Mirror, Mirror, On The Wall…

Trump is President. To avoid repeating the causes of Trump winning requires knowing what the causes were.

Liberals point at the FBI, Russian interference, the electoral college, racists and sexists, Trump voters, and also Trump haters who were too busy excoriating Clinton to urge voting against Trump. Radicals point at mainstream media, the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the electoral system, corporate power, and neo-Nazis. Advocates for lesser evil voting point at arguers against lesser evil voting. Advocates of abstaining or voting Green everywhere point at lesser evil voters. Critics of single issue politics point at people who emphasize one or another single issue. Advocates of a single issue point at those who didn’t highlight their preferred issue enough. Those who predicted Trump could win point at those who guaranteed Trump would lose. Those who guaranteed Trump would lose point at those who excoriated Trump. Those who pleaded Trump would be a disaster point at those who claimed Trump would be just another president. Those who celebrated that Trump-hating would rejuvenate radicalism point at Trump-defilers’ “debilitating negativity.” Nearly all who regret Trump winning urge that we let bygones be bygones and go forward.

Consider all those who would love to write an obituary for the FBI, who know Russia’s reasons of state only pursue elite benefit, who abhor the Democratic Party, who call Clinton a war criminal, who call Trump a barbarian, who warned Trump could win, who urged lesser evil voting, who offered positive aims, who fight for the entwined importance of race, gender, and class and against prioritizing any one above the rest, who seek multi-issue, multi-tactic, cross constituency and cross-border solidarity and activism, and who oppose mainstream media and support alternative media. Considering only familiar reasons, such folks were not even a partial proximate cause of Trump winning. But are there other reasons for Trump’s victory to consider?

Radical leftists are not even a smidgen at fault for the rich exploiters who voted for Trump. Or for the powerful trend makers who did so. Or for the pathologically depraved on account of their being grotesquely deprived who did so. But what about that any black people voted for Trump, or that any Latinos did, or that so incredibly many white women and men voted for Trump? What caused those realities? To answer, we have to look at more than the last year.

Consider only people who for whatever reasons know quite a lot about fascism and even more about current society. Only people who are intent on winning fundamental social change around race, gender, and economy. Only people who favor anti-authoritarian approaches, who favor full classlessness, and who know the difference between Trump and Clinton. Only people who devote themselves to communicating with others about the need to win change. Only people who know a lot about popular mindsets, feelings, and motivations. Does even that group need to reassess?

Am I circling the wagons and pointing at allies and self rather than only at more obvious causes of Trump winning? To correct our failings we must acknowledge them. But do any individuals, organizations, or outlets urge correcting their own prior failings as part of mounting an effective opposition? If everyone avoids identifying their own choices as contributions to Trump’s victory, won’t our own choices remain as they were?

Is finding fault with ourselves more painful than spinning nightmare scenarios of Trumpian apocalypse? More painful than piling on essay after essay documenting coming disasters to audiences who already know how horrible Trump will be? More painful than finger pointing at everyone other than ourselves? More painful than calling for unity while shrouding our own past mistakes?

