Some News and Upcoming Readings

This post is going to be short, but I wanted to share that I have two upcoming readings in the next week and a half, one in Philly and one in Lancaster. Here is the info:

Lancaster Poetry Exchange: Featuring Dawn Leas and Brian Fanelli

Barnes & Noble, 1700 Fruitville Pike, Lancaster, PA

7:30-9

FREE

Museum of Americana Lit Mag Philly Reading

Featuring: Shevaun Brannigan, Grant Clauser, Brian Fanelli, Irène Mathieu

University City Arts League

4226, Spruce St, Philadelphia

FREE

Lastly, I have a new poem in a post-election anthology put together by Birds We Piled Loosely Press. It will be out in print in a few months, but for now, you can read it for free online. My lovely lady, Daryl Sznyter, also has a poem in it.

I  have some reflections from the Women’s March in DC, but I am writing about it for As It Ought to Be, and when it posts, I will share it.

 

 

A Post-Election Train of Thought

As I write this, I am working on few hours of sleep.  My partner and I stayed pretty late at a field organizer’s house last night, watching the election slip away from Hillary Clinton as the GOP also maintained control of the House and  Senate. Yep, come January, the U.S. is looking at a far-right Republican Party controlling three branches of government and most likely the Supreme Court. As I write this, I am an hour and a half away from teaching Virigina Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” and “Professions for Women” in my Women’s Lit class. I will, of course, let them have an open, respectful discussion about the election, if they chose to. Teaching Woolf in this moment feels daunting. If you haven’t read either essay, here is as summary: Woolf declares that there have been so few female writers prior to her time in the early 20th Century because there was  not the economic or emotional space for women to write. They had to be mothers and/or  housewives, or if they did write, they had to face the crippling claims that women were not smart enough to write and publish.  Woolf goes so far in “A Room of One’s Own” to imagine if Shakespeare had as sister, born with the same talent and genius as he. If she went to the theater with a play she wrote, or if she wanted to act,  she would have been laughed right out the door. Woolf concludes that Shakespeare’s sister would have killed herself, due to the inability to fulfill her dreams and pursue her natural talent.

I don’t mean to be dire, but I knocked on a lot of doors, made a lot of phone calls, and did the usual campaign grunt work. I guess I can afford to feel a little down, after the campaign was so optimistic over the last few weeks, even after the Comey letter. I’m still unsure how to process this. I am bewildered and frightened by the FBI’s involvement in the election process, be it Comey’s press conference in July or the letter about 10 days prior to the election. I am alarmed at the massive hacks Wikileaks and possibly Russia committed against the DNC and Hillary campaign. I do wonder what other influences they will have on our election process going forward and how to prevent that. I am befuddled that the Democratic Party, with a president/figurehead who has a higher approval rating than when Reagan left office, STILL managed to lose the White House, and not only the White House, but the House and Senate, where they only needed FOUR pick-ups and had to defend far, far less seats than the GOP.

I am not ready yet to even ponder the future of the Democratic Party. I’ve been a part of it since I was 18 and worked on a number of campaigns. This loss, however, stings the worst, due to all that Trumps stands for. I have no idea what type of world we’ll be living in. I’m not optimistic the Dems can take back even one branch of government in 2018. The Senate map is nasty for them, frankly because they have to defend a ton of seats they won in 2012. The House is also an uphill slog, and Dems vote in even lower numbers during mid-terms. Still, I will get back to organizing,  fighting, and  reshaping the party. I hope others do, too, including the Bernie folks.

The Democratic Party is now post-Clinton and post-Obama. It has no figurehead, no well-known, younger leaders to direct it and craft a platform in preparation for 2018. It will have to get it together quick because the Dems are the only real check on Trump that remains, other than the lower courts. My main concern going forward is the lack of depth within the party, how thin the bench is, due to the fact Democrats have lost several mid-terms over the last several election cycles. Who will step up?

Regardless, I will keep putting in the work. I hope that others do, too. Find others in your community. Get together. Donate to causes that do good work for women’s rights, LGBT rights, immigrant rights, religious tolerance,  lower-income folks, etc, etc. They will be the groups most impacted by a Trump presidency and GOP-controlled Congress.

