The perils we face, in a nutshell

January 9, 2020 at 10:27 am (By Amba) ()

As look-it-in-the-eye a summary of what we’re in for as I’ve seen. This New York piece by Ed Kilgore does all your hand-wringing for you in one place. One-stop shopping for all your angst needs. You can stop looking now for the articulation of your dread that will top the last one.

There’s a weird power and relief in naming things. Cue Rumpelstiltskin.

After an unusually long period of anxious anticipation (on my part, at least), the year 2020 arrives this week bearing many fearful possibilities balanced mostly by the hope of narrowly evading them. . . .

[F]ar and away the most likely path to a second Trump term is a second Democratic challenger to Trump who becomes more of a political problem than a solution. . . . Democrats could choose a challenger so old that the prospect of infirmity or mortality — or worse yet, actual infirmity or mortality during the general-election campaign — could give Trump just the kind of advantage he needs. . . .

[I]f the nomination contest indeed does turn into a battle of the late-septuagenarians . . . Republicans and media types alike will magnify [their ideological and policy] differences into a veritable Spanish Civil War of irreconcilable conflicts between Democrats in Disarray. . . . The silver lining for Democrats in that scenario is that they wouldn’t have to dwell on the fears many harbor about nominating another woman . . . or a gay man.

Back in March, I outlined seven hellish developments we can expect if Trump is reelected, ranging from an indelibly slanted federal judiciary and a shredded social safety net to a permanently Trumpist GOP and a shattered opposition party. But more terrifying than any of these specific possibilities is what a second “mandate” (following Trump’s all-but-certain acquittal on articles of impeachment) would do to the recklessness of a president who already believes the Constitution authorizes him to do any damn thing he pleases.

During Trump’s first term . . . observers have had to struggle daily with whether and how much to write about the unmistakable parallels of Trumpism and 20th-century fascism — the contempt for the rule of law and for democratic norms, the jingoism and militarism, the racism, the championship of cultural reaction, the brutal rhetoric, the love of violence and war crimes, the hostility to independent media, and the frank preference for tyrants and demagogues ruling other countries, among other traits. A reelected Trump would . . . make the possibility that he would refuse to peacefully give up power in 2025 a lively issue rather than just a paranoid fantasy. . . .

Three years into his reign, it’s harder than ever to accept that so many wage earners lionize this billionaire surrounded by billionaires who has never sided with working people in any conflict with the malefactors of great wealth, or to accept that so many law-abiding people celebrate his lawlessness, or to accept that millions of Bible-believing Christians look at this heathenish bully who exemplifies every vice and form of idol worship the Good Book warns them about and see a redeemer.


  1. dnormang2 said,

    Always surprised at how many commentators fail, in enunciating their laundry lists of doom, to mention that we’re not likely to have a free and fair election to begin with.

  2. amba12 said,

    Maybe that’s just assumed!

    The erosion of voter rights and representation is what I think of as a long-game, slo-mo coup. One more election like that and they’ll be set to do away with even the pretense of democracy.

  3. Polly said,

    “it’s harder than ever to accept that so many wage earners lionize this billionaire surrounded by billionaires who has never sided with working people in any conflict with the malefactors of great wealth”

    I am NOT defending Trump. But I am very glad to have a chance to comment on the myth of class warfare. Progressives (in general) cannot understand why workers would vote for a Republican, since Republicans supposedly take the side of rich people and business owners.

    The worker vs owner conflict was popularized (or invented) by Marx, and has been carried along by progressives.

    First of all, there is no clear division between workers and owners, between rich and poor.

    Second, people who start successful businesses create most of the jobs. Workers need those jobs.

    Third, poor and working class people don’t necessarily identify with being poor and working class (proletariat). Who wants to identify with that? Most people think about what they could be, or what they will be. And even if they never expect to be rich and successful, they still won’t necessarily resent those who are.

    (Yes, there is plenty of corruption and plenty of unethical rich people. There are unethical poor people also. That is not the point.)

    There is no real conflict today is between rich and poor, but maybe there is one between more educated and less educated. The more educated are more likely to be progressives, more likely to be influenced by Marxism — their compassion for the poor resembles pity, bordering on contempt.

    The less educated are clinging to their guns and bibles. They don’t think clearly either. But their instincts are more in touch with reality, in my opinion.

    Not defending Trump. But a lot of progressive Democrats are mixing Trump hatred with Republican hatred, and it all gets mashed in with the class warfare myth.

