Category Archives: GOP

The U.S. ‘Six-Party System,’ Version 5.0

To win political campaigns, we need a good assessment of the overall terrain. The chart below of six clusters and their features may be helpful. To enlarge or adjust the view, CLICK HERE.

By Carl Davidson

Beaver County Blue via Convergence

March 19, 2022

We can best understand the major political parties in the U.S. as constantly changing coalitions with no firm commitment to program or discipline.

The electoral strategic terrain is constantly changing, and we don’t want to be stuck with old maps and faulty models. In 2014, I first suggested setting aside the traditional “two-party system” frame for US politics, which obscures far more than it reveals, and making use of a “six-party” model instead. Every two years, I’ve revised the model, and now, with the November 2022 elections coming up, it’s time for another update. What follows is an abbreviated version of the explanation; you can read it in full here.

 Some critics have objected to my use of the term “party” for factional or interest group clusters. The point is taken, but I would also argue that the major parties in the U.S., in general, are not ideological parties in the European sense. Instead, they are constantly changing coalitions of these clusters with no firm commitment to program or discipline.

The Democratic and the Republican Party each contain three such clusters, as they have since 2016. Under the Democratic tent, the three main groups remain the Blue Dogs, the Third Way Centrists and the Rainbow Social Democrats. The GOP umbrella covers Donald Trump’s Rightwing Populists, the Christian Nationalists, and the Never-Trumpers.

But since our last update in 2018, the question of a clear and present danger of fascism has moved from the margins to the center of political discourse. Far from an ongoing abstract debate, we are now watching its hidden elements come to light every day in the media. We also see the ongoing machinations in the GOP hierarchy and in state legislatures reshaping election laws in their favor. Now, the question is not whether a fascist danger exists, but how to fight and defeat it.

So here’s the new snapshot of the range of forces for today.

The Six-Party System

  1. The Right-wing Populists

This “party,” as mentioned, has taken over the GOP and is now tightening its grip.

The economic core of right-wing populism remains anti-global “producerism versus parasitism.” Employed workers, business owners, real estate developers, small bankers are all “producers.” They oppose “parasite” groups above and below, but mainly those below them—the unemployed (“Get a Job!” as an epithet), the immigrants, poor people of color, Muslims, and “the Other” generally. When they attack those above, the target is usually George Soros, a Jew.

Recall that Trump entered politics by declaring Obama to be an illegal alien and an illegitimate officeholder (a parasite above), but quickly shifted to Mexicans and Muslims and anyone associated with Black Lives Matter. This aimed to pull out the fascist and white supremacist groups of the “Alt Right”–using Breitbart and worse to widen their circles, bringing them closer to Trump’s core. With these fascists as ready reserves, Trump reached further into Blue Dog territory, and its better-off workers, retirees, and business owners conflicted with white identity issues—immigration, Islamophobia, misogyny, and more. Today they still largely make up the audience at his mass rallies.

Trump’s outlook is not new. It has deep roots in American history, from the anti-Indian ethnic cleansing of President Andrew Jackson to the nativism of the Know-Nothings, to the nullification theories of John C. Calhoun, to the lynch terror of the KKK, to the anti-elitism and segregation of George Wallace and the Dixiecrats. Internationally, Trump combines aggressive jingoism, threats of trade wars, and an isolationist ‘economic nationalism’ aimed at getting others abroad to fight your battles for you. At the same time, your team picks up the loot (“We should have seized and kept the oil!”).

Trump’s GOP still contains his internal weaknesses: the volatile support of distressed white workers and small producers. At present, they are still forming a key social base. But the problem is that Trump did not implement any substantive programs apart from tax cuts. These mainly benefited the top 10% and created an unstable class contradiction in his operation. Most of what Trump has paid out is what WEB Dubois called the “psychological wage” of “whiteness,” a dubious status position. Trump’s white supremacist demagogy and misogyny will also continue to unite a wide array of all nationalities of color and many women and youth against him.

Trump’s religious ignorance, sexual assaults and a porn star scandal always pained his alliance with the Christian Nationalist faction (Mike Pence, Betsy DeVos, et. al.), and the DeVos family (Amway fortune). They were willing to go along with Trump’s amoral lifestyle for the sake of his pending judicial appointments. The Feb 7, 2022 5-4 Supreme Court ruling on gerrymandering  against Black voters in Alabama is only one case in point. The Trump-Christian alliance, nonetheless, has become more frayed since Jan. 6 and the ‘Hang Mike Pence’ spectacle.

2. The Christian Nationalists

This “party” grew from a subset of the former Tea Party bloc. It’s made up of several Christian rightist trends developed over decades, which gained more coherence under Vice President Mike Pence. It includes conservative evangelicals seeking to recast a patriarchal and racist John Wayne into a new warrior version of Jesus.

A good number of Christian nationalists are Protestant theocracy-minded fundamentalists, especially the “Dominionist” sects in which Ted Cruz’s father was active. The ‘End Times’ Domininists present themselves as the only true, “values-centered” (Biblical) conservatives. They argue against any kind of compromise with the globalist “liberal-socialist bloc,” which ranges, in their view, from the GOP’s Mitt Romney to Bernie Sanders. They are more akin to classical liberalism than neoliberalism in economic policy. This means abandoning nearly all regulations, much of the safety net, overturning Roe v. Wade, getting rid of marriage equality (in the name of ‘religious liberty’) and abolishing the IRS and any progressive taxation in favor of a single flat tax.

