Blow, Cohen, and Krugman

In “‘I’m Not a Super Predator'” Mr. Blow says a graduate student’s bold confrontation of Hillary Clinton raised an issue that needed to be raised.  Mr. Cohen is losing sleep over “Trump’s Il Duce Routine” and says Europe knows that democracies can collapse. It watches Trump with memories of when the sky darkened.  They should probably be more afraid of Cruz…  Prof. Krugman, in “Planet on the Ballot,” says it appears that the goal of drastically reducing emissions is within reach, but the wrong leader could still get in the way of saving the planet.  Here’s Mr. Blow:

Days before Hillary Clinton thundered to an overwhelming victory over rival Bernie Sanders in South Carolina — largely on the strength of black voters who supported her by an even higher percentage than theysupported Barack Obama with in 2008 — a young, proudly queer, black activist, Ashley Williams, was in Charlotte, N.C., plotting an action that would make a statement of its own.

She was planning to attend a private Clinton fund-raiser in Charleston, S.C., and confront the candidate about her support of policies — specifically the 1994 crime bill — that contributed to the explosion of racially tilted mass incarceration in this country.

Williams and her friends decided to make a sign — but what to put on it? They toyed with phrases from a now infamous speech Clinton gave in 1996 — when the 23-year-old Williams was a toddler — in which Clinton said:

“We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels. They are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called super predators: no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.”

They settled on a phrase and over a couple of hours they blocked out the letters on a pillowcase. Williams practiced in a bathroom mirror folding the banner into her bra and whipping it out. (She figured that she’d have to hide it on her body so that it wouldn’t be confiscated before she revealed it at the fund-raiser.) But it was too thick. So she cut away the back half that had no writing. Perfect.

The night of the event, she nervously made her way through security with her secret banner hidden away, and took up position near where she assumed Clinton was to speak. As soon as Clinton descended the stairs of the mansion, took the microphone and began her remarks, Williams turned to the crowd and unfurled her banner. Then she turned to Clinton, who was confronted with her own worst words:

“We have to bring them to heel.”

On the video of the encounter, recorded by a friend of Williams who accompanied her to the event (After all, in this age, an action without a video is like a tree falling in the forest with nobody around to hear it), an exchange follows:

Williams: “We want you to apologize for mass incarceration.”

Clinton: “O.K., we’ll talk about…

Williams: “I’m not a super predator, Hillary Clinton.”

Clinton, obviously caught off guard, struggles to find an appropriate response as Williams continues to pressure her and the crowd begins to grumble, “That’s inappropriate,” and the Secret Service closes in on Williams.

Then Clinton says something about answering for her statement and mass incarceration in general that left me flabbergasted:

“You know what, nobody’s ever asked me before. You’re the first person to ask me, and I’m happy to address it, but you are the first person to ask me, dear.”

Could this be true? How was this possible? How is it that of all the black audiences she has been before in the interceding two decades, and all the black relationships she has cultivated, no one person ever asked her what this young graduate student was asking?

In that movement, I knew that the people of my generation had failed the people of Williams’s. Her whole life has borne the bruises of what was done, largely by Democrats, when I was the age she is now.

She said she has grown up knowing families and whole communities devastated by vanishing black people, swept away into a criminal justice system that pathologized their very personage. That night, Williams forced a reckoning.

For it, Williams has been viciously, and I believe, unfairly attacked as a political operative on a hit mission, all of which she denied to me in detail during our phone interview on Saturday. She also said that Sanders was wrong for actually voting for the bill.

Perhaps most stinging was Bill Maher, who used an expletive to call protesters like Williams “idiots,” and said: “People need to learn the difference between an imperfect friend and a deadly enemy. You want to tear Hillary Clinton down? Great. Then enjoy President Trump.”

But this is a false choice, one too often posed to young activists who insist on holding power accountable. It’s the same argument they hear from the police: Allow us to operate in your communities with impunity and abandon or the criminals will do so to even more devastating effect. Following this line of reasoning, silent absorption of pain and suffering is the only option. I wholly reject that.