  1. As an anti sexist feminist I look at Trump’s female vote and I ask myself, what did we do wrong over months, years, and literally a half century during which we have been trying to develop feminist awareness and commitment? Why have five decades of feminist efforts left society with so many women and men who did not cry out at Trump’s obviously misogynistic intentions? Have we polarized away potential allies too often? Have we attracted potential allies, but conveyed insufficient clarity and commitment for them to stay? Were our feminist values, aims, or methods flawed? Does anyone believe that in five decades we could not have done better? Doesn’t it follow that rather than bemoaning the choice of women and men who voted for Trump, we should ask what we ought to change about how we make demands and organize about gender so we attract rather than repel those who don’t agree? Being morally and socially right for decades about the scope of society’s gender injustices hasn’t created an unstoppable tide against sexism. Perhaps we need to say more about medium and long run goals. Perhaps we need to seek feminist outcomes in ways that put off fewer potential allies and pull more constituencies more sustainably into feminist commitment. Can we find a way to talk about gender that doesn’t polarize away men and neglect other social phenomena like class and race?
  2. As an anti racist internationalist I look at the admittedly small numbers of low or modest income blacks and Latinos confused about Trump and I wonder how any could exist. I look at the relatively modest support from Blacks for Sanders against Clinton  – which was part of the whole election turning out as it did – and I wonder how that too could exist. And while I certainly understand considerable racism still existing in various white constituencies, I see the relative lack of fury at Trump’s racism, Islamophobia, and immigrant bashing, and I have to wonder, again, how can that exist? Has decades of anti racist organizing not tried often enough to reach whites who resisted the appeals due to our preaching overwhelmingly only where we already have a receptive audience? Have our messages too often failed due to their tone or substance alienating those we meant to reach? Have anti-racist communities been pursuing too narrow an understanding, thus concluding Clinton was preferable to Sanders? Have anti racist values, aims, or methods been flawed? Does anyone believe that in over a half century we could not have done better? Rather than bemoaning the choices of whites who voted for Trump, shouldn’t we ask what we ought to change about how we make demands and organize about race so we attract rather than repel those who don’t agree? Being morally and socially right for decades about the scope of racism’s ills hasn’t created an unstoppable tide against racism. Perhaps we need to say more about medium and long run goals. Can we find a way to talk and make demands about race that doesn’t polarize away white people and that better accounts for other social phenomena like class and gender?
  3. As an anti capitalist I look at a narcissistic billionaire bully attracting tens of millions of working class votes and I wonder how that could exist. How could five decades of anti capitalist organizing leave so many workers susceptible to Trump’s rhetoric and posturing? Was it something about our substance, such as not sufficiently addressing what working people feel and experience in ways they relate to? Was it something about our approach, such as giving off hostility toward working people quite like what they daily encounter from authority figures in hospitals, courts, and workplaces? Why when working people are furious at their plight do anti capitalists have little connection to and often even little empathy for workers’ rising fury? When Clinton called working class Trump supporters deplorable was she manifesting sentiments widely held on the left? What must we change about how we talk about, make demands about, and organize about class and economy so we reach those who don’t yet agree? Does anyone believe that in a half century we could not have done better? Rather then bemoaning the choice of working class people who voted for Trump, shouldn’t we ask what we ought to change about how we make demands and organize about class and economy so we attract rather than repel those who don’t agree? Being morally and socially right for five decades about capitalism’s horrors hasn’t created an unstoppable tide against class oppression. Perhaps we need to say more about medium and long run goals. Perhaps we need ways to seek anti capitalist outcomes that put off fewer potential allies and pull more constituencies more sustainably into anti classist commitment. Can we talk and make demands about economy in ways that don’t polarize away workers, and that don’t ignore other social phenomena like gender and race? Could the issue be part style and part substance, with both parts owing to inadequately understanding the situation of workers and being too dismissive of them, and perhaps even aspiring to be above them both in the movement and in a new economy?
  4. Finally, I look at progressive and left writing over the past year and I see a lot of people saying that Trump has a silver lining. Trump will galvanize us. Trump is just another ruling class lackey same as the rest. And, not voting in contested states or voting for Stein in contested states was a wise choice. I wonder how the callousness such views display toward those who will most suffer Trump’s fascistic inclinations and ecological madness could exist. I wonder how such confusion about the prospects of movements trying to seek radical progress against a right wing thug rather than against a liberal woman could exist. How such views can exist for radicals immersed in left literature and activism? I wonder what those of us who knew better have done that has caused us to fail to reach the commentators who have offered such suicidal views? I wonder how months, years, or decades of involvement in radicalism could leave so many thinking such confused thoughts? I wonder what has been wrong with the accumulated sum total literature and practice of all the left’s many parts, some of which I feel responsible for both as a left writer and speaker and as a left publisher, such that a good many left commentators and incredibly many young radicals could be highly versed in all that radical output and yet nonetheless hold the views many have been propounding.

Here is the bottom line. If what we each acknowledge and seek to change includes only things like FBI machinations, Russian hacking, electoral college imposition, and everything other than traits of our own, then we won’t alter much of the decades long movement practices that allowed for 1-4 above to occur. But 1-4 are issues we must solve to attain lasting success in the future.

That we need to look in the mirror seems evident.


  1. Mary Nelson February 26, 2017 1:30 am 

    I understand from Robin Dunbar’s The Human Story that studies of human social networks have determined that there’s a limit on the “natural” size of human social groups. Our cognitive capacity allows about 150 members — the number of individuals with whom any one of us can maintain stable relationships. Might this be a factor in what we’re dealing with here?

  2. avatar
    Paul D January 8, 2017 7:31 pm 


    Thanks. You raise a lot of good points. Related to Item four in you essay, a greater problem with the left, at least in most English-language internet discourse over the past couple years is that the left has adopted litmus-test-level views that are increasingly difficult to distinguish from the Trump-populist-right. This includes widespread approval of some vile characters who are not the least bit “left” by any definition such as the violent dictator Assad and the capitalist gangster Putin. Their views are backed by an infantile perspective that the USA is the sole source of all that is bad in the world – supported by healthy doses of fake information and conspiratorialism. Far worse is that many on the left are turning into little Robert Ludlums and Tom Clancys – obsessed with spooky state-power politics and “great man” theorizing that totally robs masses of organized workers around the world of agency.