The classic liberalism of most Christian Nationalist is also a key reason they attract money from the Koch Brothers networks. While the Kochs hold Trump and his populists in some contempt, the Christian Nationalist faction has access to Koch funds and its American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) legislative projects, along with access to the DeVos fortunes. Effectively, Christian nationalist prosperity economics amounts to affirmative action for the better-off, where the rise of the rich is supposed to pull everyone else upwards. Those below must also pay their tithes and pull upward with their “bootstraps.”  They argue for neo-isolationism on some matters of foreign policy. But as “Christian Zionists” they favor an all-out holy war on “radical Islamic terrorism,” to the point of “making the sand glow” with the use of nuclear weapons. They pushed for moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and ripping up the Iran nuclear deal. All this is aimed at greasing the skids for the “End Times” and the “Second Coming.” With Cruz, Pence and DeVos as leaders, they have become the second most powerful grouping under the GOP tent, and the one with the most reactionary platform and outlook, even more so than Trump himself in some ways.

3. The Establishment Neoliberal ‘RINOs’

This is the name now widely used in the media for what we previously labeled the Multinationalists. It’s mainly the upper crust and neoliberal business elites that have owned and run the GOP for years, but they are now largely out in the cold. This neoliberal grouping included the quasi-libertarian House Freedom Caucus, the smaller group of NeoCons on foreign policy (John Bolton and John McCain), and the shrinking number of RINO (Republican In Name Only) moderates in The Lincoln Project. The Establishment also favors a globalist, U.S. hegemonist, and even, at times, a unilateralist approach abroad, with some still defending the Bush-Cheney disaster in Iraq. Their prominent voice today is Liz Cheney of Wyoming.

We also need to keep in mind the global backdrop to these shifts. The worldwide process of technology-driven financialization has divided the ruling class of late capitalism in every major country into three—a local sector of the transnational capitalist class, the nation-based multinationals, and an anti-globalist national sector. Thus among traditional U.S. neoliberals, some are U.S. hegemonists, but many have a transnational globalist understanding of the world with vast amounts of their money in foreign stock. China and global value chains integrate them with other global capitalists. This is why Trump’s trade policy is so controversial with Wall Street elites of both Republican and Democratic leanings. U.S. economic hegemony makes no sense at this financial and productive integration level. The global three-way division also serves to explain why Trump’s rightwing populism, despite its American characteristics, is connected to the rightwing nationalist-populist rise in all European countries. He is not ‘explainable’ in American terms alone.

This subordination is a big change for the traditional GOP top dogs. They would like to purge a weakened Trump from the party and rebuild, but so far lack the ability. They could try to form a new party with neoliberal Dems. Or, more likely, they could join the Dems and try to push out or smother those to the left of the Third Way grouping. At the moment, however, the much-weakened GOP’s old Establishment is left with the choice of surrender, or crossing over to the Third Way bloc under the Dem tent. A good number already did so to vote for Biden in the Dem 2020 primary and general, expanding the Dem electorate to the right.

Now let’s turn to the Dem tent, starting at the top of the graphic.

4. The Blue Dogs

The Blue Dog grouping has close ties to big corporate interests, including the fossil fuel and health insurance industries and Big Pharma. It has PACs “that raise millions of dollars every cycle from hundreds of corporate PACs, then send maximum donations of $10,000 back out to their members and more business-friendly Democratic House candidates.”

This small “party” has persisted and gained some energy. The recent effort of West Virginia’s Senator Joe Manchin to block or gut Biden’s reforms is a case in point. One earlier reason was that the United Steel Workers and a few craft unions had decided to work with Trump on tariffs and trade. The USW also got firmly behind Connor Lamb (D-PA) for Congress. Lamb won a narrow victory in a rural, conservative Western Pennsylvania congressional district, but with many USW members’ votes. He was endorsed by the Blue Dog PAC, although he is not a formal member of the caucus. Getting into a nearly physical floor fight with the GOP over Jan. 6 “radicalized” Lamb a bit, moving him leftward.

But the small Blue Dog resurgence may not last. On the one hand, the DNC Third Way gang currently loves people like Lamb, and wants to see more candidates leaning to the center and even the right. On the other hand, an unstable Trump out of office has little to offer on major infrastructure plans save for “Build The Wall” chanting at rallies. His potential votes among USW and other union members may shrink.

5. The Third Way New Democrats

First formed by the Clintons, with international assistance from Tony Blair and others, this dominant “party” was funded by Wall Street finance capitalists. The founding idea was to move toward neoliberalism by creating distance between themselves and the traditional Left-labor-liberal bloc, i.e., the traditional unions and civil rights groups still connected to the New Deal legacy. Another part of Third Way thinking was to shift the key social base away from the core of the working class toward college-educated suburban voters, but keeping alliances with Black and women’s groups still functional.