After the encounter, Clinton said in a statement published by The Washington Post’s Jonathan Capehart: “Looking back, I shouldn’t have used those words, and I wouldn’t use them today.”

The statement isn’t really an apology for championing the bill itself, and as such, I find it wanting. But at least Williams’s action provoked a response that many of us who came before her failed to demand.

For that, Ashley Williams, and activists like her, should be celebrated for shaming silence.

Next up we have Mr. Cohen:

Europe, the soil on which Fascism took root, is watching the rise of Donald Trump with dismay. Contempt for the excesses of America is a European reflex, but when the United States seems tempted by a latter-day Mussolini, smugness in London, Paris and Berlin gives way to alarm. Europe knows that democracies can collapse.

It’s not just that Trump re-tweets to his six million followers a quote attributed to Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” It’s not just that Trump refuses to condemn David Duke, the former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, who has expressed support for him. It’s not just that violence is woven into Trump’s language as indelibly as the snarl woven into his features — the talk of shooting somebody or punching a protester in the face, the insulting of the disabled, the macho mockery of women, the anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican tirades. It’s not just that he could become Silvio Berlusconi with nukes.

It’s the echoes, now unmistakable, of times when the skies darkened. Europe knows how democracies collapse, after lost wars, in times of fear and anger and economic hardship, when the pouting demagogue appears with his pageantry and promises. America’s Weimar-lite democratic dysfunction is plain to see. A corrupted polity tends toward collapse.

Trump is telling people something is rotten in the state of America. The message resonates because the rot is there.

He has emerged from a political system corrupted by money, locked in an echo chamber of insults, reduced to the show business of an endless campaign, blocked by a kind of partisanship run amok that leads Republican members of Congress to declare they will not meet with President Obama’s eventual nominee for the Supreme Court, let alone listen to him or her. This is an outrage! The public interest has become less than an afterthought.

Enter the smart, savvy, scowling showman. He is self-financed and promises restored greatness. He has a bully’s instinct for the jugular and a sense of how sick an angry America is of politics as usual and political correctness. He hijacks a Republican Party that has paved the way for him with years of ranting, bigotry, bellicosity and what Robert Kagan, in the Washington Post, has rightly called “racially tinged derangement syndrome” with respect to President Obama.

Trump is a man repeatedly underestimated by the very elites who made Trumpism possible. He’s smarter than most of his belittlers, and quicker on his feet, which only makes him more dangerous.

He’s the anti-Obama, all theater where the president is all prudence, the mouth-that-spews to the presidential teleprompter, rage against reason, the back-slapper against the maestro of aloofness, the rabble-rouser to the cerebral law professor, the dealmaker to the diligent observer. If Obama in another life could have been a successful European social democrat, Trump is only and absolutely of America.

Part of the Trump danger is that he’s captured an American irredentism, a desire to reclaim something — power, confidence, rising incomes — that many people feel is lost. Trump is a late harvest of 9/11 and the fears that took hold that day. He’s the focus of vague hopes and dim resentments that have turned him into a savior-in-waiting. As with Ronald Reagan, it’s not the specifics with Trump, it’s a feeling, a vibration — and no matter how much he dissembles, reveals himself as a thug, traffics in contradictions, the raptness persists.

Europe is transfixed. The German newsweekly “Der Spiegel” has called Trump “the world’s most dangerous man” and even waxed nostalgic for President George W. Bush, which for a European publication is like suddenly discovering a soft spot for Dracula.

The French Prime Minister, Manuel Valls, has tweeted that Trump “fuels hatred.” In Britain Prime Minister David Cameron has attacked Trump’s proposed ban on non-American Muslims entering the United States, and more than half-a-million people have signed a petition urging that he be kept out of Britain. This weekend Britain’s Sunday Times ran a page-size photo of Trump in Lord Kitchener pose with a blaring headline: “America wants me.”

So do a few Europeans, among them the French rightist Jean-Marie Le Pen. Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, is a fan, as are some Russian oligarchs. Judge a man by the company he keeps.

