Jul 11th 2017

Taking Comfort from the Success of Others

by David Coates

David Coates holds the Worrell Chair in Anglo-American Studies

 

With the wisdom of hindsight, it is now clear that the sheer quality of the Obama intellect, and the solid integrity of his character, lulled many of those who twice voted for him into a false sense of security.

It was as though we forgot, with too great an ease and for too long a time, just how difficult and disappointing life becomes for progressive people in this country when both the White House and the Congress are in less intelligent, more conservative hands. We forgot that a President could embarrass us as well as inspire us; and that a Republican-controlled Congress, whose vitriol against Barack Obama had gridlocked Washington for more than half a decade, could very quickly move onto the offensive once the object of their vitriol had gone.

Well, that lulling is well and truly over. The inmates have totally taken over the asylum this time. We have a White House bereft of intelligence and character, and a Congress bereft of morality. There is no space for progressives to take a political nap now. We have serious things to do. The first is to develop mechanisms that equip us to cope with the horrors of one Trump tweet after another, and with a string of outrageously reactionary legislative proposals from the Republican majority in Congress that threaten to blow enormous holes in America’s already thread-bare welfare safety net. The second is to develop strategies that will equip us to replace Donald Trump with a president we can respect again, and to replace the current ultra-conservative Congress with one fully engaged with repairing the damage currently being done to the basic fabric of American society by Tea-Party inspired ideologues and the Alt-Right.

And in doing both those things, there may well be lessons to be learned from watching how progressive politics is currently being played out in the United Kingdom. There is a shared Anglo-American condition, after all – one that generated right-wing populism in both places ( a Donald J. Trump and a Nigel Farage) – but one that is being pushed back in the UK right now far more effectively than it is here in the United States.

I

American conservatives and British conservatives are not quite the same political animal. There is a venal quality in contemporary Republican ranks that, broadly speaking, the British Conservative Party lacks. There is no orchestrated Protestant evangelical crusade against abortion in the UK, as there is here; and no “Koch Brothers” equivalents. And where the Republican Party in the contemporary United States has attracted a strong libertarian presence into its rank and file, the British Conservative Party still has a streak of “one nation Toryism” within even its parliamentary ranks, a softer conservatism that Americans of a certain age would recognize as similar to an old-style liberal Republicanism – an Eisenhower Republicanism – that has now been largely expunged from the Party.

But for all their differences, both right-wing parties have of late tied their flags to very similar policies. Both are enthusiastic advocates of the austerity route to growth, arguing again for trickle-down economics just as George W. Bush did when heading the previous Republican Administration. Both are responding positively to an upsurge in right-wing populism that blames low standards of living for working families on the influx of refugees hitherto welcomed into the bottom of the labor markets of each economy in turn; and each are in consequence preaching a policy of withdrawal from long-established international treaties and overseas obligations. With Trump, the pitch was initially about the redundancy of NATO – that at least has now changed – replaced in the symbolic center of America’s new foreign policy by a rejection of the Paris climate accords. And, of course, the Administration is still committed to building a wall along the Mexican border for which somehow it will make Mexico pay. With Theresa May, the pitch is for a hard Brexit and a closing of the borders to EU-directed immigration flows: a severe severing of ties, that is, with both the institutions of the European Union and with its people. In both cases, we see ultra-conservative governments reconfiguring their international relationships behind a rhetoric that is heavy on nationalism, and full of the need to restore national sovereignty.

For over seven decades, the “free” world has been led – whether it wanted to be or not – by the United States and its leading European ally – the United Kingdom. Now, apparently, neither government seems to want to sustain that particular role. Unilateralism is suddenly the order of the day. The imperial mindset remains, and the armaments to implement it also remain intact – and are even poised to be inflated in the US case if the Trump first budget is any guide. But now Washington in a loud voice, and London more quietly, preach the virtues of an imperialism without responsibility – each making the case for putting their own narrowly-conceived national interests first, regardless of the international damage that might follow.

II

The two conservative governments also share one other thing. They are each led by individuals who are deeply unpopular in the wider electorate in each country, and increasingly unpopular within their own partisan ranks. Theresa May is certainly that – largely as the result of a misjudged snap general election in June that left her party without a governing majority, and did so in part because of her appallingly bad performance on the hustings. But Donald Trump is, on this as on so much else, so much bigger than Theresa May. Good though he was on the hustings, it is not just that his visits to countries abroad seems to generate mass protest on nearly every occasion. It is also that his incessant tweeting is widely recognized as demeaning to the office; and in certain hands, evidence too of his growing mental instability. Theresa May struggles daily now to avoid a palace coup that would see her replaced in power by one of her senior colleagues; but Donald Trump struggles with more – he struggles with the possibility of impeachment for corruption or removal of office for lack of mental capacity. There can be no guarantee that either of them will see out their full term, and a near certainty that Theresa May will not.

