No Help Is Coming, What Now?

In a nation supposedly premised on “rule of law,” it wasn’t unreasonable to expect Congress and the justice system to hold the President’s crime family accountable for their actions. It’s becoming clear that this isn’t going to happen.

We don’t know what’s in the Mueller Report, but we know what it doesn’t contain – an explanation of legal actions filed against the President, his family and businesses. The President and his Republican collaborators have turned the federal government into an engine for personal enrichment, dismantling our capacity to use it toward the public interest or hold powerful people accountable for crimes. No help is coming. What now?

We could plow yet more energy into the national political process. That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but done at the expense of local engagement it will become a tarpit. A massive investment of time and money might produce another Democratic wave in 2020. Under the present order, that accomplishment by itself will deliver little progress. No realistic outcome from the next two elections would grant Democrats the 60+ Senate seats they would need to bring meaningful change. Even then, so much of the federal infrastructure has been degraded over the past 20 years that rebuilding it will likely take a generation.

That’s work that needs to be done, but if it’s the only goal we pursue, then that effort will probably fail. We will not rebuild democracy in America by focusing on Washington DC. We will not regain influence over our government without recognizing the severity of our circumstances. Americans no longer share a common core of values binding us together. Instead, what lies ahead is a winner-take-all struggle to control America’s future.

We happen to hold all the best cards in this game, but we aren’t playing them. We continue to expect the best from rivals who continue to sink to the worst. While we still have time, Americans of conscience must consolidate their political power and use their leverage to defeat our enemies.

This can be accomplished in a mostly peaceful manner if we’re smart, strategic, and realistic. However, if we continue to wallow in Pollyanna fantasies, electing officials who promise “compromise” and “outreach,” we’ll lose enough ground that we can be swept away in a fight. Here are a few simple rules for the next stage of the fight for democracy in America.

Reject Compromise

While Democratic figures like Corey Booker yammer on about “the ties that bind us,” Republicans are hoarding guns and circulating political porn about a civil war. Find political figures who do not shrink from a fight. That’s your clue that they haven’t been bought yet.

Focus on State and Local Government

Repairing the federal government is a long-term project in the midst of a short-term crisis. It should be deprioritized in favor of a focus on state and local politics. Cry about it if necessary, but then take action where you live. Residents of California, Illinois and New York don’t already have universal health care for two reasons, 1) we’ve forgotten the power of state governments, and 2) thanks to #1, our state governments have become fabulously corrupt.

Are you bothered by Citizens’ United? Force your state government to impose even more draconian curbs on political spending and adopt new transparency rules. They can do this. The Affordable Care Act was born as a state program in Massachusetts. It remains far more successful there than it has been anywhere else. This is not an accident. Our system was designed for state initiative.

As the conflict over our federal government reaches a head, we will need government institutions we can trust. We’ll have to build them, because they don’t exist today. If we can’t build competent representative institutions at home, then Washington will never rescue us.

Know Your Local Leaders (and make sure they know you)

Does your police force collaborate with ICE on immigrant detentions? Does your town have policies in place that keep housing segregated? What are your county and your city doing to cut carbon emissions and promote renewable energy? Don’t attend another rally for a Congressional or Presidential candidate until you know the answer to those questions. Abandon the fight for our values on our own block, and the effort we pour into Washington is just pounding sand.

Build Local Networks

Despite all the hand-wringing over the dangers of social media, it has handed us the most powerful tool in history for ordinary people to balance the power of money. It costs $0 to build a local political network on social media. Find people in your community who share your values and take the simple step of connecting with them. Have a mailing list, or a Facebook group. If you can mobilize 20 people in a city ward, then you’re practically a political party. Join forces with a dozen other similar groups and state candidates will have to pay attention.

Know Your Leverage

In a dark moment, one can be tempted to wallow in defeatism. The reality is that we hold the high ground across the battlefield, we just haven’t engaged yet. Much as they did in 1861, your enemy has lots of guns and enthusiasm, but poor intelligence and surprisingly little money. Trump’s support is concentrated among the worst 40% of our culture. That’s right, the big money is on our side, along with the brains.

Our side can muster such overwhelming financial influence that no one can publicly support Trump and remain competitive in the marketplace. Fox News has been stripped of advertisers. Breitbart and The Federalist survive on donations.

Don’t do business with a Trump-supporting accountant. Use social media to pressure companies out of relationships with Trump-supporting entities. Burn down all the comfortable spaces from which this rot emerged. In a supreme irony, Republicans today survive by pandering to the dumbest, poorest and worst Americans. Make them pay for that vulnerability.

