It’s not that they’re without value, it’s just that they’re always so oddly overvalued by party elites. And yes, I know that the Senate is stacked against Democrats in a fundamental way. But why let the people who are about to sell out one of the party’s most essential bases of support (i.e. pro-choicers) dictate what sorts of campaign strategies the party itself should use? Shouldn’t that be more up to, I don’t know, people who haven’t betrayed the party? Who are interested in more than just their own solitary best interests? If Joe Manchin doesn’t give a fuck about Democrats who aren’t Joe Manchin, shouldn’t it be mutual?

Just a thought.

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Republicans have grifters, Democrats have grifters. The main difference seems to be that the Republican grifters still seem to really desperately want Republicans to hold power. Seems like major cognitive dissonance to me but, hey, it’s better than having a bunch of grifters who seem indifferent to whether their party holds power. How do I know this? Well, running the exact campaigns over and over again, having them fail over and over again, and then shrugging and blaming voters for not turning out, doesn’t exactly demonstrate a hunger to hold power and get things done. A genuine desire to take power would mean ruthlessly getting rid of political operatives that aren’t very good, but that didn’t happen after 2016. Seems more like a “better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven” state of mind more than anything else predominates with these folks.

It’s good that we’re starting to talk about doing this but political people shouldn’t have to be told. In the Democratic Party they used to not even need to be told. It used to be unions and the working class, who were going to damn well fight for themselves. I’m pretty sure this lamentable present state is all the legacy of Bill Clinton. Once you replace performance with loyalty as the primary determiner of advancement in politics, the results are apparent. This is a party with some serious rot in its foundations. This is largely separate from the ideological issues that the party needs to deal with, but will probably be even harder to change. The ideological changes are already coming along. The deeper issues with the party continue to be unaddressed. Somebody’s going to have to break up those networks. I haven’t a clue who.

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I went to Fresno earlier this year to pick up a piece of furniture. I’d never been there before and had no idea what to expect. What I found was the scariest place I’d ever been to, and I’ve been to “scarier” places. Anyway, for starters, I saw somebody shooting up in broad daylight when I was filling my car up at the gas station. I have to admit that this shocked me. As a Bay Area resident I encounter homeless people every day. Never seen one in the process of shooting up before. This is just not good. It’s a signal of total breakdown, that it’s happening and that nobody much seems to care about it. We’re already in full-blown?The Wire territory, and this is just in the Chevron off the freeway.

There’s more. I was there on a Saturday afternoon and there was nobody milling about on the streets.?Nobody. It’s not because it’s a supremely ugly city or anything–not beautiful but I’ve seen worse. It’s not in a state of visible, active disintegration like parts of Detroit are. The weather was mediocre but not all that bad. So just venturing outside should have meant at least some people walking around. But there weren’t any! I mean, It’s farm country for sure but farmers need to have fun sometimes too, get some coffee or a nice meal. Also, it’s California’s fifth largest city, so there are plenty of locals looking to have fun too. But no fun was being had. As an experienced traveler, I know very well that the only times you’re in real danger are either when there is literally nobody there, or when the streets are super clogged. The latter sets you up for pickpocketings and theft, as indeed happened to me once in Mexico City when I stupidly went down one of those horrible tourist-theft streets selling cheap crap (at least I was prepared for this and had a phony wallet with all of ten dollars in it). The former sets you up for being beaten up or murdered. So I was on edge until I left. There were other ominous signs too, like a children’s playground in the middle of downtown being padlocked. At 1 p.m. on Saturday. I would have asked why but it seemed like no real explanation was necessary.

I found the entire thing profoundly distressing. It’s interesting, though. In the conversations about urban breakdown you hear, it’s always places like Detroit. I’ve never heard Fresno mentioned in these conversations. One theory: the city’s black population is just over 8%. Fresno is a plurality Hispanic city with a smaller but substantial chunk of white residents. It can’t be plausibly be painted as a failure of black people–not saying that’s what Detroit is, it’s very much a failure of racism–but that’s what it’s painted as because that’s who was left after white flight. Also, Fresno is of little interest to the keepers of this conversation. Interesting, no?