Thus the Third Way had tried to temper the harsher neoliberalism of the GOP by ‘triangulating’ to find neo-Keynesian and left-Keynesian compromise policies. The overall effect has been to move Democrats and their platform generally rightward. With Hillary Clinton’s narrow defeat, the Third Way’s power in the party diminished somewhat, but it gained clout with the Biden victory.

As mentioned above, its labor alliances have weakened, with unions now going in three directions. Most of labor has remained with the Third Way. Some moved rightward to the Blue Dogs while others—Communications Workers, National Nurses United, and the U.E.—endorsed Bernie Sanders and are part of the social-democratic bloc. Regarding the current relation of forces in the party apparatus, the Third Way has about 60% of the positions and still controls the major money. 

The key test was the November 2020 battle with Trump: Which political grouping under the Dem tent in 2020 inspired and mobilized new forces within the much-needed ‘Blue Wave’, gave it focus and put the right numbers in the right places? This question brings us to the last of the six “parties.”

6..The Rainbow Social Democrats

This description is better than simply calling it the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), as this article’s first version did. I’ve kept the “Rainbow” designation because of the dynamic energy of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and the Squad. (The Third Way has kept the older and more pragmatic voters of the rainbow groupings under its centrist influence.)

The “Social Democrat” title doesn’t mean each leader or activist here is in a social-democrat or democratic socialist group like DSA. It means the core groups–the Congressional Progressive Caucus, Progressive Democrats of America (PDA), Working Families Party (WFP), Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Justice Democrats and Our Revolution and Indivisible—all have platforms that are roughly similar to the left social democrat groupings in Europe. Germany’s Die Linke’s election platform, for example, is not that different from Bernie’s or the Working Families Party. This is made even more evident with AOC and Bernie’s self-descriptions as “democratic socialists” in the 2020 primaries and the general election, where it only seemed to help. The platform, however, is not socialist itself, but best described as a common front against finance capital, war, and the white supremacist and fascist right. This is true of groups like Die Linke as well, which met recently with PDA and Congressional Progressive Caucus members.

This grouping has also been energized by the dramatic growth of the DSA since the 2016 Sanders campaign. Now with nearly 100.000 members and chapters in every state, DSA has already won a few local and statehouse races. They are now an important player in their own right within these local clusters.

This overall growth of this “party” is all for the good. The common front approach of the Social Democratic bloc can unite more than a militant minority of people who identify as socialists. It can draw a progressive majority together around both immediate needs and structural reforms, expressed in a platform like the “Third Reconstruction” program championed by the Poor People’s Campaign.

What does it all mean?

With this brief descriptive and analytical mapping of American politics, many things are falling into place. The formerly subaltern rightist groupings in the GOP have risen in revolt against the Neoliberal Establishment of the Cheneys, Romneys and the Bushes. Now they have rightwing populist and white nationalist hegemony. The GOP, then, can be accurately called the party of the neo-Confederates and the main target of a popular, anti-fascist front. Under the other tent, the Third Way is seeking a new post-neoliberal platform, through President Joe Biden’s reforms. The progressive-center unity of the earlier Obama coalition, with all its constituency alliances, is still in place. At the same time, the Third Way still wants to co-opt and control the Social Democrats as an energetic but critical secondary ally. The Sanders forces have few illusions about this pressure on them, and don’t want to be anyone’s subaltern without a fight. So we on the Left are continuing to press all our issues, but adapting some policies to the common front against the fascist right. If we work well, we will build more base organizations, more alliances, and more clout as we go.

A longer version of this article can be found HERE at the Online University of the Left

Pennsylvania Has A New Congressional Map That Will Keep The State Intensely Competitive

The map slightly favors Republicans — with some important wins for Democrats.

Pennsylvania’s new congressional map, as chosen by the state Supreme Court.

By Jonathan Lai
Philadelphia Inquirer

Feb 23, 2022 – The Pennsylvania Supreme Court has selected a new congressional map that will shape power and politics for the next decade, one that’s largely based on the current map and slightly favors Republicans — but with some important wins for Democrats.

In a 4-3 decision Wednesday, the court chose a map that was drawn by a Stanford professor and proposed by Democratic plaintiffs. It’s a major decision for the justices, one that will draw intense political scrutiny for the court’s elected Democratic majority. It also left the state’s May 17 primary in place, despite worries it would need to be delayed.

Congressional maps are redrawn every decade to reflect changes in population, and Pennsylvania has a history of partisan gerrymandering — drawing maps to unfairly favor one political party. With the state losing one of its 18 seats in the House of Representatives, the new districts will help determine control of Congress and how communities are represented in the years to come.

With at least four competitive House districts, Pennsylvania is a key battleground in this year’s campaign for control of Congress, with Republicans needing to gain just five seats nationwide to take the majority.

The new map was drawn by Jonathan Rodden, a well-known Stanford expert on redistricting and political geography. Rodden drew the map based on the current one, using a “least-change” approach.

It creates nine districts that voted for Donald Trump in 2016 and 2020, and eight that voted for Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden, according to a detailed data analysis conducted for The Inquirer by the nonpartisan Princeton Gerrymandering Project. It slightly favors Republicans on multiple measures of partisan skew, according to the analysis.