This disoriented America just might want Trump — and that possibility should be taken very seriously, before it is too late, by every believer in American government of the people, by the people, for the people. The power of the Oval Office and the temperament of a bully make for an explosive combination, especially when he has shown contempt for the press, a taste for violence, a consistent inhumanity, a devouring ego and an above-the-law swagger.

As Europe knows, democracies do die. Often, they are the midwives of their own demise. Once lost, the cost of recovery is high.

And now we get to Prof. Krugman:

We now have a pretty good idea who will be on the ballot in November: Hillary Clinton, almost surely (after the South Carolina blowout, prediction markets give her a 96 percent probability of securing her party’s nomination), and Donald Trump, with high likelihood (currently 80 percent probability on the markets). But even if there’s a stunning upset in what’s left of the primaries, we already know very well what will be at stake — namely, the fate of the planet.

Why do I say this?

Obviously, the partisan divide on environmental policy has been growing ever wider. Just eight years ago the G.O.P. nominated John McCain, whose platform included a call for a “cap and trade” system — that is, a system that restricts emissions, but allows pollution permits to be bought and sold — to limit greenhouse gases. Since then, however, denial of climate science and opposition to anything that might avert catastrophe have become essential pillars of Republican identity. So the choice in 2016 is starker than ever before.

Yet that partisan divide would not, in itself, be enough to make this a truly crucial year. After all, electing a pro-environment president wouldn’t make much difference if he or (much more likely) she weren’t in a position to steer us away from the precipice. And the truth is that given Republican retrogression and the G.O.P.’s near-lock on the House of Representatives, even a blowout Democratic victory this year probably wouldn’t create a political environment in which anything like Mr. McCain’s 2008 proposal could pass Congress.

But here’s the thing: the next president won’t need to pass comprehensive legislation, or indeed any legislation, to take a big step toward saving the planet. Dramatic progress in energy technology has put us in a position where executive action — action that relies on existing law — can achieve great things. All we need is an executive willing to take that action, and a Supreme Court that won’t stand in its way.

And this year’s election will determine whether those conditions hold.

Many people, including some who should know better, still seem oddly oblivious to the ongoing revolution in renewable energy. Recently Bill Gates declared, as he has a number of times over the past few years, that we need an “energy miracle” — some kind of amazing technological breakthrough — to contain climate change. But we’ve already had that miracle: the cost of electricity generated by wind and sun has dropped dramatically, while costs of storage, crucial to making renewables fully competitive with conventional energy, are plunging as we speak.

The result is that we’re only a few years from a world in which carbon-neutral sources of energy could replace much of our consumption of fossil fuels at quite modest cost. True, Republicans still robotically repeat that any attempt to limit emissions would “destroy the economy.” But at this point such assertions are absurd. As both a technical matter and an economic one, drastic reductions in emissions would, in fact, be quite easy to achieve. All it would take to push us across the line would be moderately pro-environment policies.

As a card-carrying economist, I am obliged to say that it would be best if these policies took the form of a comprehensive system like cap and trade or carbon taxes, which would provide incentives to reduce emissions all across the economy. But something like the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan, which would use flexible regulations imposed by the Environmental Protection Agency on major emitters, should be enough to get us a long way toward the goal.

And as I said, no new legislation would be needed, just a president willing to act and a Supreme Court that won’t stand in that president’s way, sacrificing the planet in the name of conservative ideology. What’s more, the Paris agreement from last year means that if the U.S. moves forward on climate action, much of the world will follow our lead.

I don’t know about you, but this situation makes me very nervous. As long as the prospect of effective action on climate seemed remote, sheer despair kept me, and I’m sure many others, comfortably numb — you knew nothing was going to happen, so you just soldiered on. Now, however, salvation is clearly within our grasp, but it remains all too possible that we’ll manage to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. And this is by far the most important issue there is; it, er, trumps even such things as health care, financial reform, and inequality.

So I’m going to be hanging on by my fingernails all through this election. No doubt there will be plenty of entertainment along the way, given the freak show taking place on one side of the aisle. But I won’t forget that the stakes this time around are deadly serious. And neither should you.

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