you were not truly German, and hence an internal threat to society. Foreigners are always mistrusted by fascists. Trump’s rhetoric on nationalism and immigration take darkly fascistic tones.
Traits that are contrary to fascism
Fascism traditionally embraces war as an ultimate good – a way to test one’s manhood. So far, President Trump, despite some rash reactions, has not seemed to want to create a war. Moreover, for all his complaints about the press and Democrats, he hasn’t done anything really undermining the system. Taking Acosta’s press pass and wanting strict “decorum” in White House briefings seems to have an authoritarian tone to them, but aren’t fundamental attempts to disrupt the Republic.
President Trump also seems driven more by his own psychological demons – insecurity and narcissism – that a desire for domination. I think he lacks the kind of twisted vision Mussolini and Hitler had, and simply enjoys attention and wants to bolster his ego. This was certainly true about Mussolini too, but Trump lacks any clear political agenda other than promoting himself.
So is Trump a fascist? He certainly shows some disturbing traits and practices, especially in his rhetoric and efforts to create false narratives that his supporters will latch on to due to the emotion they arouse. Things like the “caravan” coming to “invade the US” is an example of how effective this can be.
For some, that’s enough to label him Fascist. I disagree. Fascists create well organized movements to push for change that undermines the system. While spectacle is important to Trump, he doesn’t seem to have a clear agenda. He’s an insecure man, bolstering his self-esteem and using Fascistic methods. But while he loves the spectacle, he’s not doing the work to create a true movement.
Moreover, as the election of 2018 proves, the US has a system designed to prevent Fascism. At times something like it can raise it’s ugly head – McCarthyism in the 1950s was an example – but Americans usually respond and reject such ideas.
Nonetheless, the propensity for people see reality as being nothing but whatever narrative the people can be led to believe, leading to fundamentally different world views on the left and the right (and within each group) is a concern. Trump may not be a true Fascist threat, but the emotions and reactions he invokes suggest that the US cannot consider itself immune from such poison.
Posted in Uncategorized on November 8, 2018
My election forecast was far too optimistic for the Democrats, but hey – I’ve been predicting a Vikings Super Bowl win every year for the last forty years. This year is the first time I’ll be right!
My rose colored glasses aside, and despite gut wrenching close defeats in Florida, Texas, South Dakota and (it appears) Georgia, Democrats overall can be happy with Tuesday’s results. In the House the Democrats got 12 million more votes than Republicans, and their failure to take the Senate is no cause for dismay.
Indeed, going into this election the GOP was looking for big gains in the Senate. The Democrats were defending 24 seats due to a big year in 2012 – the GOP was defending only ten. As late as last year analysts were saying that Brown (OH), Menendez (NJ), Baldwin (WI), Kaine (VA) and Casey (PE) were prime targets. Some even thought the GOP could achieve a “filibuster proof Senate” with sixty seats.
As it was, the Democrats only lost in the most vulnerable places – red states like North Dakota, Missouri, and Indiana. Florida might be a loss, and that is a Democratic disappointment, but they held Montana, gained Nevada, and still could gain Arizona. In Texas it was close – something that would have seemed impossible a few years ago – and many Republican holds were competitive. The Democrats flipped eight governorships and it appears a number of states (including Maine) flipped to Democratic dominated state legislatures.
But for Democrats, the news gets better. In 2020 the Republicans are on defense in the Senate, defending 20 seats, almost twice as many as Democrats. At this point only Doug Jones of Alabama appears to be in danger – so the Democrats should have happy hunting in their Senate quest of 2020.
All of this depends on the environment of 2020, of course. If President Trump recovers and is strong in his re-election bid, then Republicans will probably defend most of their seats. If there is a strong, vibrant Democratic candidate, 2020 could be as big for the Democrats as 2008 was. Then the Republicans will hope 2022 would be like 2010.
That future, of course, is still quite uncertain. But for Democrats, winning at least 32 seats (and possibly as many as 40 once the dust settles) and regaining control of the House is a really big deal. The diversity of the candidates winning those seats – lots of women, gays and minorities – is an even bigger deal, and bodes well for the future.
Flipping a lot of governorships and winning state legislatures are very consequential wins. Losing only a couple Senate seats in very “red” states but holding on to most when defending 24 is really a win too. It was less than many hoped for, it allowed the President to save face, but as a friend put it: The country is a better on November 7th than it was on November 6th.