Looking at the two-party vote share in the two most recent presidential and U.S. Senate elections, The Inquirer classifies six of the districts as strongly Republican, five as strongly Democratic, and three each as leaning Democratic and Republican. Four districts in the new map are so closely divided that either party could realistically win them, the same as in the previous version, and a few others could become competitive in wave elections.

Unlike redistricting in some other states this year, the new Pennsylvania map doesn’t reduce the number of competitive swing seats.

But there are some individual winners and losers within the parties.

Continue reading Pennsylvania Has A New Congressional Map That Will Keep The State Intensely Competitive

PA Republicans Are Waging a War on Voting.

A voter drops off their mail-in ballot prior to the primary election, in Willow Grove, Montgomery County, May 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

The For the People Act Could Be the Solution. As the Republican-controlled Pennsylvania Legislature works to pass voter suppression laws, Democrats in Congress have one chance to stop the assault on voting rights.

By Keya Vakil
The Keystone

MARCH 23, 2021 – WASHINGTON — Earlier this month, President Joe Biden signed the American Rescue Plan into law, sending $1,400 stimulus checks to most Pennsylvanians, extending federal unemployment benefits, providing most parents a guaranteed monthly income, giving schools money to reopen, and bolstering vaccine production and distribution.

The passage of the bill, which was backed by 59% of Pennsylvanians, according to a recent poll, was only possible because Pennsylvania residents voted in record numbers in November to send Biden to the White House.

Now, Republicans in the state Legislature are responding to Biden’s victory by introducing a flurry of bills that would make it more difficult to vote.

To stop the GOP’s war on voting rights, Democrats at the national level have one arrow left in their quiver: the For The People Act (HR 1).

Passed by the US House on March 3, HR 1 would allow automatic voter registration, set unified early and mail-in voting standards, enact campaign finance reform, and modernize elections while ensuring their security.

The bill is also all but certain to stall out in the Senate.

Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) has made clear he opposes the comprehensive democracy reform bill. If Democrats choose to eliminate the filibuster—a Senate procedure that allows any one senator to obstruct a bill from being voted on and requires 60 senators to override—they could pass the For the People Act with their 50-vote majority and halt the voter suppression efforts in Pennsylvania.

Republican lawmakers in states across the country have introduced more than 250 bills to disenfranchise voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School. Pennsylvania is among the states leading the way in these efforts, as legislators have proposed more than a dozen bills designed to restrict voting access.

The battles over the For the People Act and the filibuster will play out in the coming weeks and months. As Republican lawmakers in Pennsylvania and other states have made clear, there is a lot at stake.

‘Divorced From Reality’

Even though former President Donald Trump lost Pennsylvania, 2020 was, by all accounts, a good year for the state GOP. They gained seats in the legislature, won two of three statewide races, and held onto all nine of their congressional seats.

Continue reading PA Republicans Are Waging a War on Voting.

GOP: ‘don’t Blame Us; We’re Just Standing Here’

A supporter of President Donald Trump sits inside the office of Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi as he protests inside the U.S. Capito lon Wednesday. Demonstrators breached security and entered the Capitol as Congress debated the 2020 presidential election Electoral Vote Certification.

Republicans jettisoned personal responsibility long before fiscal responsibility

By Tony Norman
Pittsburgh PostGazette Columnist

JAN 12, 2021 – Gruesome details of what happened at the Capitol on Jan. 6 when thousands of deranged followers of President Donald Trump attempted to disrupt the certification of Joe Biden’s electoral victory continued to emerge over the weekend.

We now know about the feces that was smeared across the marbled walls and tracked across once pristine floors. We’ve heard the details about one Capitol Hill police officer beaten to death with a fire extinguisher and we’ve seen the footage of other cops being beaten with broken flag poles by a mob that assures us that “Blue Lives Matter” — except when they don’t.

We’ve heard recordings of the chants “hang Mike Pence” and “bring us Nancy [Pelosi]” by a crowd that erected a hanging post just outside the Capitol grounds. The footage of men running around with plastic zip ties, as if they had expected to take hostages, sends chills because they came within minutes of decapitating the legislative branch of the U.S. government.

It is now clear that with the exception of individual acts of valor — including the officer who lured the mob away from the Senate chamber, where members were evacuating — there was a complete breakdown of security. If the bulk of the insurrectionists had been highly trained Jihadists instead of hypedup QAnon crackpots, they would still be wiping the blood from the floor nearly a week later.

On Tuesday in an attempt to assign responsibility for the assault on the Capitol, the House of Representatives introduced a resolution to impeach Donald J. Trump for the second time.

This followed a weekend in which Mr. Trump found his access to social media permanently denied by two billionaires in California because of his penchant for telling lies that foment sedition and undermine American democracy.

Vice President Mike Pence also made it clear that he reserves the right to use the 25th Amendment should Mr. Trump step out of line during his remaining two weeks in office. The PGA and other bastions of corporate America are unilaterally canceling contracts with Mr. Trump’s companies and resorts rather than be smeared by association with the soontobeimpeached and probably indicted former president.