Her fragile hold on power – her fall from a 20-point lead in the opinion polls before the election to one of trailing by eight points in polls today – is not, however, just the product of personal leadership flaws. It is also the product of the principled and radical programmatic alternative presented to the UK electorate in June by a Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn, long hailed by some as the UK’s equivalent to Bernie Sanders.[1] As we argued in an earlier posting,[2] Labour eroded the Conservatives’ hold on power by going left, not by chasing the Tories through the centre and towards the right. Labour offered a solid critique of Tory austerity policies, of the kind made so effectively against the Republican Party by Bernie Sanders when campaigning for the Democratic Party nomination in 2016. Both Corbyn now, and Sanders then, spoke to a new generation of young voters frustrated by the options that the neoliberalism of free-market capitalism was giving them, and enthused by the progressive values (and personal humility) of the men themselves. They, as individuals – Corbyn and Sanders both –  bridged a generational divide that neither the Blairites in the UK, nor the Clinton-centrists in the US could match; and in bridging it, opened the way for the return of progressive politics to power.

So, if the UK is any guide and if we want Trump and the Republicans gone, the line of political march that we need to adopt is clear. No temporizing with reaction. No fantasizing about recapturing the center if only we practice moderation, in the manner of Mark Penn and Andrew Stein.[3] Rather, we need to tell it as it is, make a total clean break with the moderate economic and social policies associated with Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, and go for an entirely new social settlement based on the principles of justice, fairness and equality. We, not Trump, need to drain the Washington swamp; and the decent way to do it – first in 2018 and then in 2020 – is to fill Washington with a new generation of radical progressive legislators – people beholden to no-one and no-thing except the program on which they ran. It has happened before. It happened in 1936, and again in 1964. It is time to bring the progressive left to power for a third iteration. The fit between what the economy needs, the society wants, and radicals now offer has never been closer. It is time to make the years of Donald Trump‘s presidency simply the dark night before the dawn of a new and progressive morning.

 

First posted, with full academic citations, at www.davidcoates.net

 

The arguments developed here are explored further in David Coates (editor), Reflections on the Future of the Left,[4] to be published in September in the UK by Agenda Publishing[5] and in the US in November by Columbia University Press

 