Right now, I’m going to get ready to teach Virginia Woolf, to have an honest, respectful discussion with my students about the election, if they want to have it, and then I’m going home to rest so I can get back to work.

 

 

Understanding the Trump Phenomenon

By now, the rest of the world must be looking at the United States, baffled that the  Republican Party is most likely going to nominate Donald Trump as its presidential nominee. After his Super Tuesday wins,  Trump has the momentum, and he is ahead in the delegate count. It is possible that Cruz or Rubio could still stop him, but that would be very, very difficult. Part of the reason Trump has had so much success and has secured so many delegates is because SO many Republicans ran for president this year, and so many of them were considered establishment candidates. First, the establishment pumped money into Jeb Bush, and then John Kasich for a brief period, and then most recently, Marco Rubio. Because the votes have been so divided among the anti-Trump, establishment contenders, it has made it impossible for one anti-Trump candidate to emerge. They are all splitting the votes.

However, Trump’s rise goes deeper than that, at serious ills facing the country, exacerbated by the Republican Party’s rhetoric over the last several years. Essentially, in the age of Obama, the GOP has made itself the anti-immigrant, very, very white party. In a time of rising economic inequality, and both political parties’ refusal to do much about it, the GOP has successfully scapegoated another group of people, primarily immigrants, turning white, working-class, Reagan Democrats against them. This idea is nothing new. In fact, African American scholar W.E.B. Du Bois talked about this very tactic in his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk, in which he analyzed the way Southern, one percenters pitted white, Southern, working-class Americans against African Americans in the Jim Crow South.

It is no surprise then that Donald Trump first made national headlines this campaign cycle by referring to Mexican immigrants as “rapists” and “drug dealers” over the summer, while promising to build a wall along the border and have Mexico pay for it. This should have immediately ended his campaign, but it didn’t. The rhetoric only gained him more supporters, and since then, his hateful language continued, as he promised to ban all Muslims from entering the country and said that a Black Lives Matter protestor deserved to be “roughed up.” Meanwhile, in the last week, a Time magazine reporter was choke slammed at one of his rallies, black students were removed from a rally in GA, and on and on. His rhetoric is indeed inciting violence and worsening divisions in this country.

Only VERY recently have GOP leaders seriously started to speak out against Trump. Former presidential candidate Mitt Romney gave a speech denouncing Trump as a fraud and phony. Sen. John McCain said Trump would pose a danger to America’s national security, and House Speaker Paul Ryan criticized Trump’s refusal to distance himself from David Duke, former KKK Grand Wizard who endorsed Trump.

Time ran one of the best editorials against Trump I have seen so far, focused on his bigotry. Perhaps the GOP bigwigs are FINALLY speaking out against Trump because his racism has become so old-fashioned and utterly apparent. The editorial states, “It’s easy to condemn Trump and Duke, and to be self-righteous in doing so. It allows us to point to the bad people over there while protecting our illusory innocence. We should have been outraged by Trump from the very beginning. But that would’ve required that we confront the ugliness in ourselves. Americans aren’t too keen on that. We prefer our illusions straight no chaser.”

Does Time magazine have a point there? Why was the David Duke incident what made GOP stalwarts like Joe Scarborough, Paul Ryan, and others finally denounce him? Why did they not do so over Trump’s comments about Mexican immigrants or plans to ban Muslims from entering the country? Were those comments what much of the GOP base wanted to hear all along? Do they only condemn Trump now because he is on the verge of being racist in “the old, American way of being racist?”

Trump is  a result of the GOP’s increasing shift to the right over the years, its failure to diversify the party, and its willingness to coalesce around older, white, working-class voters. Yet, it’s important to note that these voters have legitimate gripes, namely that the system is rigged, politicians are bought, and working-class jobs are gone. However, immigrants are not to blame. Bad trade deals, like NAFTA, are to blame for shipping those working-class jobs overseas, and there, both parties are at fault. Citizens United is one of the main factors that created such an influx of corporate money into our political system.