It is all an attempt to hold a man who denies responsibility for anything responsible for the single greatest — if incompetently staged — coup in American history.

The reactions to Mr. Trump’s turn in fortune have been interesting to watch. Those who typically bellow loudest about personal responsibility rarely show an inclination to take it.

As the latest round of “whatabout” politics proved, all the nattering about Jesus, justice and jurisprudence is just virtue signaling by the right wing — a way to distinguish itself from the socalled “woke mob” of the left.

But when it comes to mobs, “woke” or otherwise, the supporters of Donald Trump are now second to none in America’s fractured discourse. They have a body count of four supporters and one dead cop (and another by suicide) to prove it.

While sincere conservatives have gone into the witness protection program, most Republican elected officials haven’t been serious about personal responsibility in years.

The runup to the Iraq War, the criminal incompetence of the government’s response to Katrina and four years of the Trump administration’s moral callousness has all but scrubbed the terms “repentance” and “responsibility” from the GOP playbook.

Pennsylvania is home to a particularly odious brand of hypocritical rightwing populism and politician. Their ridiculous posturing has been especially evident during Mr. Trump’s attempt to disenfranchise our state’s voters and decertify Mr. Biden as the rightful winner of our 20 electoral votes.

Continue reading GOP: ‘don’t Blame Us; We’re Just Standing Here’

Harrisburg: GOP Senators Refuse to Seat Democrat and Remove Lt. Gov. Fetterman from Presiding

PA GENERAL ASSEMBLY: Lt. Gov. John Fetterman (center) confers with Senate Secretary Megan Martin (right), as Sen. Jake Corman (front, center), takes over the session to conduct a vote to remove Fetterman from residing over the session in Harrisburg on Tuesday, Jan. 5, 2021. Bobby Maggio, Fetterman’s chief of staff, stands to the left.

The Fascist Danger in Our Statehouse

By Angela Couloumbis and Cynthia Fernandez
Spotlight PA

Jan. 5, 2021 – HARRISBURG — The new session of the Pennsylvania Senate got off to a chaotic start Tuesday, with Republicans refusing to seat a Democratic senator whose election victory has been certified by state officials.

Amid high emotions and partisan fingerpointing, Republicans also took the rare step of removing the Democratic lieutenant governor, John Fetterman, from presiding over the session. They apparently did so because they did not believe Fetterman was following the rules and recognizing their legislative motions.

Democrats, in turn, responded by refusing to back Sen. Jake Corman (R., Centre) from assuming the chamber’s top leadership position — an unusual maneuver on what is most often a largely ceremonial and bipartisan vote.

The bitterness and rancor on display was a departure from the normally staid and sedate workings of the chamber. And it potentially sets the stage for a tumultuous twoyear session, which will include debate over key legislative priorities such as redistricting.

“With this reckless, outofcontrol, cowboylike behavior, with this Trumpian behavior that we saw today from Republicans … this does not bode well. It does not bode well for the people of Pennsylvania,” said Sen. Vince Hughes of Philadelphia, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

For now, at least, Democratic state Sen. Jim Brewster, of Allegheny County, will not be allowed to take the oath of office, as Republicans believe litigation over the outcome in his race must first play out in federal court. GOP leaders have said the state constitution gives senators the authority to refuse to seat a member if they believe the person does not meet the qualifications to hold office.

Brewster narrowly won reelection over Republican challenger Nicole Ziccarelli, who is asking a federal judge to throw out the election results. At the center of that legal dispute is several hundred mail ballots that lacked a handwritten date on an outer envelope, as required by state law. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court allowed those ballots to be counted, which gave Brewster the edge in the race.

Continue reading Harrisburg: GOP Senators Refuse to Seat Democrat and Remove Lt. Gov. Fetterman from Presiding

In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

Above: Troy Johnson of Aliquippa speaks up on election turmoil

MILTON, Pa. — Kareem Williams Jr. sits on a park bench in the center of town and waits for the racists to attack. He tells himself he is ready. It’s a cool Saturday morning in fall, and the valley is alive with the rumble of pickups.

When the trucks stop, here at the red light at the corner of Broadway and Front Street, drivers gun their engines. Some glare directly into Williams’ eyes.

Williams is a Black man. The drivers are white. All their passengers are white. Williams returns their gaze with equal ferocity. He tells himself he is ready. He is not. His back faces the Susquehanna River. His car is parked a block away. If these white men jump from their truck, fists or pistols raised, Williams has nowhere to run.

The light turns green. Engine roar blasts the river. Williams follows each truck with his eyes until it’s gone.

“I always knew racism was here. But it was quiet,” said Williams, 24, a factory worker and a corporal in the Pennsylvania National Guard who grew up in Milton. “Now, in this election, people are more openly racist. The dirty looks, middle fingers, the Confederate flags.”

To Williams, and to many non-white people he knows in central Pennsylvania, this rise in overtly racist behavior is linked inextricably to the reelection campaign of President Donald Trump. In yards up and down the Central Susquehanna Valley, Williams sees Confederate flags and Trump flags flying side by side. People with the most Trump bumper stickers seem the most likely to shout hateful things.

As the presidential election approaches, Williams said, such threats grow more common, more passionate.