  4. amba12 said,

    Good point about education. Generally, the modest millionaires I know who didn’t inherit their wealth made the leap directly from the working class to material success, with or without a college education, in the construction or real estate business, or by growing a franchise car or boat dealership. (A friend of mine is an Irish cop’s son in the Boston area who became a builder and seller of homes. As it happens he did go to college, but he probably didn’t need to. He’s smart, practical, full of energy, and wealthy enough.) Even though Trump inherited his starting capital, he feels like “one of them” to people like that. So it’s quite plausible that working people feel that in principle they could become wealthy too.

    What’s harder to understand is that Trump is well known to be a bit of a fraud, and a dishonorable businessman who shrugs off accountability for his own mistakes by stiffing and suing others. That people should adulate a man with no respect for keeping one’s word or one’s contractual agreements suggests that Americans worship success by any means. Shortcuts and dirty fighting are applauded if you just have the balls to pull them off. What a shitty role model. People like my friend the cop’s son would never do that, yet he is probably a Trump supporter (I don’t know for sure, I haven’t seen him for a while). I wouldn’t be surprised if he had also been an Obama voter.

    Which brings us back to the HARD FACT that a lot of people don’t really like Trump so much as they hate the Democrats (with good reason). The only thing that they LOVE about Trump is that he has made fools of the Democrats. Only problem is, a negative is not enough to run a country on.

  5. Polly said,

    I am glad you understand amba12! And again, I was not trying to defend Trump.

    As you also recognize, most of the pro-Trump feeling comes from hating the Democrats. And one reason they hate the Democrats is because of that class warfare pity and contempt that I mentioned. (I mean, I am only guessing, but that is my observation.)

    Your gave excellent examples of this — people with no special advantages who worked hard for the “American dream.” Well it’s a cliche, but it’s true. Americans feel they can accomplish something — whether they actually will ever succeed or not, they know it is possible.

    And Trump stands for that, even though he is a VERY BAD example of it! Still, for the less educated, and for the religious, and for the business owners, it’s better than a snooty Marxist professor.

  6. tom strong said,

    Marx didn’t invent class consciousness, he just described it. It’s still a thing, our society would be inexplicable without it. Where some of my fellow lefties get it wrong is that workers don’t resent the rich nearly so much as they resent *bosses*. And that will always be true.

  7. Polly said,

    Ok, I said Marx either popularized it, OR invented it. So ok, he popularized it.

    And OF COURSE workers resent bosses! But there is NO alternative! If all the workers in a company have an equal say in everything, that company will not succeed. Unless it’s a very small company owned and run by a group of friends. Who all happen to get along.

    If you start a business, and invest your time and money, and it succeeds, you deserve to be the boss. If you are an expert in something, you deserve to be at a higher level than the guy who just started yesterday.

    Workers must be managed and jobs must be coordinated. Therefore, there have to be managers, bosses, owners, etc. At least we are free to get a different job if we don’t like our boss.

    Socialists are now advocating workers’ cooperatives, since they have to acknowledge that state ownership leads to totalitarianism, and doesn’t work anyway.

    Workers’ cooperatives are based on the fantasy that we don’t need bosses.

    Socialists don’t like hierarchy and the don’t want some people to have more power than others. But there are hierarchies all throughout nature. There is no way to organize anything without hierarchies, and software developers know this very well.

  8. Polly said,

    And WordPress doesn’t seem to think we will ever make a typo and want to fix it.

  9. amba12 said,

    It doesn’t give you an option to edit your own comment? Geez. It allows me to edit all of them, which doesn’t seem so great either—in the hands of a censorious or unprincipled blogger..

  10. tom strong said,

    Polly, I agree with you that some level of hierarchy is inevitable in society. But you are simply wrong that worker cooperatives are based on a fantasy or that flatter hierarchies cannot work, even very large organizations. This is a field I have worked extensively in. There are many thriving worker-owned companies in the US and the world, some of which (like WL Gore) have thousands of employees.

  11. tom strong said,

  12. amba12 said,

    That’s fascinating. I wish there weren’t a paywall.

  13. Polly said,

    I read this Fortune article about W. L. Gore

    It doesn’t say it’s worker-owned, just that it’s a nice place to work. They have managers, but call them something else.

    The wikipedia article

    says it’s a “privately held corporation.” It says nothing about being worker-owned.

    The idea of worker-owned cooperatives is not generally practical. Yes, there are some, but it would not be feasible for most companies. In order to own a company, you have to invest in it. Not everyone can afford to invest in a company — most cannot.

    And there are many other problems with the idea of workers owning the companies they work for. Would they all have equal shares? Would the person who had the initial idea and took the initial risk get the same share of the profits as everyone else?

    Would new entry level employees get the same deal as the original founders, or the same as experienced expert employees?

