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Comments by Wade McKenzie
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On “Keith Spencer: …data shows that a centrist Democrat would be a losing candidate – Salon.com

Can't say I cared much either, but Spencer's text was such a blatant piece of propaganda that I felt the appropriate response was ridicule. He doesn't really "describe" an "electorate bifurcated along class lines, etc." but rather supposes it--allegedly on the basis of Piketty's authoritative masterpiece of a report--and, of course, that supposition happily affirms his pre-existing commitment to what can adequately be summarized as Trotskyism. It's a joke.

On the other hand, one can't help but wonder if this isn't an early outrider in the genre of crafting a narrative to be deployed in the event the Democrats lose the 2020 election. In this instance, the author would be proposing that said narrative take the form that the explanation for the loss ought to be that the Democratic nominee was insufficiently Trotskyist. Again, 'tis silly stuff.

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"The Republican Party has earned a reputation as the anti-science, anti-fact party"

One third of the way in to Mr. Spencer's first sentence--and we know immediately we're reading a piece of the utmost sobriety...

Spencer's piece is essentially an argument from authority--in this case, the authority of "data", indeed "hard data", and even (breathtakingly) "mounds of data"; helpfully compiled for us by that superstar of contemporary data-driven social "science", Thomas Piketty. Though it's wisely, if not perhaps widely, understood that contemporary data-driven social "science" is an enterprise of unimpressive stature, Spencer's affection for it is--shall we say--affecting.

So, Spencer’s point--on the authority of Piketty’s "mounds of data"--is that, if the Democrats will only nominate a candidate of Trotskyite persuasion, then he/she/zhe will obtain a sweeping victory. Speaking as one whose socialism tends to the "false consciousness" Straßerite variety, I hope they’ll do so. Let’s conduct the experiment and see if Piketty’s right...

I shan't belabor further my annoyance with Spencer's drivel, except to address en passant the only curiosity that emerged as I read it--namely, the strange phenomenon of apparently bona fide and old-time socialism in the state of Oklahoma. Well, what can one say--except that the denizens of Oklahoma haven't exactly earned a reputation for wisdom of a political or any other kind, now have they?

On “Eli Zaretsky: Trump’s Charisma – LRB Blog

"Most important, the Democratic candidate must convey a sense that he or she will fulfil the promise of 2008: not piecemeal reform but a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking."

I think the naivety of supposing that anyone--anyone at all--can at this juncture bring to pass "a genuine, full-scale change in America’s way of thinking" almost goes without saying--let alone that anyone in the current slate of Democratic candidates could perform such an Archimedean task. The sort of comprehensive transformation of "America’s way of thinking" that Mr. Zaretsky advocates presupposes a unitary something that is "America". "America" is irremediably divided against itself--ever-increasingly by rival ethnic and racial blocs, though no division surpasses that between the white bohemian bourgeoisie and the white working class.

"Finally, the candidate must speak to Americans’ sense of self-respect linked to social justice and inclusion."

Here the author evinces the flaw that vexes most contemporary political commentary; namely, the casual assumption that one's own political/ethno-racial faction is "America" simpliciter--in this case, the "progressive" white and Jewish bohemian bourgeoisie whose "self-respect" is so closely "linked to social justice and inclusion". But "social justice and inclusion" are euphemisms of a factional political ideology that, though widely influential among America's ruling elite, is mostly detested outside the confines of said elite and its bobo fellow travelers.

I'll give Zaretsky some credit. Despite his predictable anti-Trump stance, his piece does represent a stab at relatively sober political analysis. I think the contention that "...Trump’s ‘insecurity’, his unending struggle with those who question his legitimacy, is integral to his charisma" is a valuable insight. One wonders, however, if his recourse to Freudianism doesn't fatally undermine his argument. For example, Zaretsky is quite clear that both Donald Trump and Barack Obama are "charismatic" figures--in fact, he asserts that Obama is possessed of an even greater charisma than Trump. Thus his analysis cum critique of Trump on the line of Weberian "charisma" must apply equally well to Obama. Mark the following passage:

"Freud showed in his book on mass psychology that in democratic societies the charismatic bond may rest on an appeal to frustrated or unfulfilled narcissism. The followers idealise the leader as they once – in childhood – idealised themselves. Etc."

Overlooking the dubious character of Freudian psychology, this is obviously intended to be a criticism of Trump-as-political-phenomenon; but mutatis mutandis it must be true of Obama and his supporters as well. Zaretsky tries to overcome this contradiction by suggesting that some charismatic leaders--presumably including Obama--appeal to their supporters' good sides while other charismatic leaders--like Trump--appeal to their supporters' bad sides, but that badly begs the question and ultimately reduces Zaretsky's piece to a factional rhetorical exercise.

The real issue here is that whereas Trump is possessed of a genuine "charisma"--for good or ill--Obama was just another establishmentarian pol. His veneer of charisma had everything to do with the fact that American whites are programmed to feign receptivity toward blacks, and in Obama--as Joe Biden so gamely put it--they had finally found a "clean and articulate" black to lionize. Obama went on to govern, not as a charismatic leader of course, but rather as a "pragmatic manager"--as Zaretsky admits. The choice before the U.S. electorate in 2020 won't be between rival visions of charismatic leadership. It will feature instead a charismatic and disruptive figure--Donald Trump--and a yet to be determined uncharismatic Democrat who will seek to continue, and perhaps intensify, a long-established mode of governance. Electorates in democracies throughout the world (see, for example, the recent election in India) are more and more disaffected by the latter prospect.

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