Browse articles by author

More Essays

Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACTS: "China uses incarcerated prisoners of conscience as an organ donor pool to provide compatible transplants for patients. These prisoners or “donors” are executed and their organs harvested against their will, and used in a prolific and profitable transplant industry."
Jul 29th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the first episode of season three of The Kominsky Method (2021), there is a funeral service for Michael Douglas’ character’s lifelong friend Norman Newlander (played by Alan Arkin). By far the most inconsolable mourner to give a eulogy is Newlander’s personal assistant of 22 years who, amid a hyperbolical outpouring of grief, literally cannot bring herself to let go of the casket. It is a humorous scene, to be sure, but there is something else going on here that is characteristic of employer-employee relations in this era of neoliberal capitalism. “Making him happy made me happy,” she exclaims, “his welfare was my first thought in the morning, and my last thought before I went to sleep.” That isn’t sweet – it is pathological. ----- Employee happiness is becoming increasingly conditional on, or even equated with, the boss’ happiness. As Frédéric Lordon observes in his book, Willing Slaves of Capital (2014), “employees used to surrender to the master desire with a heavy heart…they had other things on their minds…ideally the present-day enterprise wants subjects who strive of their own accord according to its norms.” In a word, the employee is increasingly expected to internalize and identify with the desire of the master."
Jul 20th 2022
EXTRACT: "For three decades, people have been deluged with information suggesting that depression is caused by a “chemical imbalance” in the brain – namely an imbalance of a brain chemical called serotonin. However, our latest research review shows that the evidence does not support it."
Jul 13th 2022
"But is he “deluded”? " ---- "....we sometimes end up with deluded leaders because we ourselves can be somewhat delusional when we vote." ---- "David Collinson, a professor of leadership and organization at Lancaster University, associates this predicament with excessive positive thinking, or what he calls “Prozac leadership,” in reference to the famous antidepressant that promises to cheer people up without actually fixing what is wrong in their lives. “ ---- "In politics, Prozac leaders come to power by selling the electorate on wildly overoptimistic views of the future. When the public buys into a Prozac leader’s narrative, it is they who are already verging on the delusional." ----- "Another potential example is Vladimir Putin, who has conjured a kind of nostalgic dream world for his followers and the wider Russian public."
Jun 25th 2022
EXTRACT: "Many veterans, refugees and other people who have experienced trauma and have mental health issues spend little time thinking about the future. Instead, they are narrowly focused on the negative past. However, people who have experienced trauma and developed a healthy future perspective report being better at coping with life, having fewer negative thoughts about the past, and getting better sleep compared with those who have a negative future perspective. So, instead of dwelling on the past, people who have suffered trauma should be encouraged to think about the future and set goals that help them develop hope for a good life."
Jun 8th 2022
EXTRACT: " The devastation of war is a recurring theme in Turner’s work, and unlike his contemporaries Turner is willing to forego the occasion to bolster national pride or the patriotism of its fallen heroes. In “The Field of Waterloo” (1818), Turner’s great tragic vision of war, “The…  dead of both sides lay intertwined, nearly indistinguishable surrounded by the gloom of night.” Near the bottom center there are three women. The one farthest from us is bearing a child and in her right hand a torch which illumines the sea of mangled bodies. Beside her is another woman struggling to keep a third (also with child) from collapsing outright. Turner reflects not only on the dead and dying, but on the widows and orphans that war produces."
May 19th 2022
EXTRACTS: "Thus experimental creativity could be witnessed, but not verbalized.  When five leading Abstract Expressionist painters founded an art school in New York in the late 1940s, they offered no formal courses, because, as Robert Motherwell explained, "in a basic sense art cannot be taught." ------ "Conceptual artists are ...... more inclined to use written texts to accompany their works in other genres.  In 1883, Vincent van Gogh wrote to his brother, "One of these days I will write you a letter;  I shall write it carefully and try to make it short, but say everything I think necessary."
May 17th 2022
EXTRACT: "Unfortunately, it’s common for dark triad personalities to become leaders. ..... their ruthlessness and ability to manipulate means they attain positions of power quite easily. When a “dark” leader attains power, conscientious, moral people rapidly fall away. A government operating under these conditions soon becomes what the Polish psychologist Andrzej Lobaczewski called a “pathocracy” – an administration made up of ruthless individuals devoid of integrity and morality. This happened with Donald Trump’s presidency, as the “adults in the room” gradually headed for the exit, leaving no one but staffers defined by their personal allegiance to Trump. A similar decay in standards has occurred in the UK."
May 11th 2022
EXTRACT: "The proportion of US electricity deriving from wind and solar in the month of April climbed to 20%. Thus, the renewables total was 26.5 if we add in hydro. This statistic is unprecedented."
Apr 24th 2022
EXTRACT: "Every year, around 12,000 men in the UK die from prostate cancer, but many more die with prostate cancer than from it. So knowing whether the disease is going to advance rapidly or not is important for knowing who to treat." ...... "For some years, we have known that pathogens (bacteria and viruses) can cause cancer. We know, for example, that Helicobacter pylori is associated with stomach cancer and that the human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer." ....... "....we have identified five types (genera) of bacteria linked to aggressive prostate cancer." ...... "We examined prostate tissue and urine samples from over 600 men with and without prostate cancer," ..... "....men who had one or more of the bacteria were nearly three times more likely to see their early stage cancer progress to advanced disease, compared with men who had none of the bacteria in their urine or prostate."
Apr 13th 2022