Posted in Uncategorized on November 5, 2018
On the day before the 2018 midterm elections, I believe we’re on the verge of an historic night for the Democrats, as they ride a blue wave larger than most analysts current expect. While one might say that’s wishful thinking on my part, I explain my reasoning below and am putting this prediction out there – if I’m wrong, I’ll be wrong for the world to see! I’ll own it either way.
What makes a “blue wave?” That will happen tomorrow if undecideds break heavily for the Democrats on election day, meaning that races that are close will overwhelmingly end up Democratic. That’s how waves work – the GOP did that in 2010 and 2014. The Democrats last did that in 2006 (the Democrats won in 2008 and 2012, but without a wave).
If that prediction is wrong, then I’m completely off base. It’s thus important to explain my thinking.
1. The Democrats have help – President Trump. In the last week President Trump has enjoyed himself, giving red meat speeches to fire up his base. He’s been in his element. Moreover, he’s purposefully focused on the Senate. Most people expect the GOP to maintain control of the Senate due to the map – the Democrats are defending 24 seats, the GOP only 10. Moreover, many more Democrats are in close, difficult battles than are Republicans. President Trump figures that when the Senate stays GOP, he can claim victory, washing his hands of defeat in the House.
And it might have worked. If the President had touted the economy and worked to re-assure moderates and undecideds, the Republicans would be in much better shape. But that’s not Donald Trump’s nature. He attacked immigrants, said he was sending troops to the border with orders to shoot in response to even stone throwing. He said to imagine him on the ballot, saying that the election was about his Presidency. The raucous crowds ate it up, and the President believes the energy suggests a possible red wave of support for him.
In reality, all of this after the shooting at a synagogue and the failed mail bomb attacks on Democrats deepens the message to moderates that Trump is a divider whose slash and burn tactics harm the country. Indeed, Trump says Republicans will protect America while Democrats will lead it into a dark dangerous socialism – yes, the base wants to see the “other side” as evil; most independents and moderates of both parties understand that despite different views, both parties represent American values.
This rhetoric not only pushes independents towards the Democrats, but helps generate enthusiasm among minorities. The fact a Trump ad was pulled from major networks (including Fox) because it was too racist adds to this. With turnout likely near the 2016 Presidential numbers in states with hotly contested races, electrifying the base is not enough. I believe this will backfire on the President and the Republican party. We’ll see tomorrow.
2. Polls are leaning increasingly towards the Democrats in major races. People say the polls can’t be trusted, but in most cases they can be – at least to say what they claim to say. 95% of the time the real state of the race is within the margin of error from their result. The margin of error can be four points, so that means even polls with conflicting results could each be “accurate” – their result could be within the margin of error. But one in twenty times the poll result is outside margin of error. So once one accepts the limit of polls, watching them for trends is best. After the Kavanaugh hearings there was a marked trend toward the GOP. Now that seems to have reversed itself.
And then there’s the poll that gives all Republicans hope – Rasmussen. While most have President Trump well over -10% on disapproval over approval, Rasmussen shows more people approving of the President’s job. The generic ballot in most polls is 7 to 15% in favor of the Democrats; Rasmussen has it as 1% in favor of the GOP. Why? Simple – they weight their raw data for political party. But in wave years many people who might have been Republican if asked during another election now will claim to be independent, maybe Democrat. That’s why most pollsters don’t use past elections to weight for political party. It stacks the deck in favor of Republicans at this point. Some years that wouldn’t be an issue, but if it is a wave year, then weighting for party will make the poll unreliable.
3. This is still the country which voted for Barack Obama. Twice. And if anything, the demographics are more favorable to the Democrats now. Face it, one reason Trump won was that he had a weak opponent. Not that Hillary Clinton is a weak person, but that as a candidate she wasn’t inspiring, and had too much baggage (too 20th Century, to harmed by false smears). So the idea that the country is as behind Trump as much as he claims seems false. I believe the violence and racism that’s been overt in the last two years is pushing people to vote against Trump by voting Democratic.
So based on that, predictions:
Senate: Democrats 51 Republicans 49
House: Democrats pick up 53 seats to have a clear majority
Surprises: Heidi Heitkamp shocks politicos by winning. She’s been declared essentially DOA, and one poll had her down 14%. But that was right after the Kavanaugh fiasco, and a small state like North Dakota can pull of surprises. In Texas, spurred on strong Latino turnout Beto O’Rourke will surprise Ted Cruz, ending Cruz’s political career. Finally, in South Dakota (where I grew up) Billie Sutton – a cowboy in a wheel chair (he was a top class rodeo performer before an injury paralyzed him from the waste down) – will surprise Kristi Noem and become the first Democratic governor in that state since Dick Kneip (1970-78).
