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June 23, 2016

How to Fight a Fascist and Win

Filed under: Elections,Fascism — millerlf @ 6:48 am

No revolution has been won or sustained by approaching all in power in the same way. Making use of contradictions within ruling circles and parties is a critical tactic that can determine whether people’s movements will advance or be set back. Following is an article suggesting such tactics in the face of a fascist threat.

Beating Donald Trump at the polls will be a necessary, but wholly insufficient step.

Gary Younge The Nation June 6, 2016

In the second round of France’s presidential elections in 2002, the left was faced with an unfamiliar challenge: What accessories to wear to the polls? The Socialist candidate, Lionel Jospin, had been knocked out in the first round. Now the choice was between the fascist National Front candidate, Jean-Marie Le Pen, and the conservative sleaze magnet, Jacques Chirac. There were no good options: Chirac had once opined that French workers were being driven crazy by the “noise and smell” of immigrants. But there was certainly a catastrophic option: the election of Le Pen, who had branded people with AIDS “lepers” and trivialized the Nazi gas chambers as “a detail” in history.

So the left debated casting ballots for Chirac wearing gloves or surgical masks (until they were told doing so might nullify their ballots), and in the end, many went to vote with a clothespin on their nose. “When the house is on fire,” François Giacalone, a Communist Party local councillor, told The Guardian, “you don’t care too much if the water you put it out with is dirty.”

If Hillary Clinton wins, her agenda will make an eventual victory for someone like Donald Trump more likely, not less.

In 2016, Donald Trump’s clinching the Republican nomination in the same week that a right-wing extremist narrowly lost the presidential election in Austria raises a serious strategic challenge for the progressive left. We are rightly buoyed by the notion that a better world is possible and have tasked ourselves with creating it. But it is no less true that, at any given moment, a far worse world is possible too, and we should do everything in our power to ensure that we don’t let somebody else create it.

There are two crucial distinctions to be made here. The first is to distinguish between those political opponents who are merely bad, and those who represent an existential threat to basic democratic rights. The second is to draw a clear distinction between the electoral and the political. For example, Mitt Romney was bad: Had he been elected in 2012, terrible things would’ve happened, and it is a good thing that he was defeated. But Trump is of a different order entirely. Xenophobic, Islamophobic, unhinged, and untethered to any broader political infrastructure, he has endorsed his supporters’ physically attacking protestors. His election would represent a paradigmatic shift in what is possible for the American right. To call Trump a fascist may suggest more ideological coherence than his blather deserves. But he is certainly part of that extended family and, as such, represents the kind of threat that Romney (for example) did not.

The same is true of Le Pen and Norbert Hofer, the hard-right Austrian presidential candidate who called gun ownership “the natural consequence” of immigration. The fact that the Austrian presidency is primarily ceremonial is beside the point; had Hofer won, others in more substantial positions would have followed.

Since this kind of threat is of a different order, so should be the response. While fascists have learned to cloak their bigotry in less inflammatory rhetoric (one more reason why Trump is an outlier: This is a trick he has yet to learn, though I’m sure the Republicans have their best folks working on it), their blunt message must be met with a blunt response. They must be stopped. And if their route to power is through the ballot box, they must be stopped there.

The question of whether, in America for example, one should forgo the two main parties for a third that is not beholden to big money and will back the interests of the poor and marginalized is an important one. But the question in these instances is not whether we will be in a better or worse position to organize and fight back after the election, but whether there will be future elections at all—and if so, in what atmosphere of intimidation and coercion they might take place.

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In that case, one should vote for the largest immovable object in the path of the extreme right—whether that’s Bernie Sanders or Hillary Clinton or Jacques Chirac or Alexander Van der Bellen, the former Green Party spokesman who narrowly beat Hofer in Austria. But while defeating these forces at the polls is important, it is also insufficient. It does nothing to tackle the underlying causes for their popularity or address the grievances on which these parasites feed. Preventing them from gaining office is in no way commensurate with stemming their influence or power.

Take the most likely US presidential matchup: Clinton and Trump. Trump’s rise is rooted, to a significant extent, in the profound disenchantment of a section of the white working class created by the effects of neoliberal globalization in the wake of the most recent economic crash. Hillary’s staunchest advocate (her husband), whose legacy she shares on the stump (“We lifted people out of poverty” and “We created jobs”) bears considerable responsibility for the conditions that made Trump possible. Bill Clinton’s repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act exacerbated the economic collapse, and his embrace of the North American Free Trade Agreement helped depress wages. Hillary Clinton backed these initiatives at the time, even if she has rowed back on some of them since. Setting her up in political opposition to Trump pits part of the cause against the symptom, with no suggestion of an antidote.

So even as one votes for Clinton—if she’s the nominee, then no one else is going to be able to stop Trump from taking power—one must prepare to organize against her. If she wins, her agenda will make an eventual victory for someone like Trump more likely, not less. More than a decade after Le Pen’s defeat, his daughter, who now heads the National Front, could yet reach the runoffs again. Hofer’s Freedom Party came in second place in the parliamentary elections in 1999 and was in a coalition government. Elections alone cannot defeat the populist right; we have to drain the swamp from which they gather their bait. When your house is ablaze, you grab whatever’s handy and put it out. But when the flames are quenched, the laborious task of fireproofing is in order.