“On election day I’m going to be in my house. I’m not going anywhere,” said Williams, known by his nickname K.J. “If these racists are looking to protest, they’ll go to Harrisburg or Philadelphia or D.C. If they’re looking to kill people, this will be the place. They’re gonna come here.”

Experts on American racial history agree. For Black people living in towns like Milton, they say, the threat of white terrorism is the highest it’s been in generations.

“Historically, most acts of racial terror have been enacted in rural communities, small towns or medium-sized cities,” said Khalil Muhammad, a history professor at Harvard University. “The conditions for wide-scale anti-Black violence are today more likely than at any point in the last 50 years.”

‘That’s a powder keg’

Within a month, 230 communities in Pennsylvania organized 400 anti-racism events, said Lara Putnam, a historian at the University of Pittsburgh who studies grassroots movements.

“That is an insane number,” Putnam said. “It’s an order of magnitude larger than the number of places that ever held a Tea Party event.”

Many protests happened in towns where African Americans and other non-white people constitute a tiny minority, surrounded by rural communities with virtually no people of color at all. Those areas are overwhelmingly conservative, said Daniel Mallinson, a political science professor at Penn State Harrisburg. Out of 6 million votes cast in Pennsylvania in 2016, Trump won the state by 42,000.

But in Milton he dominated, carrying the surrounding Northumberland County by 69%. In front yards and country fields, Trump flags and Confederate flags comingle.

“Traditionally when we think of political candidates, we think of yard signs. But a lot of Trump flags went up in 2016, and in a lot of places they didn’t come down. It’s a visual representation of tribalism in our politics,” Mallinson said. “There’s a lot of implicit and explicit racial bias in central Pennsylvania.”

As local critics and defenders of the white establishment grow more engaged, state and national politics raise the stakes. Pennsylvania is the likeliest state in the nation to decide the presidential election, according to FiveThirtyEight, a polling and analytics aggregator. Statewide polls place Democrat Joe Biden ahead of Trump by 7%, the same as Hillary Clinton’s lead in Pennsylvania three weeks before the 2016 election.

Large-scale voting fraud has never been detected in modern American politics. Yet Trump often claims he can lose only if the 2020 election is fraudulent, which stokes fear and anger among his core supporters, experts said.

“They fully expect Trump will win,” said John Kennedy, a political science professor at West Chester University outside Philadelphia. “When they hear the results on election night, that’s a powder keg.”

Trump also appears to encourage the more violent factions of his coalition. The president repeatedly has declined to promise a peaceful transition of power. He defended Kyle Rittenhouse for killing an unarmed protester in Kenosha, Wisconsin. During the first presidential debate, Trump appeared to encourage white terrorists, urging the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by” and insisting that “somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left.”

Some white people in central Pennsylvania appear to be following the president’s lead.

“Do I worry about right-wing vigilante violence against peaceful protests if people are protesting Trump after the election? Yes,” Putnam said. “It’s happening. And there’s every reason to think more of it will happen.”

In September, Trump proposed designating the KKK and antifa as terrorist organizations. Antifa is not an organization, however, but rather an idea shared by some on the left to aggressively challenge fascists and Nazis, especially during street protests.

“President Trump has unequivocally denounced hate groups by name on numerous occasions but the media refuses to accurately cover it because that would mean the end of a Democrat Party talking point,” said Samantha Zager, a Trump campaign spokesperson. “The Trump campaign will patiently wait for the media to develop the same intense curiosity on these actual threats to our democracy as it has with regard to hypothetical scenarios from the left.”

In July, neo-Nazis rallied in Williamsport, 20 miles north of Milton. In August, a white person fired into a crowd of civil rights marchers in Schellsburg, Pennsylvania, wounding a man in the face. At a recent event for police reform in Watsontown, three miles north of Milton along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, white counter-protesters yelled that Black people “live off white people.”

Overlooking the protest, on the balcony of the Mansion House restaurant, white men stood armed with assault rifles.

“They looked like snipers,” Williams said. “Trump is the motivator in all of this. He has a huge following here.”

The last time America witnessed such an open embrace between white supremacists and the White House was the administration of Woodrow Wilson, said Muhammad.

“You have to go back 100 years,” Muhammad said. “We have every reason to be extremely vigilant about the possibility for violence over the next several weeks. Anywhere where people are flying Confederate flags are places where people ought to be mindful of where they move in public.”

Racism in the land of Chef Boyardee

The side streets of downtown Milton end in rich river bottomlands where the autumn corn grows 7 feet tall.

Continue reading In This Pennsylvania Town, Racism ‘Was Quiet.’ Then Trump Stoked Fears of Violence

beyond tactics: Even if Trump Loses, Trumpism Will Live On

A defeat for Donald Trump in next month’s election is unlikely to banish the cultural divisions he has stoked © Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

The US is too militantly divided for a sweeping repudiation of the president to last. We need to keep on keepin’ on in organization a progressive majority for years ahead.