Most important Governor’s Race: Andrew Gillum wins handily in Florida, helping Bill Nelson win re-election. This is big in part because Barack Obama and Donald Trump both campaigned heavily in Florida this week – Trump will see this as an embarrassing loss to Obama.
Maine: Janet Mills wins the governorship, while Jared Golden defeats Bruce Poliquin in Maine’s second district (where I live). My district gave Trump it’s electoral vote in 2016 (Maine splits up their electoral votes).
If my predictions are right, we are on the eve of an historic election, one that will buoy Democratic spirits and send the GOP a warning that Trump maybe doing them more harm than good. If I’m wrong, well, then I’m wrong. We’ll know soon!
Posted in Uncategorized on November 2, 2018
On November 6th Americans will vote in a midterm election in what could be record numbers. In the last midterm election, 2014, 36.6% of the population voted, about 82 million. The modern record is 49% turnout in 1966 – by comparison the Presidential turnout in 2016 was 58%. Early voting is hinting at a turnout that far exceeds that of 2014, and this year’s vote could bypass the 1966 total. Turnout is high among both parties, independents, and in all demographic groups. In fact, there are indications that young people and “infrequent” voters are going to the polls more than they have in the past. Americans are engaged in this election.
This election will tell us a lot about our country. Are we a country afraid of immigrants, willing to support angry and even violent rhetoric out of fear that our national identity is under threat? Are we a country willing to embrace diversity and welcome both change and people fleeing poverty and strife? It is literally a battle between fear and hope, between hate and love.
Most people, of course, fall in the middle. Yes, accept change, legal immigration is fine, but there are legitimate concerns. Most people recognize that national identity is not monolithic. And yet this election forces them to make a choice – support President Trump’s anti-immigrant agenda by voting for Republicans, or send a message of resistance by voting Democratic.
For many, this is not an easy decision. Many Republicans and Independents who are pro-life, fear higher taxes, and hate government regulations will find it anathema to vote Democratic. Indeed, the ads in the House race here is full of rhetoric saying that the Democratic candidate Jared Golden will massively increase taxes and that he’s “too liberal for Maine.” Republicans skeptical of Trump hope to hold a majority in the Senate and House by pounding on those themes.
Yet on the campaign trail, the President is pounding the immigration theme, saying he’ll send 15,000 troops to the border to protect against a “caravan” of Honduran immigrants now deep in southern Mexico. It’s unlikely many will make it to the US border, but that’s irrelevant – the President wants to stoke fear of foreigners, betting that will help his party keep control of Congress. He doubled down yesterday, saying that if any immigrants throw stones, the military will open fire – he’s betting that Americans love the idea of shooting unarmed brown people.
That’s why this election is so important. With all due respect to principled Republicans who don’t want Democrats in the majority, this midterm is really a referendum on President Trump – including his rhetoric, style and tactics. His bravado, numerous false claims (the media has documented thousands), and embrace of hyper-partisan politics is unique in recent political history. Presidents once elected usually strive to show themselves to be President to all Americans, and don’t engage in slash and burn partisan rhetoric. Trump makes it clear he’s President for his base, and the goal is to win – to defeat the other side, labeling the media and Democrats as “enemies of the people.”
If Americans vote on November 6th to keep the Republicans in power, it’ll be a sign that our country is willing to tolerate rhetoric that borders on (and sometimes cross the line into) racism and xenophobia. His threat to “erase” the category of “transgender” is an open appeal to bigotry and fear of the other. In history this has parallels to the tactics of the National Socialists in Germany when they came to power, or the KKK here.
It will be a sign that America is giving up on its long tradition of tolerance, compromise, and unity – it’s not ‘united we stand,’ but ‘divided we fight.’ That will put us on a path to weakness and decline. Who knows what atrocities might down the line come from such a decision.
If Americans vote to give both the House and the Senate to Democrats, it won’t be a victory for “liberal principles” or Democratic party ideals. It will be a rejection of the hate and fear being propagated by the President. It will show Republicans that they have to reject nationalism and bigotry as being symbolic of their party, and re-establish their traditional focus on freedom and concern about government becoming too powerful. While a Democratic Congress can thwart Trump, it can’t implement new policies thanks to the power of the Presidential veto. The GOP can win it all back if it corrects course and chooses a competent leader to run for President in 2020.