    Related to this is a seemingly inability to deal with the complexity of issues. Attempts to inject some of that complexity into a discussion get one accused of obfuscation and “muddying the waters” (and consequently being a “shill” for US imperialism and the like)

    I lay much of the blame for this descent of so much of the “left” into infantility on the internet – notably social media and especially the 140-charcter idoocy of Twitter – which has blanketed humanity with disinformation, misinformation and utterly fake informaiton that rivals the dark ages of Europe. Could we be entering a new dark age of myth and superstition?

  3. Brent Irving January 6, 2017 2:53 pm 

    After thinking about this some more and while waiting for my initial comment to pass moderation (perhaps it was too long and admittedly somewhat stumbling ), and as F Lengyel said I cannot edit it, I am more convinced the lack of understanding in human psychology, particularly the psychology of persuasion, has been the biggest failing of the left. Another thing I first heard from Lakoff was that many on the right go to business school. Many on the left take arts and sciences. People in business school take marketing and human behaviour, another term for how to get people to think and behave the way you want them to. People in arts and science take courses on critical thinking. How does the business community try to persuade people. Just watch commercials on television. It is not by presenting all the facts and the logical arguments which is how the left usually operates. It is emotional. I think the left, including myself, sees these techniques as malicious or unsavoury. I still call marketing professional lying. And of course it is often quite horrific. Think of selling things in oversized packages half full of product as we preach reduce, reuse recycle. Think of convincing people that smoking or drinking is cool. So the left finds these techniques repulsive. But the right wins using them.
    I remember a while back The Foundation for Critical Thinking tried to introduce critical thinking courses into the US school curriculum and failed. As they state here http://www.criticalthinking.org/pages/defining-critical-thinking/766
    “The Problem
    Everyone thinks; it is our nature to do so. But much of our thinking, left to itself, is biased, distorted, partial, uninformed or down-right prejudiced. Yet the quality of our life and that of what we produce, make, or build depends precisely on the quality of our thought. Shoddy thinking is costly, both in money and in quality of life. Excellence in thought, however, must be systematically cultivated. “
    So perhaps the radical left has different tactics it can pursue. Try and create a world where people become much better trained in critical thinking, perhaps by gaining power and introducing it in the school system and/or trying to figure out what other cognitive theories of persuasion it can tolerate and use. I am just delving into this topic myself so do not have a lot of insights. Perhaps people here know psychologists or marketers that can offer more.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert January 8, 2017 2:09 pm 

      Regarding editing your comments. Try this. Log in. Go to upper left top and click the link labeled z communications at the very top. Scroll down to the link on the left side for comments. Find yours. Click to edit.

      • avatar
        Paul D January 8, 2017 6:48 pm 


        Thanks for the editing procedure. I’m pretty clumsy on a keyboard and sometimes need to correct typos. But I don’t see any link on the left side for comments under “Z Communications”.

        • avatar
          James January 9, 2017 12:29 am 

          I found comments under “recent” in the red, top left, but not top top left. But could not edit.

      • avatar
        Michael Albert January 9, 2017 12:42 am 

        Then click dashboard, then continue.

        • avatar
          Paul D January 9, 2017 5:50 am 

          I see nothing labeled “dashboard”.

  4. avatar
    James January 6, 2017 2:28 pm 

    “Consider only people who for whatever reasons know quite a lot about fascism and even more about current society. Only people who are intent on winning fundamental social change around race, gender, and economy. Only people who favor anti-authoritarian approaches, who favor full classlessness, and who know the difference between Trump and Clinton. Only people who devote themselves to communicating with others about the need to win change. Only people who know a lot about popular mindsets, feelings, and motivations. Does even that group need to reassess?”

    If these mythical people above can’t get it right, who the hell can? So do they even need to reassess…no…yes?

    “If everyone avoids identifying their own choices as contributions to Trump’s victory, won’t our own choices remain as they were?”


    How does one even respond to such an essay? It reads as if there is some kind of coherent coordinated “we” out there. Or perhaps it’s suggesting the opposite, that there isn’t one, yet should be, the kind Paul Street is hoping for? Self assessing is hard enough for organisations with clear boundaries, entrances and exits, but for some amorphous “we” or a bunch of disparate elements, where would one start, or even how? And how would any reassessment, or self reflection, be communicated and who would be involved in the reassessing, the critique, the nitty gritty, making the hard calls and how would anyone be certain they are right in their assessments and hard calls?