By Edward Luce
Financial Times Guest Link

OCT 15 2020 – Though few will dare admit it, much of America is preparing to celebrate the end of Donald Trump. Not only would his defeat bring the curtain down on an administration they regard as the worst in modern US history. In their eyes, it would also dispel the MAGA hat-wearing, militia-sympathising deplorables who make up the US president’s base.

It would be a moment of redemption in which not only Mr Trump, but Trumpism also, will be written off as an aberration. After four years of unearned hell, America could pick up where it left off.

That would be a natural reaction. It would also be a blunder. Should Mr Trump lose next month, it would be with the support of up to 45 per cent of expected voters — between roughly 60m and 70m Americans. Even now when Joe Biden’s poll lead is hardening into double digits, a Trump victory cannot be discounted.

Even if he loses, it is highly unlikely to match the sweeping repudiation that Walter Mondale suffered against Ronald Reagan in 1984, or Barry Goldwater to Lyndon Johnson in 1964. America is too militantly divided for that.

A victorious Biden camp would need to take three concerns into account. The first is that the Republican party is Mr Trump’s, even if he departs the scene. Five years ago, many evangelical voters still felt distaste for Mr Trump’s libertine personality. They quickly learned he was the kind of pugilist they wanted.

The likely Supreme Court confirmation next week of Amy Coney Barrett, and that of Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch before her, are testaments to that. America’s Christian right has embraced its inner Vladimir Lenin — the end justifies the means.

The same applies to professional Republicans. Self-preservation might imply they would distance themselves from Mr Trump as his likely defeat drew nearer. The opposite has been happening. As an Axios study shows elected Republicans have become steadily more Trumpian over the past four years.

Partly this was because a handful of moderate representatives either retired in Mr Trump’s first two years, or were ejected by hardliners in primaries. Mostly it was because of the visceral power of Trumpism. It turns out there is not much grassroots passion for fiscal conservatism in today’s Republican party — if there ever was. The impetus is with those who fear that America will cease to be America, partly because of the US’s growing ethnic diversity.

Swamp notes

In the countdown to the 2020 election, stay on top of the big campaign issues with our newsletter on US power and politics with columnists Rana Foroohar and Edward Luce. Sign up here

The second point is that America’s information culture is far more degraded today than in 2016. Democrats often blame Mr Trump’s victory on the Russians. Maybe so. But whatever disinformation Russia spread was dwarfed by home-grown material. According to a study this week by the German Marshall Fund, the amount of fake, or disguised fake, news that Americans consume on their social media has more than tripled since 2016.

Facebook is a much greater vehicle for disinformation today. More importantly, US consumer demand for news that is either distorted or plain false — about the pandemic, for example — continues to grow. A dark conspiracy cult such as QAnon would have been hard to imagine a few years ago. Today it reaches tens of millions of Americans.

The evermore disruptive impact of digital technology on public culture makes governing increasingly difficult. A Biden presidency’s first priority would be to roll out a national coronavirus strategy to flatten America’s curve. Little else can happen before that.

Much of its success would depend on Americans following rules such as wearing masks, avoiding crowds and complying with contact tracers. But a Trump defeat is unlikely to banish the cultural divisions he has stoked. Large numbers of Americans say they will reject a vaccine and view masks as a surrender of their freedom. Mr Biden’s fate will partly hinge on the degree to which he can marginalise those sentiments.

Trump vs Biden: who is leading the 2020 election polls?

Use the FT’s interactive calculator to see which states matter most in winning the presidency

His final concern should be on the conditions that gave rise to Trumpism. The ingredients are still there. Hyper-partisanship, blue-collar deaths of despair, the China threat and middle-class insecurity are all worse, or as bad, as four years ago. Most of those looking to follow Mr Trump, such as Mike Pompeo, his secretary of state, or Tom Cotton, the Arkansas senator, are harder-line versions of him without the caprice.

The fixes to America’s problems are manifold, complex, and painstaking. A vaccine will not suddenly banish the pandemic. Nor would Mr. Trump’s defeat magically bring an end to Trumpism.

Trump Administration’s Snap Change Is ‘Cruel And Mean-Spirited’

Wolf’s State Human Services Secretary Denounces Measure

By J.D. Prose
Beaver County Times

Sept 23, 2019 – Calling the Trump administration’s proposed changes to a federal food assistance program “cruel and mean-spirited,” a cabinet secretary for Gov. Tom Wolf said Monday that 200,000 Pennsylvanians could lose their benefits.

“The Wolf administration vehemently opposes this change,” said Pennsylvania Human Services Secretary Teresa Miller in a conference call with reporters about the possible changes to eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps.

Miller’s department estimates that 2,544 Beaver County residents and 1,564 Lawrence County residents could lose their benefits under the plan.

President Donald Trump’s administration has proposed prohibiting states from raising or eliminating income limits that allows them to give federally-funded food benefits to people who would not otherwise qualify.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates the change would save $2.5 billion a year, but supporters of the current system say it would hurt struggling low-income families, children, seniors and the disabled.

Trump administration officials have also argued that changing the rule would help reduce cases of fraud, but Miller said that in Pennsylvania the fraud rate in SNAP is just 1 percent and “lower than every other human services program.”