So now, it seems, it will be up to establishment candidate Hillary Clinton to stop Trump. Clinton better think long and hard, however, about the direction of the Democratic Party. It can no longer be complicit in dealing with economic inequalities that deepen the country’s racial divides. Though she has high unfavorables, it is likely Clinton will mobilize the Latino vote and black vote in the fall,  thanks to Trump’s ascension. She will owe them if she wins the White House. A clear, progressive economic plan and a serious immigration reform bill would be a good start.  Trump’s rallies have given us a glimpse of how anyone different would be scapegoated and treated in his America. That indeed is a horrifying thought.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Accessing Obama’s Legacy

Last night, President Obama gave his final State of the Union speech. I want to take some time to reflect on his seven years in office, as he nears the finish line and the country readies itself to elect someone in November to succeed him. Confession: I have always been an Obama supporter. I was a canvasser on his 2008 campaign and a canvass director for his 2012 campaign. I made lifelong friends through both campaigns, and generally, I think that he has governed with an even hand and level-headed temperament. That said, there are certainly mistakes he made during both terms, and at the end of his speech, he acknowledged one of his biggest regrets, which I’ll address later in this post.

First, it is important to consider where the country was when President Obama was sworn in in January 2009. Unemployment was around 10 percent. The country was bogged down in Iraq, and Wall Street crashed the world economy. (Please, go see The Big Short!) Obama’s campaign caught fire because the country was wary of George W. Bush, who left office with an approval rating in the 30s.  The genius of Obama’s first campaign could be found in its main slogan, “Yes, we can.” Simple, right? The country desperately needed optimism at the time, and here was a freshman senator from Illinois who toppled the establishment candidate in the primaries, Hillary Clinton. Here was  a fresh young voice who promised to govern differently and change politics as usual. It was a message that resonated, and Obama had a sweeping victory in 2008, one which increased the Democratic Party’s majorities in the Senate and House.

Obama’s promise to change politics and heal the divide harkened back to his 2004 Democratic Convention keynote address, in which he said that America shouldn’t be divided by red states and blue states. At the time, I was in college and wrote for the student newspaper. After the convention, I penned an editorial stating that Obama was a rising star in the party, presidential material. Four years later, he ran and won.

Yet, perhaps it can be said that President Obama’s promises of change and altering the political landscape to bring the parties together was naïve. In 2012, it was reported that on the day of President Obama’s first inauguration, Republican leaders, including  Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, new House Speaker Paul Ryan, former House Leader Eric Cantor, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, and others met to discuss how best to counter Obama. So just as his first term was beginning, the opposing party was deciding how best to stop his agenda.

The Republican’s main defense against the Obama Administration has been utter gridlock, especially after the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections, when they won control of Congress and a majority of state legislatures.  Congress has not done much and has a dismal approval rating. By doing nothing, the GOP-led Congress has made it seem like government is totally inefficient.  This has impacted the president, pulling down his approval rating, which has not climbed out of the 45 percent range much at all during both terms.

Still, the president managed to get re-elected again in 2012, by quite a large margin. If you look back on his seven years in office, there are a number of accomplishments. Unemployment is now around 5 percent. Gas prices are falling under $2 a gallon. Two progressive justices have been appointed to the Supreme Court. Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell was repealed. More Americans have health insurance. The auto industry is alive. Gay marriage is now legal, and recently, through executive action, new gun laws are on the books, including stronger background checks, which most Americans, including gun owners favor.

Last night, the president’s final SOTU address was meant to counter the pessimism and sour mood plaguing the country. Despite lower unemployment, Americans don’t feel like they’re getting a fair shake. The economic crash and the bailout proved just how rigged the game is. Meanwhile, wages have remained stagnant since the Reagan years. This is why Bernie Sanders has so much support on the left and why Trump is so popular on the right. People are mad, feeling as though the change the president promised in 2008, the message of “Yes, we can” never panned out.

Yet, Obama’s legacy is quite impressive. Still, though, Obama was naïve to think dissolving the divide in Washington would be easy, or even possible. Near the end of his speech last night, he admitted that one regret he has is that the political environment is just as bad or even more toxic than when got to the White House. He offered some solutions, such as campaign finance reform to get big money out of politics and ending gerrymandering. However, it’s not likely any of that will happen soon, especially in an election year.