    Or maybe everyone who considers themselves a member of the Left, in some org, or group, or whatever, is actually already doing exactly what the essay above suggests. Maybe they are doing it their own ways. Maybe they are doing it in all kinds of diverse ways, How would anyone bloody know?

    Where’s the forum…the place where all this effort gets collated and communicated…the Wobblies once had the ear of the oppressed, early twentieth cent, thereabouts…they found it hard going to get the one big union up…one gets a sense of their decline over the century in Anatole Dolgoff’s bio of his dad. One gets a sense of something when one reads doting eulogy after doting eulogy about Castro…this sense that overseers, protectors of liberty and charismatic leaders are what’s needed…Sanders? OR? The “Left” has done a shit job perhaps of convincing people over 150 years or so they can run their own lives truly democratically…in small pockets, culturally specific regions possibly, here and there, but not on a large scale. Trump’s a charismatic dude, an arsehole perhaps, but…what does this mythical “Left”, this disparate group of whatever, have to offer other than the odd successful campaign or “camp out”? Really? That convinces most on the bottom that their lives will be better if they jump on? Pointing to the Zapatistas over in the Chiapas doesn’t do it. What will?

    Same questions really. Your essay is impossible to answer really. There is no way of doing it, this self reflection, because there is no coordinated “Left” nor vehicle through which it can occur. You just go round in circles, like this comment.

    • avatar
      James January 6, 2017 11:22 pm 

      Maybe a musical analogy.

      Most popular music is constructed from tried and true and very very familiar harmonic structures. Chord progressions for the non musical. Folk music is the typical example and most if not all pop music is actually just folk music in electrical disguise.

      Most songs are pretty much the same things. The salad is much the same, just change the dressing. Lenin may have been a worse dictator than Castro, but the psychologically dulling effect on the populace may have been much the same.

      Pop music can dull the senses in much the same way…the same way a nice simple inoffensive four four beat around 120-130 bpm (beats per minute) is a nice dancing tempo. Raves utilise the four to the flour method. Duff, duff, duff, duff…and again, and again, and again. Introduce something more complicated and watch the crowd run for the hills. “Hey guys, listen to this Derek Bailey free improvisation” you suggest…then notice the instantaneous disinterest and the chatter begin as they ignore it. Anything really different…OMG, you call that music. Give me four four. Give me discipline and some nice threads man.

      It’s fucking easy to listen to Dylan, Young and Cohen and think you’re onto something…that they have some insight into the human condition or even something revolutionary to say. Listening to it you get lost in revolutionary romance and feel good about yourself. It makes you cry. But the world is the same as it was the instant the song finishes, if not worse. In fact, the song is a way to distractfrom serious shit, and the very vehicle that the “artist” (notice they like to call themselves that as opposed to just song writers) uses to build a huge bank account, allowing access to many wonderful things, if not perpetuating the system itself , even if the song alludes to critique of it and “The Man”. Rock n Roll all the way to the bank. A “revolutionary” music that built a whole new elite class of celebrity performers off the appropriation of the pure, necessary culture building musical doodlings of an oppressed race. Musical slavery.

      No, one must be able to tap the foot, move that arse, and whistle the melody home on the bus. If it doesn’t do that, then fuck it. No, the huge amount of real revolutionary and radical musical doodlings of the twentieth century goes undetected and unnoticed because it eschews those elements that make for commodity exchange on a mass level and profit. It pursues real democratic creative process, even if the composer herself exhibits dictatorial control over their output…the thing is they weren’t towing the line and homogenising their creative choices for monetary gain, like Dylan did. Like all pop “artists” do. They were doing it because they had to regardless of the economic consequences.

      There is something in the psyche of the left radical too, that prefers “This Land Is Our Land” to a purely radically performed piece of free improvisation that occurs as a result of the free association of diverse musical elements and players. No, most people, in the radical revolutionary world as much as those outside it, want the familiar, the well structured, the easy bake oven that churns out the usual and fosters the same kind of thinking about how shit can get done in the world…that we need the skilled and expert to not just advise, but to lead, and possibly even rule.

      So how do you get the truly diverse to act in unison without homogenising and hierarchicalising everything? How do you convince that the lyric-less meanderings of a fifty minute long free improvisation is actually the aural representation of revolutionary commitment, while a Tom Morello acoustic version of This Land Is Our Land, is merely the reassertion of the status quo thinking that gets people like Trump sitting on the throne.