Most of All, Prepare for a Fight

It should be clear by now that there is no bottom, there is no moral core around which we can align with Trump’s supporters and his Republican collaborators. Nothing he might do in the future, no matter how heinous, will bring these people to their senses. When Trump’s gone, Republicans will promote another Kleptocrat to take his place. Defeat them, or be defeated.

That does not mean resorting to violence. In fact, violence would almost certainly be counter-productive at this point. What we must do is consolidate our power around institutions we can leverage if violence ever becomes necessary.

When the Black Panthers embraced a violent self-defense ethic in the 1960’s, they were out-gunned and out-organized. Without the benefit of political legitimacy and a strong organization, they were quickly neutralized through a campaign of murder by white police, with cover provided by local elected officials.

Survivors remedied the central failure of the first generation of Panthers, focusing on building a local political core capable of organizing resistance. Violence without organization is the difference between a firecracker and a bullet. Police may have wiped out much of the first generation of the Black Panthers, but their political heirs made a huge impact on Oakland, South Chicago and Harlem. Through a core developed in these places and others, they have gradually changed America. Former Black Panthers now sit in Congress and state legislatures. Violence without organization is noisy and showy, with no meaning. Defiance backed by organization can change the world.

Democracy is not easy. It is not cheap. It is not automatic or guaranteed. Just a few years ago it seemed the most powerful force on earth, now democracy stands at the brink of irrelevance. Tears won’t save it. Those who seek to replace democracy will not surrender to a fine speech or a well-crafted campaign ad. Our enemies are weaker than we realize, but we have slept through their advance. We will learn to leverage our power for good in just the next few years, or we will lose that power for the foreseeable future.


  1. This is timely. I’ve been meaning to ask you, what do you make of Chicago’s mayoral race? Lightfoot’s main area of strength was the rich, white north side, and she ran against the Democratic machine. Preckwinkle was the machine candidate and drew her support from Black enclaves.

    I was reminded of your post a while back about how the infusion of new progressive voters into the Dem party is giving them electoral strength but might also cause a civil war within the party as the newer elements wrest control from the older elements. Lightfoot is definitely a shot across the bow for Chicago’s Democratic party. That said, I’m not sure how much she’ll get done against an entrenched city council.

    And also, in a nod to your warning that the politics of crazy is coming to the Dems too, I’m growing alarmed by the 5 openly socialist aldermen that got elected. They don’t seem to be as much “let’s spread the wealth to poor areas” as they are “let’s kill downtown because it’s too successful”. We’ll have to see what they do in office.

  2. I watched the analysis of Barr’s presentation and the public version of the mueller report today and find myself supporting this position: Democrats have to pursue impeachment against trump, regardless how this will impact their election chances in 2020. They have ia greater responsibility to our country for protection of our democracy and to support the rule of law.
    The following Op-Ed expresses my feelings on the decision to impeach.

    1. From a strategic POV I just don’t see any upside in impeaching Trump

      It will either fail – which is probably bad

      Or Trump will be so incredibly smelly that it would pass in which case leaving Trump like an albatross around the neck of the Republicans would be better than letting them kick him to the side

      Slap him and all the other crims in jail AFTER he loses the next election

    2. Mary,
      I philosophically agree with you. I also know it has been clearly established that we are a nation of men not laws if you are white and wealthy. The only hope of any accountability is to skip impeachment and focus on ending this administration in 2020. There may be some threads of the Mueller investigation that could lead to to prosecution after they are out of office.

  3. Given my current educational track and other stuff going on in my life, I’ve decided to change when and where I consume my news. I have an information addiction; I find myself compulsively checking my phone for updates to my regular news sites far too much. More often than not, I find a piece of news or an article that has me thinking about it for the rest of the day rather than giving most of my attention to my regular daily routine. I’ve switched to ignoring all of that during the day and saving it for the evenings, when I don’t really have anything pressing to deal with.

    I’ve never been one for getting involved with political action or organization. I’m more on the introvert side and my social skills are, for lack of a better word, stunted. I’ll be sticking to my wheelhouse, keeping my ear to the ground regarding tech and science news, and providing my thoughts on things regarding tech & science whenever the Link Roundup shows up.

  4. Here in California we *are* doing a lot at the state level. We’ve made big moves to renewable energy, small moves to more affordable housing, and there’s a big move to more affordable housing, SB50.

    The reason we don’t have completely universal health care (although our competently run Obamacare system is not that far off) is that purity pony far lefties insisted on a super-platinum system which covered absolutely all conditions with absolutely no deductions or copays – and even for a wealthy state like CA, that’s not affordable at current healthcare costs. Even ideas like Gold tier Obamacare for everybody got blocked. So we got nothing.

