I have just returned to H-Town from a six-day trip to New Orleans and Pensacola. The Pensacola part was mainly to visit a friend in the federal prison camp there, a minor casualty of the War on Drugs. I say "minor" because he received a light sentence in a very comfortable facility. Oh, did I mention that he's a middle-class white guy? Not everyone incarcerated at FPC Pensacola is white or middle class, though most are. Some of the inmates are millionaires doing time for financial and tax-related chicanery.
New Orleans served as the launching pad for the Florida excursion: I rode Amtrak's Sunset Limited to the end of the line, then rented a car to drive the 200 miles (320 km) to P-Cola. New Orleans is still a fascinating place—a few dozen fascinating places, actually, with each of its districts/neighborhoods possessing its own flavor.
One noteworthy phenomenon of NOLA is the sheer number of billboards and bus-boards advertising the services of personal injury and criminal defense attorneys. I heard someone make an offhand comment about how the criminal lawyers in particular are, in aggregate, making a very good living, mostly because NOPD is notorious for arresting residents and visitors when other resolutions might be better. Even with chemically enhanced tourists getting out of hand, the city doesn't have a proportionally bigger or worse crime problem than other medium-sized cities, but it does have a tendency to load up its judicial dockets with petty offenders and people arrested for offenses they did not commit.
Another phenomenon is that parts of the city are still in recovery mode from Mother Nature's onslaught in 2005. Well, the hurricanes came from Mother Nature, but the resulting floods resulted from engineering negligence like the reinforcements of levies proposed but never implemented. Some houses still wear the "X" markings that indicated what sort of damage and death had occurred therein. The public school system in Orleans Parish was scrapped in favor of charter schools, a mark far more permanent than those X's.
Naomi Klein's value to progressive activism worldwide is her ability to distill really depressing facts and figures into prescriptions for action to change those facts and figures, and to do so in language that readers can easily grasp. In addition, there is one primary reason her older works going back to No Logo (2002) get name-checked in interviews: These books have overlapping narratives that point to the conclusion that capitalism as currently practiced harms people and the natural world far more than it helps.
The interview contains plenty of candidates for pull-quotes or block-quotes, but one in particular made me go "Hmmmmm."
You make the point that [Trump]'s not the explanation for us being in this situation, but he is an expression of it...we all live in this ranking, rating world with enormous implications. I think, among other things, for organizing. How do you see it playing out?
Well, you know, I end the book with this section that I worried would be a little bit controversial, about how we need to kill our "inner Trump;" and I want to be clear, I'm not saying, "Kill Trump." Our "Inner Trump." The parts of ourselves that are a little bit Trumpish. I'm not saying that we are all the same as Trump, I'm not saying we are all equally responsible...but I am saying that he is a product of our culture. That he could become president is a product of our culture, and we're all in the culture.
We don't all have the same experiences of the culture, but the same culture that made it possible for the United States to have its first nuclear-armed reality TV star is the same cultur[e]...that [is] splintering our attention spans, and making so many of us think of ourselves as brands; as opposed to people in communities, and even our organizations, to think of ourselves not as part of a broad-based social movement, which needs all of our talents.
The way a social movement thinks...is "the more the merrier," and the way a brand thinks is very proprietary. It's very "Am I going to get the credit? Am I going to build my brand...?" And there's a real conflict, and I think it's important to talk about this is a non-accusatory way, because we're products of our culture.... We may have a critique of it, but we're still in this system, and we're still products of it. The neoliberal project is in its fourth decade. So, I think we can talk about this without it degenerating into kind of, "You're a sellout, you're a jerk."
Still, that notion of branding so central to No Logo got me wondering whether there's more ego in this postings than I've willing to admit. I would prefer to contribute to a group blog, into which the Harris County Green Party's new website might some day evolve. (For reasons discussed in previous posts, I have not been contributing to HCGP in recent months.)
Recapturing the Bernie Buzz
Consider how Senator Bernie Sanders repeatedly positioned himself during the 2015-16 presidential marathon as merely the leading figure of a movement, not a one-person embodiment of that movement, and certainly not the movement itself. Klein was drawn to support Sanders because that's the type of politics she has been pushing since the 1999 Battle in Seattle: candidacies that don't just appeal to the people at large, but draw their very strength from the people at large.
Sanders came closer than most folks expected to winning the Democratic nomination, having been thwarted by old-school intrapartisan dirty tricks. He then threw his support behind the Goldman Sachs–sponsored nominee Hillary Clinton. Unfortunately, Klein, with great reluctance, gave in to progressive peer pressure and did the same. Just imagine what would have resulted if even half of Sanders's primary voters had voted for Stein and Baraka in the general election: unlocking federal campaign funds for the Green Party, elevating it to major-party status, and providing a robust outlet for Klein's people-powered vision in 2020.
Where does all this thought lead? My conclusion would be that killing one's Inner Trump is a start, and from there we can move on to killing our society's fascination with personality politics. Yes, it is important to have a winning personality if one runs for public office, but it is more important to articulate, boldly and clearly, the real problems we face and the solutions we should/must implement. The Republican habits of making up problems, denying the problems illuminated by scientific research, adapting made-up or mythical problems from right-wing media, and surreptitiously creating problems in order to point at them and say, "Ooh, look! Problem!" won't cut it. Neither will the neoliberal Democrats' favored approach of saying, "Look how awful they are! We're not them! Vote for us!"
Should the Democrats Nominate a Celebrity in 2020?
Yes, I'm indulging in hyperbole and oversimplification in the preceding paragraph. It's all in the interest of illustrating what the two-ring US political circus looks like to people who see through it.
My friend in Pensacola is very smart, very progressive. He has a good head for business, and he wants his business ventures to benefit people at a very fundamental level, sticking to the corporate overlords being a tangential benefit. But he still insists that he is a realist, that the two-ring circus is the system, and we must operate within that system rather than what the Greens advocate, changing the rules or creating a whole new system. He also firmly believes that the Democrats need to nominate their own answer to Trump—not necessarily a notoriously womanizing narcissistic billionaire asshole, but a celebrity who can communicate with and excite voters the way Ronald Reagan and Donald Trump have. He'd like to Duane "The Rock" Johnson run, for example.
I don't happen to agree with my friend on that point, but I see its merits. US Politics has become reality TV crossed with pro wrestling. It's nauseating, but it's a fact, and it's the main reason 40% of registered voters sat out the 2016 election. If we allow this trend to continue, it is likely to find new ways to grow even worse, ways that I at least cannot even envision without putting on my David Foster Wallace absurdist goggles. (I read about half of Wallace's The Broom of the System on my trip.)
Pretend for a moment that the Democratic Party can be taken over by Progressives and reformed from within by mid-2019. Ideally, I would like the party to nominate a US-born equivalent of Naomi Klein: someone who can identify the major sources of our manifold problems (as Dr. King did: racism, imperialism, capitalism/consumerism) and propose policies to dismantle them. If Millennials are as down with socialism as they are purported to be, they will turn out in their millions to support such a nominee, not just with their votes but with their time, talent, and treasure.