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This would have come earlier, but I kind of underestimated the time it would take to read this book. After getting a few?Their Eyes Were Watching Gods and the like weighing in at 200ish pages, this thing is a mammoth 581. And it’s dense too, packed with incident and character. It’s good that I read this well into the project as it references so many different events and personalities in black history and literature that having some background through this project helped a lot to get more out of it. This one ain’t for beginners.

Invisible Man is unique. To even attempt to get across literally everything that happened in the book would be a folly. In its broadest strokes, it’s the story of an unnamed young black man who travels from a historically black college to New York, who falls in with a thinly-veiled version of the Communists (“the Brotherhood”), gets disillusioned and sees Harlem go up in smoke in a race riot. During this time he encounters various white people who refuse to see past their own idea of what they think he is, which prompts his “invisibility.” This doesn’t even begin to get into the real heart of the book, which riffs on just about everything in black culture from Booker T. Washington to Marcus Garvey, hitting on so many different ideas, and which features so many unforgettable characters. At all points the central conflict of the book is the same: the inability of white people to truly see the protagonist. The part of the book that really brought it home for me was the fight between the leader of the Brotherhood and the narrator over political tactics after the death of one of the brothers. The conflict between the white man who can only see a traitor to their movement and the black man who also sees the treason, but also nevertheless feels grief and anger over a pointless killing, gets at the heart of what the book is trying to do. Again and again, there is this refusal to listen. The book construes this is not being seen, but then again,?Inaudible Man doesn’t have the same ring to it, does it?

The interesting parallel of the book was about how our protagonist learns to listen to himself at least. Early in the book he tries to steer a wealthy white donor away from Trueblood, in large part because he’s embarrassed on behalf of his race, and generally speaking sees his black, backcountry background as something to be overcome. When he later finds himself in New York and runs across a vendor of baked yams–a treat he recalls fondly from his past–he has to think about what his background means to him, which is a thread that works in tandem with his ascent with the Brotherhood. In all of this he has to struggle against the imposed lens of white America to try to find his actual identity, as one white person after another imposes their biases on him, reducing him to a two-dimensional figure.?Ultimately, the character literally finds his voice at the funeral oration that causes all hell to break loose, expressing himself without an ulterior motive involved. It’s a moment of triumph that leads to massive despair. It’s a cheery read.

This is also just a very weird book, one that successfully kept me off balance with what it threw at me. Brother Clifton’s apparent career switch from oratory to selling sambo dolls is so bizarre and inexplicable that it almost feels surreal. On the other hand, the story of Jim Trueblood and his disastrous, incestuous family life–true or not, the book doesn’t actually say, though there’s no reason to think his sympathetic retelling of the horrific story isn’t true–feels so painfully real that it’s hard to get through. And then there’s the broadest of comedy at the end when Sadie enters the picture. Yet again,?Invisible Man is a kitchen-sink sort of a book. The sheer variety of techniques used here, when you step back and look how many of them there are, is kind of nuts. It is true mastery that they all work together, and that the book does have a strong consistency of tone throughout. Ellison has such a handle on the material, and he knows how to incorporate all these different elements together. It’s very reminiscent of how Spike Lee directs a movie, actually, particularly when he’s good. (Then again, even when he’s bad, it’s exactly the same approach: nobody else directs a movie like Spike Lee.)