    1. Too bad that was the case. I’ve been hoping that CA would step up and show us the way to full universal health care in the U.S. However, I just read in this morning’s Seattle Times (an article from AP) that Washington could very well enact a public option in our Obamacare plan. Our legislative session is not finished, but it is nearing the end. Normally the last days of the first session of a biennium is largely focused on the budget. The budgetary issues will have a lot of influence on the possibility of a public option. Also there remains a strong contingent of conservative Republicans largely from Eastern WA, so the ‘fat lady has not sung yet’.

  5. As a strategy going forward, this is good.

    But it is essential going forward to look with cold realism what got us here — the failure of both our political parties, the media, our economic system, our health care system, our educational system, just about every aspect of society — to serve the interests of the great majority of people, and how that led so many people to take a flyer on a con man.

  6. Hey Chris, welcome back. Paris is a place I hope to visit one day.

    You’ve probably seen all the “blackball /shun/ humiliate Nielsen” articles. I think spitting in her food or yelling at her in public is counterproductive, although I get that it’s quite satisfying in the moment. But the campaign to block her from a cushy job? I can get on board with that. I think that’s a great idea, but it’s going to require sustained focus (difficult in this short attention spanned era), and it shouldn’t be just her (although her role in the repugnant family separation policy puts her at the top of the list.

      1. I agree with Chris’ perennial optimistic fighting spirit! And here’s more cause for optimism in the gloom:

        Look at the state-by-state numbers here: Trump is barely above-water in Texas (Texas!), and is underwater in his must-win states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Arizona and Wisconsin. And he’s barely above water in the must-win state of North Carolina. Boggle.

        For someone who has inherited a relatively good economy and goosed it with the temporary sugar high of massive tax cuts plus massive deficit spending, Trump is in an amazingly weak position politically. Remember, he got repudiated in the House last fall in proportions last experienced only by Clinton in the poor economy of 1994 and by Obama in the even worse economy of 2010.

        There’s also fact that ever more young people are coming of political age under Trump, and they are decisively against him. I live in an ultra-red district in blue Maryland, and yet my 18-yr-old daughter and her friends all despise Trump. Yes, it’s only an anecdote, but last fall Sara and all her voting-age friends made sure to vote. They’ve already indicated to me they’ll be doing the same in 2020. I will make sure to do my part to see they fulfill that promise! Meanwhile, the Fox News cohort is dying off daily.

        None of this means we should be complacent, but neither should we give in to the despair that only aids Trump and his kleptocracy!

      2. Hindsight is informative, but, I never felt Russian intrusion into the 2016 election was the compelling factor in trump’s win. Contributory-yes, but this election outcome was far more complicated. The entire campaign was surreal. This man was allowed to sully the presidential process brazenly and without consequence. Once the painful shock of trump’s win subsided, it was time for deep reflection to make sense of what had happened. I had to confront the fact that literally half our country including members of my family and community, were motivated by values that were not only different than my own but shockingly so. And they voted.

        Lots of really smart people agree with Tibbai that trump was able to exploit deep discontent at many levels and parlay that into a win. The painful part for me is watching the destruction of our democratic institutions and values and the total abdication of responsibility by republicans to protect our country over party. The reason why trump won doesn’t matter as much to me now as watching our country being destroyed. What’s done is done. “Why”pales in comparison.

  7. How many months ago was it when you put up a very persuasive post about the tyrant (he has graduated from puppet tyrant) leaving the country in disgrace on his private jet? Guess those heady days are long past.

    You mention the fascists promoting another kleptocrat after this one (assuming this one actually leaves after 8 years). That goes without saying. But the next one will be far more intelligent, far more capable. Think cheney and this psychopath being genetically spliced. Another name for the next one: Hitler.

    And they will most certainly win in 2 years, 4 years, 6 years, 8 years…. That is obvious now. Democracy is dead in the U.S., just like it has died all over the planet in the past 10 years. The fascists were able to steer the populist backlash to globalism down the hard hard right path, while the left wing populism movement ate their own and navel-gazed.

    But hey, you keep believing grassroots local groups will stop the feds and the insane 40%. If I recall correctly, the last “grassroots” movement that was spectacularly successful was the Tea Party, funded by that mom and pop outfit called the koch brothers.

    1. “If I recall correctly, the last “grassroots” movement that was spectacularly successful was the Tea Party, funded by that mom and pop outfit called the koch brothers.”

      Then your recollection is faulty. Mass organization and grassroots movements in 2018 led to a wave election that wrested control of the House from Republicans, along with many governorships and a massive number of state legislator seats. And not a single shot needed to be fired.

      But hey, keep believing violence is the only answer while the rest of us prove you wrong.

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