    • avatar
      Michael Albert January 8, 2017 1:54 pm 


      You ask how someone might react to this essaay, saying it is basically impossible. I don’t understand why you think that. It seems to me there are many pretty obvious ways one might comment, or simply think on one’s own, or write independently, and be actually reacting to this article. An alternative would be to write or think ostensibly in reaction to it, but essentially orthogonal to it.

      So, most direct, couldn’t one ask oneself and try to answer for oneself, about one’s own choices or actions over the years, or about various organization’s choices or actions over the years, the questions raised in the article?

      Or couldn’t one say wait, the questions the article raises as important, the focuses for reevaluating our past and perhaps altering our choices in the present and future, are wrong…unnecessary, ANDD then say why.

      Or perhaps one could claim, as you seem to at one point, that the revaluation callled for is indeed needed, but that it is underway and progressing nicely AND provide some reason for thinking that that is so, for example by pointing to any individual or group that appears to be doing it, rather than only critiquing Trump and large forces and factors other than self… Such examples may well exist, but I haven’t seen them.

      I have heard from some, to my surprise, yes, we should look at our own choices, but why didn’t you? But, of course, what else was I doing when raising the four areas and asking if we, obviously including myself, hadn’t very seriously erred and fallen way short regarding each? One way of failing on each would be to have had harmful views or habits. Another way would have been to have known the problems and even tried to adddress them, but fallen horribly short. That is easiest to see regarding the fourth point – one knew the danger of Trump, the disaster his election would entail and its serious possibility and failed to convey it well, as compared to one didn’t know it at all, or denied it – though it applies to the other three issues as well.

      So now I will add a fifth somewhat tangential but also important area of concern people on the left including myself might well consider. We too often prattle on with our own momentary or even long felt views, ignoring what others actually say even when we claim to be engaging with them or their words. And as with the other four points, here too, one could be complicit in the problem itself, or one could have been aware of it, but ineffectual in making others aware and thereby helping to correct it.

      • avatar
        James January 9, 2017 2:06 am 

        Michael, thanks for replying,

        Maybe I should not have said impossible. Maybe virtually impossible. Certainly not impossible for individuals to assess, in areas like electoral voting as only one very very specific example, but even the debate surrounding that wasn’t very pretty and people held ground. Maybe they reflect now and say ok, but maybe they don’t. There is a blog at IOPS that reflects on what may be needed through self reflection perhaps. But who’s reading that?

        My reaction to that was pretty much the same as here. Individuals, groups can all reflect and find errors in judgement and wrong choices. People do that all the time. You say you haven’t read any. Maybe they don’t write, or blog or maybe you’re not reading those sites…who knows? People may indeed be conversing about it amongst themselves. At meetings and shit. But without any unified movement communicating with each other it just becomes what everyone does anyway, act disparately all over the deck with no real coordination or coherence, separately from one another, groups and orgs all, in isolation as Cynthia Peters once suggested somewhere! So any kind of corrections or change to choices due to self reflection may never be known widely, or even, worse yet, if it is being done at all, be, well, wrong ones…

        My real,point is you can’t know in advance whether you are or are not doing the right things, can you? Even looking back over five decades the question what’s to be done remains, even looking back 150 years…theory (clear easy to understand coherent theory), vision (clear and easy to understand coherent vision) leading to strategy (clear easy to understand coherent theory)…all three cause controversy, arguments and splits. All the time, all over the place. One reads about a vision, thinks it great, yeah that’s the one, then, wham, someone’s letting you know how wrong you are, and that’s if you are taking the inordinate amount of time needed to read all the visionary stuff.

        I agree with what you are suggesting to a point, but feel any answers will merely create the same crap and arguing that has always kept the left disunited. Imagine if Sanders went the whole hog, threw caution to the wind, jumped in bed with you…what would happen? Why would he do that anyway, he doesn’t agree with many of your positions obviously, or he’s to scared to embrace them…

        No-one figured out why IOPS failed, in my opinion, and it had a whole wealth of reflection and thought behind it with the plethora of ideas that came from the reimagining society initiative.

        Why has the “left” failed now when it failed immediately after the 2008 crisis, nearly a decade ago? Occupy went nowhere? Seattle obviously went nowhere? As soon as you critique movements or initiatives you get hammered often for not having anything positive in the pipeline or not being a real hard on the ground foot soldier type…so what’s in the pipeline?