The ending of?Invisible Man offers some hope, as the narrator considers trying out the world again. It kind of felt almost like a false note to me, actually. There’s nothing really in the text that struck me as even remotely hopeful for a solution to America’s Race Problem.?Native Son offered at least some hope, even if it was only in the form of the Communists (to which I have to assume that?Invisible Man‘s pseudo-Communists are an obvious riposte–in?Native Son they’re actually woke while here, they’re no less racist than anyone, perhaps even moreso since it’s so much more subtle with them, easily rationalizable because of their views to boot).?Invisible Man doesn’t provide a single instance of a white person having any interest in hearing about what a black person thinks or feels. So is the hopeful ending a testament to the ongoing hope among people of color that they can find acceptance in America, in spite of absolutely no evidence that they can? I think it is. Perhaps it isn’t discordant, perhaps it’s just the tragedy of living in a country that claims to want the multiculturalism that people of color also want, and yet, doesn’t seem to actually want it.

What’s Next? Some fiction by James Baldwin. Whenever I get it done.

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It is interesting just how unsuccessful the media has been at creating its reasonable Republicans for the Trump Age. Jeff Flake, Ben Sasse, Rand Paul also probably, these guys constantly get great coverage and are presented as conscientious, thoughtful, good guys and absolutely nobody buys it. In the aughts, there were actually quite a few Democrats who liked John McCain. He hosted?Saturday Night Live. Jon Stewart had him on?The Daily Show a few hundred times. His favorability was always in the 60s. Jeff Flake’s was around 30% last time I checked.? (As a sidebar, was Jon Stewart actually good for the American left on the whole? I’m sort of conflicted on the question, for all the legitimate shots he landed on the media, he was hardly free of many of its assumptions as well, and not only because he loved John McCain. Remember that pointless 2010 midterm rally? The ultimate in useless Sorkinian claptrap. Anyway…)

Then again, Flake and Sasse in particular are no different from any other #NeverTrumpers. Are any willing to own the role that the conservative movement had in creating the conditions that gave us Trump? Any who still have any relevance?

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Rand Paul is not a maverick and will not oppose the Kavanaugh nomination. We’ve been though this on every single goddamn vote of this Congress, seemingly. It was one thing when John McCain’s fit of pique after 2000 was mistaken for some sort of deeper character trait, but Rand Paul doesn’t even have that. He has nothing. He’ll make some noise like he’s not going to go along, and then he will sell out for literally nothing. Rand Paul is a party line Republican whose courageous opposition to his own party is limited to 99-1 votes. It is an act, a pantomime. Mainstream media reporters, please watch this scene.

“They just like talking to salesmen.” Guys, stop being Jack Lemmon.

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Asshole

I’ve supported Kevin de Leon and still do but let’s be honest, it’s not like Dianne Feinstein is the lowest-hanging fruit in terms of sucky Democrats. She sucks, but she’s married to a billionaire and represents a state where money is fucking everything in a campaign. I mean, it’s not enough to elect a Republican, as the sorry cases of Meg Whitman and Carly Fiorina (Ted Cruz’s would-be VP!) aptly demonstrated. But there are a lot of expensive media markets in the state and being a one-percenter Democrat makes it a lot easier. Shaking hands doesn’t do shit. There are forty million people here. You’ll never shake enough hands.

Honestly, the ideal case would have been Tom Carper, who is one of the worst Democrats in Washington, but is somebody who flies under the radar because he doesn’t hail from a media capital and he’s boring. I’ve talked about “1995 Democrats” before and the need to get rid of them as a useless albatross to the party. These are Democrats who are socially liberal but who love all the corporatist trade agreements, love the financial sector, and are indifferent to the economic struggles of anybody who isn’t a six-figure donor. Back in 1995 this was pretty much the best we can do but now, particularly in blue states, they’re people who ought to be discarded, people who we can do better than. Carper fits this to a tee. His refusal to pledge not to cut the safety net?should have gotten him a primary challenge in and of itself. He was one of only two Democrats who did this, the other being not Joe Manchin, not Doug Jones, but Mark goddamn Warner, who also deserves a primary challenge for being a torture-abetting traitor on Gina Haspel, though let’s table that for now. But Carper also voted for that damn Crapo bill. Also he helped scuttle the Employee Free Choice Act under Obama. On bill after bill he’s made it obvious that he’s nothing but a tool of big money. Carper just sucks. It’s not as though the state couldn’t support a less horrible Democrat, as a Republican hasn’t won a statewide federal race there in decades. And what’s more, Delaware isn’t a huge state, the second-smallest actually. It’s entirely plausible that a determined progressive candidate could pull off a shocker there in a way that couldn’t happen in California. Noted non-witch Christine O’Donnell beat former Congressman and Governor Mike Castle in a GOP Primary there, after all. The other big difference is that with Carper, you have the aforementioned things, each of which would be strong issues with progressive voters, while de Leon has had trouble finding the right issue to hit Feinstein with. Feinstein sucks but she’s not stupid, and her worst betrayals and shortcomings are typically things that happened behind the scenes, in committees, or on abstruse and difficult to explain issues. (Interesting tidbit in that article: Feinstein was with Carper on the EFCA. She definitely sucks. Just not as much as Carper.) She does try to avoid votes that would obviously get her fired. Carper hasn’t! He’s arrogant and clearly sees himself as invincible, that he can do all this horrible stuff with no consequences.