If Americans reject Trumpism, it will be a victory for decency, a sense that we are above the anger and hatred that can arouse emotions, but also drive people to send pipe bombs or shoot up a synagogue. It will send a message that we are still a country that believes we are better off when we work together, compromise, and recognize our common ideals, then when we demonize, attack and lie.
I don’t know what the state of the country is in 2018. The news has been surreal, even absurd. Rhetoric I never thought I’d here in this country is now common place. On November 6th, we’ll know more about this country and its future. A victory of the Democrats in the House but not the Senate will push the issue off until 2020, indicating that the fight for the American soul continues.
But know this: this isn’t a fight to see if the American soul is liberal or conservative – both reflect the best of American values. The fight is whether we want to demonize each other or if we want to embrace our common belief in freedom and individual rights, and build a future together, compromising and respecting each other.
Posted in Uncategorized on September 30, 2018
I have something in common with Christine Ford. When I was 15 a man tried to rape me, just as Brett Kavanaugh tried to rape her.
It was, of course, different. I’m male and it wasn’t at a party. My Grandma lived in downtown Mankato, Minnesota, and I liked walking around the streets at night, seeing the downtown lights and action.
It was about 10:30 and I saw a man in by a doorway. “Oh my God,” he said, “I need some help. Can you help me?” The man was black, so not wanting to seem racist I went over to him. He grabbed and before I knew it I was in his apartment.
“I just want to play chess,” he said. I agreed…scared, but not knowing what else to do, I sat down at table with a chess set. I think we each made a move before he said, “You’re going to sleep with me.”
I jumped up and headed to the door, but he tackled me (turned out he had played football for Mankato State). He grabbed me and took off my belt as he pushed me onto the bed. I tried to move, but he then took off my shoes. “Just relax, it won’t be as bad as you think,” he said, trying to be soothing.
I then lost it. I started kicking, flailing, screaming. He finally said “OK, this is all a mistake.” He gave me my belt, which I put back on. I got my shoes on. He was very polite, “I’m sorry, this was a misunderstanding.” I said, “OK, no problem, have a good night.” I then ran to my Grandma’s apartment.
My Grandma and my cousin Richard (who died young, unfortunately) heard my story. My Grandma wanted to call the police. Richard took out a knife and wanted to go cut the guy up. I said no. Nothing happened. I got away. Let’s just let it be. Then it’s over – reporting it or trying to strike back keeps it alive.
Later my Grandma sent me a newspaper clipping. James, the attempted rapist, had been sentenced to life in prison for murder. He killed someone resisting him. He was then himself killed in prison.
If I had the courage to come forward, maybe he would not have murdered someone. But I don’t feel guilty about it – I did what was best for me, making the situation go away.
So when I think of Christine Ford, having a good life and having overcome the trauma of that attempt, I admire the fact she is willing to do her civic duty to come forward. She’s getting death threats and her family is in hiding. This is real for her again. But maybe she can save us from having a predator on the court.
I can still picture his apartment perfectly. The blue walls, the quilt on his bed, the chess set, it’s vivid in my memory. That’s why I know Christine Ford can remember that night Kavanaugh attempted to rape her. Those memories stay strong.
This isn’t the same situation but I can’t help but empathize with another 15 year old who was a victim of attempted rape, but who got away. I believe her.
Posted in Uncategorized on September 22, 2018
Republican reactions to the allegation made by Christine Ford have been shameful.
First, this isn’t about politics. I thought the Democrats should approve Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court because I thought he was qualified, had an excellent character, and though I disagree with his legal philosophy, the President has the right to pick a Justice. However, once the allegation came out that at the age of 17 he tried to rape a 15 year old girl, everything changed.
First, it’s not OK to say “boys will be boys” and “that’s a long time ago.” If this gets dismissed in that way, it’s a signal to every 15 year old girl (and 17 year old boy) that if a guy tries to rip off your clothes or rape you, well, it’s OK. No, that is not OK. One reason this issue has to be taken seriously is the message it sends to teens out there. Does no really mean no, or doesn’t it matter?
Second, it’s not OK to say “well, Clinton did bad things, or Ellison was accused of something.” This is the Supreme Court. More than any elected position (for which the voters can choose not to keep someone in office), this position requires people of only the most upstanding character. These nine positions are to be given not as a “right” to someone who “hasn’t been proven guilty,” but as a privilege to only those of the highest integrity.