        Next System Project? Is that the future? I rarely hear people talk about it or see anyone like Paul Street write about it, or George Lakey or anyone…Wallerstein doesn’t even know about it. Is it not that important? Why? I’m not talking about just being favourable either, I’m talking critically? Street wants a unified movement and quickly because we need to change things quickly…well, why not start writing about what is needed in that area…I’ve commented repeatedly about his lack in that area…what vision do you want? Why? How can you sell it to the workers you worked with for pitiful pay when you had that shitty job for a while? When you say eco-socialsm what do you mean exactly? Be clear and easy to understand because people won’t fucking listen otherwise and they will have a multitude of frustrating questions so be prepared to hang in… but who am I? Just a fuckwit who comments here now and then.

        What’s the remnants of the Occupy movement doing? Where are they? What of the Organisation for a Free Society, where are they and what are they doing in regards to self reflection? All the plethora of anarchist groups arguing among themselves? To be a platformist or not to be a platformist. How many radicals of an anarchist or pareconist or other radical persuasion have joined OR and are trying to change it from the inside? How successful are they? Why would an anarchist join that org anyway? Where do I go to read about that?

        A central place like IOPS could be good to utilise at least.

        How do you go from reflections on Standing Rock and its success (kind of) to a larger more unified movement with far loftier and needed goals as Paul Street writes? Where’s the plethora of essays around that conundrum? What is needed to get that done as quickly as so many say is needed?

        Yeah, my comments are long, more conversational actually, that doesn’t work so well in these forums…but as you can see, I haven’t totally left…but t’s nt eady answering these questions or reflecting on choices if there is no conversation on a wider scale…but perhaps that’s what doesn’t actually happen…conversation…it’s all short sweet concise, “yes I agree with you Michael, well said”, comments and then not much else. With conversation you can tweeze shit out perhaps.

        But who is talking to who and for how long…everybody is oh so very very busy aren’t they and I don’t really get the feeling this amorphous mythical “left”, this “we” even exists, let alone even wants to talk to each another.

        But there is a space for conversation at the IOPS website if people want to join and carry on…drop wads and wads of ennui perhaps, sometimes it helps…it’s ok…the world doesn’t look like it’s changing any time soon.

  5. F Lengyel January 4, 2017 4:22 pm 

    It is a fair question to ask how to emancipate the oppressed without writing off so many potential allies. Based on my experience, I agree with Michael Albert that self reflection is in order.

    Concerning how so many people could vote against their interests, Hebert Gintis wrote that, in certain situations of betrayed trust, people will punish transgressors at some cost to themselves. Ginitis says this is the flip side of cooperation, and gives road rage as an example.

    He could have applied this insight, coming from game theory, to explain why some voters vote against their interests. I suspect this is the case, at least for this election: there was the impression that “liberals, etc” were going to get what was coming to them.

    But curiously, after acknowledging that voting is “irrational” by the game-theoretic standard of expected utility maximization, he doesn’t conclude that voting against one’s interest is a case of punishing transgressors at some cost to oneself–that this arises out of the cooperative circumstances of voting. Instead, he essentially reverts to non-cooperative game theory and asserts that poor and working class conservative voters are voting their interests: they’re being rational.

    But there was too much anger and vindictiveness, some of it overtly encouraged and manipulated in this election,to rule out the element of punishing transgressors at some cost to oneself .

    • avatar
      Michael Albert January 5, 2017 5:41 pm 

      I happen to know Herb very well…and yes, certainly punishing known transgressors was part of it. But I suspect that kind of choice is what you have in mind when it is spur of the moment, as in your road rage example… My guess is those voting for Trump didn’t actually feel they were not voting their interests because they doubted both that he would be as bad as he will be, and that Clinton would be better. I suspect, in fact, that many thought Trump would blow up usual relations and act on his promises – with improved results of many sorts. That people could feel that says a lot about media, obviously, but also about the inability of we who knew better, during the year of the election, and for so many years before, to convey the relevant insights and information – which was the point of the article.

      • F Lengyel January 5, 2017 7:58 pm 

        I wish I had the ability to edit comments–I was repetitive.

        Road rage might not have been the best example if leads ineluctably to the conclusion (incorrect in my view) that punishing transgressors at some cost to oneself is necessarily impulsive and spur-of-the-moment. That’s a distraction–it’s not necessarily spur of the moment.

        But both voting one’s interests and some element of retribution were present.

        The larger point is to emancipate the oppressed without also writing off allies and potential allies–I’m in complete agreement with your 1–4.

        I became a sustainer because you have been addressing these issues for some time.