This, therefore, is an interesting development. It’s probably not going to be enough, but the upside of getting rid of Carper would be huge. That’s worth a donation. It also shows me that Ocasio-Cortez is the rare Democrat who gets how to play the game. That’s very good to know.

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I honestly don’t know. At the start of the Times of Trouble I did do some work with Indivisible but that’s done now. I don’t think it’s a bad thing at all, and maybe for your situation it would work out great, but it just seemed like a waste of time to spend an hour unsuccessfully trying to get ahold of Dianne Feinstein’s office to implore her to vote against a bill that she would have voted against anyway. The woman needs to install some more phone lines! But anyway, politics is tedious but this is the wrong sort of tedium. Perhaps Indivisible has had some effect on her, but probably that’s more due to Kevin de Leon’s campaign against her, which is supposedly doomed but which she’s treating as credible. Being as my other senator is Kamala Harris, a strong progressive with supposed presidential ambitions, and my congressman is a similarly solid Democrat, Mark DeSaulnier, I just didn’t consider it an effective use of my time to call them up all the time (and never be able to get through). And yes, there is value in letting elected representatives know you’re out there so that they don’t overestimate the conservatism of the electorate, I know that. But it’s not a strategy well-suited for California, and in all honesty my political activity isn’t all that changed from what it was circa 2016. I send letters and faxes to politicians. I go to occasional protests and marches. I donate money, though less of it than I used to b/c of consultant grifting. I’ll occasionally share something on social media if it is something that needs attention. I should be doing more, I know. But the short-term options aren’t abundant. Taking over the party apparatus is essential but it takes time, and isn’t really an answer for the question of how best to oppose Trump, it’s more a question of how we take on movement conservatism long-term. It took the wingnuts decades to take over the GOP, after all.

What can be done right now that could have an impact??In all likelihood, probably the best thing to do is to work on primary campaigns taking on mediocre Democrats in safe blue districts. It should be obvious to most that elite Democrats are content to oppose Trump but aren’t willing to change any aspect about how they do business. Schumer/Pelosi are not only lukewarm progressives, they also have no real aptitude as political strategists (this made me laugh out loud) and have run the same exact contentless midterm campaign that Democrats ran in 2010 and 2014. The shattering experience of 2016 changed nothing for any non-reactionary with any power, apparently. They seem content to channel anti-Trump sentiment but hedge on that constantly (civility!) and clearly don’t want to actually change the way they do business, which in Pelosi’s case is the same as she did in 2006 (Pay As You Go! No Impeachment!), and for Schumer hasn’t changed since 1995 or so. Democrats are clearly much too comfortable with the old ways of doing things and frankly need to be shaken up a bit. Pretty clear that the Crowley defeat freaked ’em out a bit. A couple more might actually make them listen and adjust, perhaps even give up on the fantasy of waiting out the Republican crazy. All of which is to say that Kevin de Leon could use some of your disposable income.

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