Miller said that a Pennsylvania family of four is eligible for SNAP benefits if it earns a maximum of $40,000 annually. However, under the Trump administration’s proposed change, that same family would only be allowed to earn $32,000 or less to be eligible, leaving many families without access to food.

“SNAP helps low-income families reliably keep food on the table without choosing between basic needs,” Miller said. Continue reading Trump Administration’s Snap Change Is ‘Cruel And Mean-Spirited’

We Are the Only Oil-and-Gas State Not Taxing Drilling

Strapped for cash, Pennsylvania may finally grant the governor a victory and enact a severance tax. But it’s an uphill battle.
Governing Magazine
DECEMBER 2017 – Hydraulic fracking has “brought back great-paying jobs,” says Steve Miskin, spokesman for Pennsylvania House Speaker Mike Turzai. (AP Photo/Ralph Wilson, File)

If your state is the only oil and gas producer in the nation that doesn’t have a severance tax, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on you to enact one. But given the amount of money involved, it’s easier to talk about creating such a tax than actually imposing it. In Pennsylvania, that talk has blossomed into a fight over more than just money; it now involves lobbying, environmental protection and the next campaign for governor.

Pennsylvania became the first place in the world to successfully drill for oil back in the 1850s. Over the past decade, however, natural gas has overtaken oil as the big game in the state. Pennsylvania is now the nation’s second-leading producer of natural gas, after Texas. Naturally, lawmakers are wary of tampering with the golden goose. “Right now, you have an industry that’s growing and not asking for state dollars, like others,” says Steve Miskin, a spokesman for state House Speaker Mike Turzai. “It has brought back great-paying jobs.”

The industry has spent more than $60 million on lobbying and campaign donations in the state over the past decade to ward off a severance tax on its profits. Industry officials like to point out that, even in the absence of a severance tax, Pennsylvania’s general business tax rates are often higher than those in other production states — notably Texas, which doesn’t tax corporate income. What’s more, Pennsylvania five years ago imposed an impact fee on drillers, which generated $173 million last year. “The comparison with other states shouldn’t stop and start just with the severance tax,” says Kevin Sunday, chief lobbyist with the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry. “We have to look at the whole structure.”

But no one disputes that fiscally challenged Pennsylvania could use the money a severance tax would bring in — easily as much as $100 million a year. So quite a few legislators are determined to pass one. The state Senate actually approved a severance tax earlier this year.

It’s been a tough sell in the House, though, and not only because Turzai and other Republicans are largely opposed. State Rep. Greg Vitali, a Democrat who became the first legislator to propose a severance tax nearly a decade ago, came out against the Senate package, arguing it would also loosen state control of drilling permits and weaken environmental protection. “I find myself in the odd position during these budget negotiations to suddenly be opposing it,” he says. “The passage of a severance tax now is linked to some very bad provisions that in my view would cripple the Department of Environmental Protection’s ability to do its job.”

Meanwhile, the severance tax has become a sensitive campaign issue. A leaked tape captured Republican state Sen. Scott Wagner, a likely gubernatorial candidate next year, predicting that passage of the tax would guarantee a second term for Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf, a leading severance tax advocate, because he’d have a big victory to tout.

The specter of handing Wolf a win has become the final and perhaps the biggest hurdle for the severance tax to overcome. “Both the Democrats and the Republicans,” Vitali says, “are viewing the severance tax through the lens of the gubernatorial election.”

Sanders and Warren: First Vanquish Trump, Then Mobilize for ‘Political Revolution’

Sanders warned Colorado voters that ‘if we do not get our act together, this country is going to slide into oligarchy’

By Lauren McCauley

Common Dreams

Oct 17, 2016 – Sen. Bernie Sanders campaigns for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in Denver, where supporters dropped a banner calling for rejection of the Dakota Access pipeline. (Photo: Bruce Finley/ The Denver Post)

Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) appeared side-by-side in Denver on Sunday evening to once again make the case to progressive voters that a vote for Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is still a vote for "political revolution."

"To every person who ‘felt the Bern’ during during the primary, America and the Democratic Party know the power and energy of the progressive movement," Warren told the 1,700 who packed the Auraria Campus student union. Sanders won the March caucus in the pivotal battleground state, where Clinton is now polling an average of nine points ahead of Republican rival Donald Trump.

"It goes without saying," Sanders said, "that all of us together have got to do everything we can to elect Hillary Clinton president. But what is equally important is that on November 9th, the day after Hillary is elected president, we continue our efforts because we know what real change is about, what real politics is about, is transforming this country."

Both progressive firebrands touted "the most progressive party platform in the history of the United States of America," which they credited to the millions of voters who supported Sanders during the primary campaign. However, they said that the reforms called for the in the platform which will require defending.

Sanders said that if voters think that Wall Street, as well as the insurance, fossil fuel, and pharmaceutical industries, are going to "go peacefully into the night, you are mistaken."

He laid out the "two-fold struggle" for progressive voters. First, he said, Clinton needs to win by "landslide proportions so there is no doubt in anybody’s mind that this country is going to reject that sexism, that racism, the xenophobia of the Trump campaign." (Continued)

Continue reading Sanders and Warren: First Vanquish Trump, Then Mobilize for ‘Political Revolution’