Beyond that, President Trump’s effort to make Kavanaugh out to be the victim is extremely disgusting. Even if he withdraws his nomination, he’s wealthy, has his pick of good jobs, and will not suffer any real harm. However, from all accounts, the young girl he tormented was traumatized by the event, and it took years of therapy and help to get her back on track.
It is especially disgusting to say “she should have brought this up sooner.” She’d have been subjecting herself to abuse and ridicule, with the likelihood that in the end he would not be punished. Wealthy parents hire lawyers who as a tactic will do everything they can to paint an accuser out to be a slut or “asking for it.” The idea is to damage her credibility enough so a jury has “reasonable doubt.” It works almost all the time, that’s why so many rapists, especially young wealthy males, go free. Most victims don’t report rape because they know they’ll likely be hurt more than the perpetrator. That’s true now, 35 years ago the culture was even more tolerant of rape.
This isn’t about politics, but it appears that many people are treating it as such. No one should be given a life time appointment at the top of what may be the most important branch of government if there just the credible possibility of a blemish like this. It is a sign that his moral character is questionable or lacking.
If he did it, he’s lying now when he denies it, and that shows that he absolutely lacks an ethical core. But if he didn’t do it, given the credibility of the accuser, the honorable thing for him to do is say, “The role of Supreme Court Justice requires the highest levels of integrity, with the trust of the American people. In this case, there is sufficient question about my character that it would be wrong to accept the appointment to the Court. I hearby withdraw my nomination.”
To do that, however, would require character.
Posted in Uncategorized on June 16, 2018
When Barack Obama was running for the Presidency in 2008 he said he might agree to meet with America’s foes, like Kim Jong Un of North Korea or (at that time) Ahmad Ahmadinejad of Iran. He was trounced on by Republican hawks for weakness – these are our enemies, why give them stature by talking with them? In the end, Obama did not, though he did use massive international pressure to force Iran to a verifiable nuclear arms agreement.
President Trump’s summit with Kim Jong Un of North Korea is astounding in what it did and did not do. It did not yield any kind of verifiable agreement – or any kind of agreement at all – for North Korea to give up nuclear weapons. The US made concessions, North Korea made none. Most importantly, the US gave North Korea a propaganda coup – Kim is on stage as a world leader, called “talented” by the US President. Indeed, Trump praised Kim’s leadership saying that when he talks “his people” are at full attention, listening to him. “I wish my people would do that,” Trump noted wistfully.
That is surreal enough – that an American President would give North Korea so much in return for so little, and with right wing Republicans cheering it on. Trump makes Neville Chamberlain look savvy and skeptical.
But it gets worse. President Trump, and top members of his administration, lambasted Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for being – understandably and justifiably – angry about US tariffs put on Canadian goods for “national security” reasons.
One aide said there was “a special place in hell” for “back stabbers” like Trudeau. Trump attacked him via twitter. Yet polls show most Americans back Trudeau over Trump in this spat.
So the US President praises the dictator of the most ruthless country in the planet, one dead last in human rights, despite not getting anything in return. Way to negotiate, Donny! Then he attacks our most important ally with vicious condemnation, even though Trudeau is a democratically elected leader with an excellent human rights record. What gives?
It’s not that the meeting with Kim did any good for the US. Indeed, China and Russia benefit most from this racheting down of pressure in exchange for, well, nothing. If Trump really was a Russian plant, this is exactly the kind of thing he’d be doing.
Indeed, not only is he giving gifts to cold blooded Communist dictators, but he’s undermining the American led free trade regime put in place after World War II with the Bretton Woods system and GATT (now the WTO). The US has consistently promoted free trade and warned against tariffs and trade wars – Trump is blowing that all up, putting millions of jobs at risk.
It gets even worse. Given high US debt and deficit spending, if foreign countries decided to punish the US by not buying our bonds (or dumping those they have), it could be a disaster – perhaps a collapse of the dollar. The US deficit had been going down steadily under Obama. Trump’s tax cuts to the wealthy, not likely to help the economy, have ballooned the deficit to record numbers. We need other country’s money just to pay our bills – even as we alienate those same countries.
This is surreal, it’s like a farce, a bizarre twist of reality that can’t really be happening…but it is. A President banging out inane Twitter insults, attacking American institutions, and preening for dictators, all while working to undermine global economic stability.
I can imagine Trump meeting with Putin down the line. “Mission accomplished,” he’ll say, as we watch the western economy lurch into crisis. Then Trump will jet to North Korea and party with Kim, sipping cognac with a man he can relate to, and who has loyalty from his own people that Trump craves. Perverse.