    No matter what you do, in a complex business some will be higher and some will be lower.

    The person who invested years getting advanced specialized education in the field cannot be treated the same as someone whose job only required two weeks of training.

    It can work for some businesses, but for most it cannot. It is just a fantasy that people can be free of authority. A workplace can be more or less respectful and considerate of workers. But that is not socialism or worker-owned cooperatives.

    And no amount of respect and consideration of workers can make a business succeed. Success has to come first, and everything depends on that. If your business isn’t making money, you can’t be nice to your workers.

  14. amba12 said,

    Tom Strong knows a lot more about this than either you or I. I don’t know if he has the time to begin to explain what we don’t know about it. Maybe he can provide a few links for our edification.

    “If your business isn’t making money, you can’t be nice to your workers.” And if you treat your workers badly, your business probably will not make money, long-term . . . but then, that is what offshore sweatshops are all about, finding workers to whom being treated and paid badly by an American corporation is a step up.

  15. Polly said,

    I do know that I read two articles about W.L. Gore, and neither article said that it’s worker-owned. I have read a lot about worker-owned cooperatives.

  16. Polly said,

    And I have heard that Amazon is NOT so nice to its workers. And it seems to be making money.

  17. amba12 said,

    Because low-wage American workers are becoming more like their offshore counterparts. Being treated and paid badly is a step up.

  18. Polly said,

    Companies can be called “worker-owned” if employees can own stock in the company. I think that was the case at Enron. The only trouble is, if the company fails there goes your 401k.

  19. Polly said,

    Being treated badly by employers is an old tradition, not really something new.

  20. Polly said,

    But when unions were more popular, it was sometimes possible to have good pay and benefits for low skill work.

  21. tom strong said,


  22. tom strong said,

    Hi there – I had left a long reply to both of your questions earlier, but for some reason the comment never posted. So I’ll try to reproduce. I’m going to keep the links minimal to improve the chances this posts:

    1) WL Gore is the 8th-largest majority employee-owned company in the world, according to the National Center for Employee Ownership:

    2) Gore’s is owned by its employees through an ESOP (employee stock ownership plan). This is the most common form of employee ownership in the US, representing about 5,500 companies and ~10 million workers. ESOPs have considerable tax benefits, and are tightly regulated by the Department of Labor as a result.

    3) In particular, ESOPs are required by law to have a trustee who advocates for the worker-owner’s financial interests in relation to the corporate board of directors. They can be corrupted, they can fail – we live in an imperfect world – but in general ESOPs have better survival rates and higher revenues per employee than non-ESOPs.

    4) They also create *much* more wealth for ordinary employees than non-ESOPs. A Kellogg Foundation study based on DOL data found that Millennial employee owners, over a period of 10 years, had 33% higher incomes and 92% higher household wealth than their peers who are not employee owners. These numbers mostly hold up across lines of gender, race, and education level. They also have better job stability and benefits.

    5) There is risk inherent in ESOPs, especially for smaller companies whose business lines are not diversified. Because of this, many ESOPs encourage employee-owners to reinvest their stock in a diversified 401(k) as they age. This is considered an important best practice in the field.

    6) Enron was *not* an ESOP, and among its many shady practices it encouraged its own employees to invest their 401(k)s in its own stock. Which they did, having been sold on management’s many lies. Basically the opposite of what responsible ESOPs do.

    7) Polly, you are right that worker ownership, even in the legal sense, does not automatically translate to less hierarchy. Most employee owned companies are not like Gore and have fairly traditional management structures. But they are also much more likely to practice open-book management, a system based on sharing financial information and profits with ordinary employees, along with group-based decision making. This management approach was pioneered by Springfield Remanufacturing Corporation/SRC Holdings, a very successful company that I’ve been affiliated with, and described in the book “The Great Game of Business.”

    8) #63 on the same list is Cooperative Home Care Associates, which with 2,000 employees is the largest worker cooperative in the US. I have worked with them; they are stable, steadily profitable, and help people with one of the lowest-paying jobs in the world (home health aides) make a living wage and build wealth.

    8) The largest worker co-op in the world, Mondragon in Spain, has over 70,000 employees.

    9) Although worker co-ops remain a tiny sliver of the US economy, they are growing at a rate that is at least proportionate to the economy itself. If your knowledge of worker co-ops dates back to earlier decades, you may be interested to learn that they have professionalized significantly, and there’s a well-developed movement to grow their numbers. Check out the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives, Democracy at Work Initiative, and Fifty by Fifty websites.

  23. amba12 said,

    Valuable information, and very much appreciated. Thank you for taking the time.

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