Right now, the country is mad as hell and doesn’t want to take it anymore. This is an election year in which anything could happen. Trump may very well be the Republican nominee and Sanders could beat Clinton. Latest polling shows him close to her in Iowa and beating her in New Hampshire, the first two primary states. Yet, voters would do well to remember where the country was in 2008. Certainly, we’re better off than where we were. Still, there is work to be done, especially on fairer wages and boiling racial tensions. The president also reminded Americans that in a Jeffersonian, representative democracy, citizen participation is a must. That is what the whole “Yes, we can” slogan was all about. In 2008, too many voters thought that electing one candidate who promised change would quell all of the country’s woes, but it’s more complicated than that. No candidate elected this November will be able to fix everything. That requires real citizen engagement, which is work. Is the country up to the task, or do citizens just want to be angry, vote for the loudest candidate, and then go back to being unengaged the day after the election?

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bernie Sanders and the Politics of Election Cycles and Celebrity

It’s starting to feel like 2008 again. Only, instead of Shepard Ferry’s Hope and Change posters, we have numerous articles, including this one from the Huffington Post, about Bernie Sanders’s rise in the polls and the possibility that he could defeat Hillary Clinton in the primary. He’s closing the gap in New Hampshire and Iowa. Other articles have reported on the massive size of his campaign rallies.

One thing can be said. Sanders has energized his base. The size of his rallies and the money he’s raising offer proof of that. I, too, am excited about Sanders. He’s the only self-identified socialist in the Senate, and when he speaks about economic equality for all, I believe what he says.

That said, I have one big concern. The left in this country tends to get very excited every four years during presidential election cycles. They fell in love  with Obama in 2008, and then after the election, the left went silent, other than the Occupy Movement and some other movements here and there, which formed as a response to the left’s disillusionment with the president and the widening economic inequality. Then, in 2012, activists knocked on doors again and helped re-elect Obama. After the election, however, they went away.

Here’s the thing: if Sanders is somehow elected to the White House, he most likely will accomplish less than Obama did in his first term. To his credit, Obama passed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, Obamacare, and bailed out Detroit, all within his first two years in office, before his party lost the House and nearly lost the Senate in the 2010 mid-term elections. When he was elected in 2008, his party had a super-majority in the House and a majority in the Senate. If Sanders is elected, he will face a divided government. It is highly unlikely the Democrats will win back the House, though retaking the majority in the Senate seems likely. However, the Dem’s Senate majority is likely to be 1-3 seats, and the Senate landscape in the 2018 mid-term elections will favor Republicans, due, in part because Democrats will have more seats to defend. Whatever big proposals Sanders puts forth would most likely die in the House or get filibustered in the Senate.

After Obama was elected in 2008, I hoped there would be a sustainable movement, one that would push him even more to the left. Instead, there was the rise of the Tea Party Movement. Then, after the 2012 election, I held out hope again, and even the Obama campaign tried to make OFA (Organizing for America) into a long-term movement. However, that never happened.

The left needs to learn what the right has known for years. Electoral politics, especially at the national level, are only part of the puzzle. Movements are what create and sustain change. While I am happy that Bernie Sanders has reignited the national debate about income inequality, I have a major concern that the left is once again ready to funnel all of its energy into supporting a candidate, hoping he will create lasting change. If Sanders is to have any real, lasting impact beyond this election cycle, then he needs to encourage his supporters to keep the momentum going well beyond election season. He must encourage movement building.

We’ve seen the left rise up during Occupy and Black Lives Matter, but the tents in Zuccotti Park were swept away by Bloomberg and the NYPD a few months into the movement, and the fate of the Black Lives Matter movement is uncertain, though thus far, it has had more of an impact and has sustained itself far longer than Occupy. There is potential for something bigger. If Sanders can somehow channel the energy of his campaign crowds into something sustainable, then he will achieved something more important than a campaign victory and a seat in the White House. He will have ignited a movement that has been bubbling under the surface in this country for years.