        • avatar
          Michael Albert January 6, 2017 1:08 pm 

          I see. And yes, I have been addressing these issues incessantly for ages, which raises the question, made clear in point 4, I think, but relevant to all of them, why have my efforts had such modest effect, and ditto for others who have tried? What is missing from our words or deeds…. Maybe there is a clue in the relative lack of response to this piece itself…

          • F Lengyel January 8, 2017 4:35 pm 

            What’s missing? Specific examples of positions and exchanges that tend to alienate potential allies, and suggestions for how they might be conducted differently–or not at all, given the political opportunity costs involved.

            I could offer my own examples–for now my fear of being stigmatized is inhibiting.

            • avatar
              Michael Albert January 9, 2017 12:40 am 

              I have done it, often. This was to prod thought not provide answers.

            • avatar
              Paulo Rodriguez January 10, 2017 4:57 pm 

              For what’s worth, I thought the exact same thing, and abstained because not only such exchanges are all over the place… but also because it seems that people engaging in such acts simply don’t seem to care about the effects. But I feel you.

              Just my 2 cents.

              • F Lengyel January 10, 2017 5:25 pm 

                An extensive catalog could blossom into a book-length or greater project. In the absence of specific references, I’ll peruse the archives…

              • avatar
                James January 10, 2017 8:01 pm 

                Abstaining from what…responding? What’s the point of that? Maybe there is a clue here…people not willing to get involved in conversation to sort through exchanges that may be all over the place, I don’t know…for neatness sake, time, can’t be bothered, have no ideas, or not wishing to appear stupid or uncaring…or the thoughts just aren’t of the right kind. Everything here is prodded thought written down for better or worse. How would we know if anyone is merely thinking about the incredibly complex points this essay if they aren’t responding in writing? These essays need conversation, here, on the site…if they are going on out there somewhere, great..I just don’t know of them. All essays prod some degree of thought and talk, but the above seems to me to require a degree of coordinated conversation, not superficial and not just a bunch of ‘thought” going on disparately, out there somewhere…so it probably also requires follow up.

                • F Lengyel January 11, 2017 2:28 am 

                  Seek and ye shall find. This commentary http://crookedtimber.org/2017/01/10/grumpy-cat-face-good/ by Belle Waring at Crooked Timber seems to suggest that the business of self reflection should be reserved for the more privileged.

                  Quoting the NY Times article, “Women’s March on Washington Opens Contentious Dialogues About Race,” she writes, “Now, I know plenty of people will respond to this with not-crazy concerns about maximizing turnout for the march being more important than intersectionality right at this crucial moment. But what if every moment is crucial? Does intersectionality ever get to be important? I think this addresses it well: ‘if your short-term goal is to get as many people as possible at the march, maybe you don’t want to alienate people. But if your longer-term goal is to use the march as a catalyst for progressive social and political change, then that has to include thinking about race and class privilege.'”

                  Why emancipating the oppressed without writing off potential allies has to be assigned to the short term is not obvious to me. If you reject my interpretation of the dichotomy that Waring quotes approvingly, it’s not obvious to me that there has to be a dichotomy.