EXTARCTS: "Steve Jobs dreaded turning 30, because he knew it would be fatal to his creativity: "It's rare that you see an artist in his 30s or 40s able to contribute something amazing." ....... "When Ford introduced the Model T, he was 45 years old" ...... "Ford’s Model T arrived only after a series of earlier cars – Models A, B, C, K, N, R, and S." .... "Sam Walton opened Wal-Mart No. 1 in Rogers, Arkansas, at 44, and discovered “that there was much, much more business out there in small-town American than anybody, including me, had ever dreamed of.” At 53, Warren Buffett wrote in his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders that “your chairman, always a quick study, required only 20 years to recognize how important it was to buy good businesses.” "
Mar 29th 2022
EXTRACT: ".... Christie's web site calls Shot Sage Blue Marilyn [1964], to be auctioned in May, 'among the most iconic paintings in history', " ------ "Andy Warhol's annus mirabilis was not 1964, but 1962. This is recognized both by the market and by scholars. Thus in a paper published in the Journal of Applied Economics, Simone Lenzu and I found that in all auctions held during 1965-2015, the average price of Warhol's paintings executed in 1964 was significantly lower than the average price of those he made in 1962. And in a survey of 61 textbooks of art history published during 1991- 2015, whose authors included such eminent scholars as Martin Kemp and Rosalind Krauss, we found that fully 45% of the total of 137 illustrations of Warhol's paintings were of works from 1962, compared to only 12% of works from 1964. Thus not only do collectors value Warhol's works of 1962 more highly than those of 1964, but so do scholars of art history,.... "
Mar 29th 2022
EXTRACTS:".....there is plenty of space to scale. For internet-based businesses, the addressable total market is often large. In many areas, such as software, it spans the globe. Chinese estimates indicate that the average distance between seller and buyer on e-commerce platforms is roughly 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), compared to five kilometers for a traditional retail or service business." ------- "While the internet has removed many geographical barriers, high-growth companies cannot emerge just anywhere. In fact, though such firms can be found in more countries than ever, they remain concentrated in entrepreneurial hotspots. For example, of the 24 unicorns in Germany (as of March 2022), 17 are based in Berlin and five in Munich. Of France’s top 24 unicorns, 19 are based in Paris and one in a Paris suburb." ------ "Tech entrepreneurship has become global, but its beating heart remains local."
Mar 27th 2022
EXTRACTS: " We are supposed to be living in a post-ideological era, where everyone one is a cynic, not so gullible as to believe in anything anymore, least of all in the quaint notion of objective truth. This rejection of truth as such is among the great disasters to have befallen our relations with each other and between nations.  We appear to be beyond truth’s demise – we are now witnessing its unpleasant putrefaction and decay." ------ " If we want to grasp how ideology functions in America today, there is no better place to look than at the phenomenon of Trumpism. While he may be only a symptom, Trump himself is the quintessential embodiment of America’s moral and epistemic decline. " ------ "By its disavowal of truth and perpetuation of lies for the sake of self-aggrandizement, Trumpism represents an existential threat to this country and to the future of the Republic. It is a cancer that threatens whatever is good and decent in American life. " ----- "All they know is negative freedom – freedom from – but ignore the need for positive freedom, the freedom to… as in the freedom to flourish, to realize oneself in the world; to make and re-make oneself and the world through action."
Feb 14th 2022
EXTRACT: "In the decades since its inception, there has been heavy criticism directed towards the War on Drugs. These complaints include the increased incarceration rates, the increase in the number of prisoners in jail due to nonviolent offenses, uneven sentencing guidelines often based on the drug type and race, and suggestions of a racist component in terms of who was targeted by law enforcement. Various studies show that instead of reducing crime, the strict sentencing guidelines created more criminals and undermined many of the communities most strictly targeted by law enforcement. Long sentences for non-violent offenses made it difficult for those released to find work and weakened their bonds with family and their broader community."
Feb 2nd 2022
EXTRACT: "......... there are countries that have had a relatively high number of infections but which have still managed to keep their death numbers low – countries like Japan. It’s had 17,612 infections per million people yet only 146 deaths per million. This is despite almost one in three people in Japan being over the age of 65 and so at greater risk of severe COVID (the average age of people dying from COVID is over 80). What has kept the death rate there down? A recent Japenese study has proposed an answer. It reports that the risk of people dying of COVID in Japan is related to the microbes present in their guts. "
Jan 26th 2022
EXTRACT: "Then there was a revolution. In 1964, Bob Dylan created a new kind of popular music. The simple, clear love songs ...... were replaced by complex and opaque lyrics, filled with literary allusions and symbolism. Dylan rejected the role of craftsman: "I'm an artist. I try to create art." Nor were his songs intended to be universal: "My songs were written with me in mind." "
Dec 13th 2021
EXTRACT: " We all know that Father Christmas would struggle to deliver presents to everyone around the world without the help of his magical reindeer. But why were they chosen to pull the sleigh rather than any other animal? It turns out that the biology of reindeer makes them ideal for the job. Here are five reasons why."
Dec 4th 2021
EXTRACT: "Planting more forests is a potent tool for mitigating the climate crisis, but forests are like complex machines with millions of parts. Tree planting can cause ecological damage when carried out poorly, particularly if there is no commitment to diversity of planting. Following Darwin’s thinking, there is growing awareness that the best, healthiest forests are ones with the greatest variety of trees - and trees of various ages."
Nov 19th 2021
EXTRACTS: "At a time when the struggle between authoritarianism and democracy is so intense, if not fateful for the future of democracies, NATO and the EU must warn these countries [Editor's note: Poland and Hungary, EU and NATO, Turkey NATO] that they are on the precipice of being kicked out if they do not change their governing practice. They must be required to restore the principles of democracy by upholding universal human rights and abiding the rule of law, or else they will forfeit their membership and suffer from the consequences of their crimes." ------ "A narcissistic leader, such as Trump, whose hunger for power seems to know no limit, has happily sacrificed the good of the country on the altar of his twisted ego. America’s democracy cannot be repaired unless he and those who helped him are held accountable and face the weight of the law."