Friday, October 27, 2017

Jeff Flake and the Meaning of Failure

I'd heard about Sen. Jeff Flake's early retirement protest, but hadn't watched his speech. A friend messaged me: "You really should watch it. It’s very good. My concern is that the 'good' people are resigning, when that is exactly the opposite of what we need." She pasted the link:

Since I commented at length in reply, I've decided to blog my remarks here.

E.M.: Watched the whole Flake speech. My reaction to it is mixed. Yes, I don't like aspects of Trump's governing, and I do think his personality doesn't help. That said, I find it odd that you call Flake one of the "good" people--though you did put the word in quotes. He knows how to hit all the pious notes, and he does have some good points, but here's what I see in in his speech.

1) It is the establishment talking, the establishment registering its protest against Trump. This is the same establishment that wanted Dubya, that wanted Clinton, that loathed both Bernie and Trump, and loathed them for some of the very same reasons: a) Both Bernie and Trump stood for discontinuing the neocon foreign policy of ongoing US "nation building" in the Middle East; b) Both Bernie and Trump wanted out of international trade deals.

When Sen. Flake here talks about "international agreements" and "organizations", etc., you should keep in mind what these words mostly mean to the establishment: they mean more corporate-run globalization, more corporate-run wars.

I think Flake's speech had a lot in common with Dubya's speech a few days back. Dubya mentioned the word "freedom" multiple times: America and freedom, freedom and America, freedom freedom freedom. But I know what the establishment mainly means by "freedom": they mean freedom of capital to move across borders and thus evade control by national governments. The freedom they value is the freedom of the oligarchs to play the whole globe as a chess board and evade every downside--all while they keep talking about “freedom”. (NB: Though I was impressed by some of Flake's points as valid, Dubya's speech I found horrific in its falseness.)

2) These early retirement announcements by Flake and Corker, in my mind, are mainly proof that the populist, anti-globalist right represented by Trump (in his often flailing way) is successfully pushing the establishment out of the GOP. I'm glad of that. I don't think the smarter members of this particular movement are against real freedom in any demonstrable way: quite the contrary. It's the Republican establishment that is the greater threat to freedom, since it will always compromise on principle under corporate pressure, and the voters now recognize this. The Republican establishment is unconnected to the voters, and the voters now know it. As was proven in the last election, where Trump and Cruz wiped out all the establishment GOP candidates. I think between the two of them they took 80% or something of primary votes.

3) I find it painfully ironic that Flake speaks of the need to recognize failure but not excuse it. He said: “[We all need to be forgiven at times for failures, myself included.] But too often . . . we rush to forgive and excuse our failures, so that we might accommodate them and go on failing.”

He's saying this of course because he’s keen to call out what he sees as Trump's failures. But you know why Trump and not Jeb Bush is in office? Because of failure. Because of the gigantic failure of our CONGRESS for decades now--Flake's "dignified" Congress.

In short, if Flake wants to talk about not allowing a nefarious “new normal” to take root, I’d say the new normal that should not have been allowed to take root happened years ago. Trump's tweeting or slipshod language are not the main problem America has to deal with. The main problem is the brokenness of "normal" Washington. You know this too. In short, Flake is good at calling out Trump's failures, but did he resign when his whole party was rubber-stamping whatever Wall Street or the corporations wanted? Did he resign when the plan on the table was to outsource another gazillion manufacturing jobs because that’s what the oligarchs wanted? He didn't. And the voters know it.

4) As for the valid elements in Flake's speech, yes, I think it's pretty dismal the level of discourse that our two-party political circus has sunk to. And Trump is pretty much a circus barker. It does set a bad example for youth, and it maybe does weaken our standing in the world a bit. (But on this latter I'm still not fully decided. Because there are so many factors to take into account. Is Trump's personality weakening our stature, or are his demands that our partners take up some of their responsibility actually strengthening that stature?)

In any case, as for the descent of discourse into ad hominem attacks and vulgarity, I think that ship sailed before Trump. I don't think Obama descended there, but our media culture has been there a long time now. And yes, the liberals since last year have been just as vulgar and spiteful as anything Trump or his supporters can come up with.

Where do I stand on the issues? That's a longer subject. In general, I'm happy to see a movement on the right that is challenging the neocons and the Washington normal. I'm happy to see a smart right that his eviscerating the left's identity politics, which I consider un-American, authoritarian, abhorrent. I don't agree with some of their positions on this or that, and don't think Trump himself is likely to drain the swamp in the way most of his base hopes. But I'm glad the movement is there.

As for the American left, I really see no hope for it. I think it's got no sane foreign policy, no workable economic theory; that, bizarrely, it doesn't even seem to notice economics anymore. I thought Bernie was an honest and committed leftist, and might have been able to put together a serious challenge to the establishment, but even Bernie would have been too subject to riding the unbreakable identity-politics wave that is now the Democratic base. And so in office he'd likely have been abetting all kinds of authoritarian PC nonsense I would have been opposed to.

Clinton herself, if she is the left, which I think she is in terms of representing a huge voting base that calls itself left, is just a PC neocon. Which is what I'd call the majority of "left" voters in the US at present. They’re Republicans waving various PC flags.

As for the left that is our youth movement--Antifa, the millions of liberal-leaning university grads, etc.--they’re political children, with no idea of what the left needs to be. And they won’t learn either.

So . . . there will be no standing against the establishment from this political left. Because, like it or not, Bernie is not an army, but an individual. Yes, he gathered a big following. But many many of his followers are likely more drunk on the identity-politics Kool-Aid than they are interested in fighting capitalism in any comprehensively left way.

A lot of typing here. Rather quickly too. I hope you can get the gist.

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Update: Weird. Patrick Buchanan makes almost precisely the same series of points I made here. If I didn't know better, I'd say he's reading my blog. To judge by time stamp (my blog is set to British time) Buchanan's article hit a few hours after mine. Yes, I'd say it's better argued than mine. See "It's Trump's Party Now".

Check out my Idiocy, Ltd. at and begin the long, hard reckoning.

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