    • Brent Irving January 6, 2017 3:20 pm 

      (I am trying to post this again as the first time it says waiting for moderation)
      This may explain a portion (not sure how many but I have heard the number 10% although I can’t remember where) of the electorate who previously voted Democrat and this time voted for Trump. It doesn’t seem to offer Michael much in the four areas of failures of the left he has outlined in the essay.
      What about the people that continuously vote against their material self interest such as working class people who always vote Republican. The only one I have seen try to explain this is George Lakoff for example here https://georgelakoff.com/2016/11/22/a-minority-president-why-the-polls-failed-and-what-the-majority-can-do/.
      His strict father versus nurturing parent model does offer an explanation but I have no idea if he is right or if it is testable (although I suspect he is and it is). He explains that all politics is moral and that to vote against your morality, which he says is voting against your very being, is much more difficult than voting against your material self interest. Perhaps this does offer Michael (the radical left) something on tactics and certainly Lakoff believes it does, essentially by changing the framing and repeating YOUR message not trying to negate the message of the opponent (I would say enemy to mimic the view of many on the right e.g., article by the founder of Autodesk http://www.fourmilab.ch/documents/enemies/ as well as other more cited articles like the Powell memo or just the history of what the right does with state power to other nations not following the model e.g., Vietnam, Chile, Cuba, Venezuela etc. Does the left need to become more militant in its thinking?)
      I am certainly open to other explanations than Lakoff’s if they exist. Liberals like Lakoff, let alone the radical left, currently do not have the megaphones for repeating their message so that is certainly an area that needs work. The right (many but not all) also has an advantage in this approach in its willingness to lie continuously, or perhaps to use (malicious?) psychological tactics. There are certainly lessons to be learned here understanding how people actually think and behave and how they are persuaded perhaps along the lines of what Scott Adams (creator of Dilbert) discusses e.g., http://blog.dilbert.com/post/154768183356/how-to-be-unpersuasive among others.
      It seems to me Micheal is calling for what he has always been calling for, better ideas, tactics and organizing and certainly this needs to become less esoteric. As a latecomer to radical left thinking I have not become involved in any meaningful way. I left business after gaining insights into its horrors but was initially more influenced by the Zeitgeist Movement than the radical left and in that sense did not become a radical left organizer (and I am not even sure what that is) but became more cynical and individualistic and went down the road of “self sufficiency”. I am not saying it was a total waste of time (e.g., energy efficient housing, wind turbine, gardening and permaculture) but in hindsight perhaps I could have used my energies more effectively in the sense of promoting and advancing radical left ideas not to mention the contradictions that are now apparent. Not sure how large a constituency I represent but perhaps a potential group among many that needs to be “reached”.
      Of course Michael is well aware it is a multi-tactic approach. Gaining state power to transform it through Bernie Sanders type movements gradually becoming more radical combined with more power being built and won at the grass roots level. Building radical institutions in the current system that also provide sustenance. This seems to be what people like Gar Alperovitz and Richard Wolff advocate and I don’t think it should be underestimated. Think of thousands of Mondragons that are designed slightly different to become more radical as they gain more economic power. And of course many other areas that I don’t really have great insights on all the while being aware of the many contradictions that can arise in these tactics and potential for misfiring, corruption, infighting and backsliding. Needless to say a massive project with hostile enemies that will require immense energies. I guess the only thing I am really offering in this comment that may be new to some is Lakoff’s theories or theories of thinking and persuasion that the left have to improve on.

  6. avatar
    Michael Albert January 3, 2017 1:22 pm 

    Hi David,

    I am confused. What poor dead horse do you think I
    am beating? What do you think is either wrong, in the essay, or perhaps so widely accepted that it isn’t worth repeating…

    • David Dobereiner January 3, 2017 9:55 pm 

      Hi Michael,

      Although the horse (socialism) has looked dead for many years, I think Bernie Sanders proved it is far from it.
      I do not disagree with anything you say, except that, in support of your ‘mea culpa’ argument you exaggerate. Your ‘right wing thug…against a liberal woman’ would be more accurately phrased, in my opinion, as ‘right wing thug…against a neo-con warmonger in neo-lib clothing, neither of whom has shown any reason to be trusted’.
      The danger of Trump igniting nuclear war with China, is about equal to what would have been the result of Hillary’s acute case of Russophobia. But I agree with you that Trump’s ‘ecological madness’ trumps by far what would have been President Hillary’s being dragged kicking and screaming to restrain her friends and backers in the fossil fuel industry. The latter would have been a case of ‘too little, too late’. The former will be unmitigated disaster pure and simple.
      Only concerted resistance at state and municipal level can save us now from unstoppable climate melt down, in my view.

  7. David Dobereiner January 3, 2017 11:30 am 


    Democracy is not a bad idea. The majority of people will make wise decisions if fully informed of all relevant facts.
    But the American system of government is anti-democratic.
    The affairs of a nation are far too complex for all relevant facts to be disseminated to all the people – even in theory.
    The ruling class knows that they can control the outcome of the elections by filtering out any information they don’t want the rest of us to hear. They own the media, or most of it.

    The smaller the electorate in any system, the more democratic it will be. Therefore, the more decentralized power is in a society, the more democratic it will become.
    States can be more democratic than Washington will ever be. Cities, empowered, will become more democratic than the states where they are located. Neighbourhoods, meeting in local assemblies, should become the primary legislature. They can elect delegates, not ‘representatives’, to city council, and on up the hierarchy.
    Bottom up self regulation will be better than top down control.

  8. avatar
    David Jones January 2, 2017 11:22 pm 

    Yes, definitely look in the mirror Michael. And please stop beating the poor horse, it has been dead for some time.

    • avatar
      Paulo Rodriguez January 5, 2017 7:10 am 

      Actually, the fact such replies still come up while the above issues are clearly pressing, make me think that not only is the horse alive and kicking, if they remain unaddressed the Left will keep getting hooves in its teeth!

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