The Gutting of the Voting Rights Act Could Decide the 2016 Election

Filed under: Elections,Fascism — millerlf @ 6:39 am

States with new voting restrictions have 70 percent of the electoral votes needed to win the presidency.

Ari Berman The Nation 6/21/2016

NC Voter ID rules are posted at the door of the voting station at the Alamance Fire Station on March 15, 2016, in Greensboro, North Carolina. (Andrew Krech / News & Record via AP)

On June 21, 1964, the civil-rights activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Mickey Schwerner were abducted in Neshoba County, Mississippi, and brutally murdered by the Ku Klux Klan. The killings in Mississippi, where only 6.7 percent of African Americans were registered to vote in 1964, shocked the nation and helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act.

Yet opponents of the VRA never stopped fighting the law. Ronald Reagan, who called the VRA “humiliating to the South,” kicked off his general-election campaign for president in 1980 at the nearly all-white Neshoba County Fair, which had long been a hotbed of white supremacy. Reagan spoke nearly 16 years to the day after the bodies of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner were discovered, and told the crowd, “I believe in states’ rights”—a phrase that had long been the rallying cry of Southern segregationists. (I tell this story in more detail in my book Give Us the Ballot.)

“For a presidential candidate to kick off his campaign there, that was heartbreaking,” said civil-rights leader John Lewis. “It was a direct slap in the face of the movement and all of the progress that we were trying to make.”

The legacy of Reagan’s opposition to the VRA still defines our politics today.

Paul Manafort, who directed Reagan’s Southern strategy in 1980, is now Donald Trump’s chief strategist. Trump lifted Reagan’s 1980 campaign slogan, “Let’s Make America Great Again,” for his campaign.

John Roberts, a young lawyer in the Reagan administration who wrote dozens of memos at the time criticizing the VRA, three decades later authored the majority opinion gutting the law, ruling that states with the longest histories of voting discrimination, like Mississippi, no longer have to approve their voting changes with the federal government.

The 52nd anniversary of the murders of Chaney, Goodman, Schwerner coincide with the third anniversary of the Shelby County v. Holder decision. The full impact of that ruling will be felt in this year’s election, the first presidential election in 50 years without the full protections of the VRA. Seventeen states have new voting restrictions in place for the 2016 presidential race, including more than half of those previously covered by Section 5 of the VRA, and representing 189 electoral votes, 70 percent of the 270 electoral votes needed to clinch the presidency.

“Today, rather than using murder, unscrupulous people have found new disenfranchisement tactics to prevent whole communities from voting in order to retain political advantage,” writes David Goodman, Andrew Goodman’s younger brother.

North Carolina is the most striking example of the devastating impact of the Shelby County decision. A month after the ruling, the state passed a sweeping rewrite of its election laws, including requiring strict voter ID to cast a ballot, cutting early voting, and eliminating same-day registration, out-of-precinct voting, and pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds.

These restrictions were upheld in April by federal district court Judge Thomas Schroeder, a conservative George W. Bush-appointee. The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit will hear a new challenge to the case today.

Schroeder’s 485-page opinion ignored the many stories of voters who were turned away from the polls because of the new restrictions, like the elimination of same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in 2014, and the new voter-ID law in the 2016 primary.

Dale Hicks, a 40-year-old former marine sergeant, was one of those voters. The Leadership Conference on Civil Rights recently profiled him:

Dale Hicks, an African-American man who served in the Marine Corps for five years, including one year in Afghanistan, has been an active voter for close to 20 years. After being honorably discharged and transitioning to the IT field, he moved to Raleigh in June 2014. He had started hearing about the negative impacts of House Bill 589 around his community and decided to check his registration to ensure his address was up to date before voting in November. At his local precinct, he was informed that his registration information contained his old Jacksonville, N.C., address. Hicks assumed that, worst-case scenario, he’d just have to drive two hours to Jacksonville to vote. But he was told that because of the discrepancy in his address, he would not be able to vote at all because of the suspension of same-day registration. Stories like Hicks’ are likely all too common among veterans, who change addresses often because of the nature of their service. “You know, you finish serving your country and you come back and to be told no, you can’t, your voice will not be heard because your address says 9th street and you live on 7th street,” Hicks said. “It’s not right.”

In 2014, Democracy North Carolina documented 2,300 cases like Hicks’s of voters disenfranchised by the new restrictions. By comparison, there were only two cases of voter impersonation in the state from 2000 to 2012, out of 35 million votes cast.

Voting-rights advocates hope that the Fourth Circuit court, which temporarily reinstated same-day registration and out-of-precinct voting in September 2014 before being overruled by the Supreme Court, will be sympathetic to their case. During a hearing in September 2014, Judge James Wynn asked the state’s lawyers, “Why does the state of North Carolina not want people to vote?”

That’s a very good question.

UPDATE: The panel of judges on the Fourth Circuit appeared skeptical of North Carolina’s voting restrictions, according to initial press reports. “It looks pretty bad to me, in terms of purposeful discrimination,” Judge Henry Floyd told a lawyer for the state. A reversal of the district court’s opinion, at least on some counts, seems possible now.


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