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Trump and Right-Wing Nationalism

Hoyt Hilsman   |   May 21, 2016   12:28 PM ET


The success of Donald Trump and the rise of right-wing nationalism in the United States should come as no great surprise, considering the strength of right-wing movements in many other developed nations. Globalization and rapid technological change have meant the loss of millions of jobs throughout the industrialized world and will certainly mean millions more lost in the future. Societies with large middle class populations have been especially hard hit as their jobs are replaced either by machines or by workers in developing nations.

This has happened before - during the nineteenth-century Industrial Age and again in the 1930's with the Great Depression. But the scope and pace of economic and technological change in the twenty-first century is even more rapid and disruptive. And while the political and social impact may not be as sudden or cataclysmic as, say the Depression, it is likely to be equally as devastating. Although nations can mitigate some of the impact of this rapid change, there is nothing they can do to stop it.

As in the past, when economic and social crises have occurred, people look for scapegoats. Whether it is immigrants or bankers, governments or corporations, political ideologies or economic theories, people want to someone to blame. And they want simple solutions. In their frustration, or even desperation, they seize on a charismatic leader or an easy slogan, whether from the right or left. In Europe and the United States, many blame immigrants, the government or the political system for their problems. On both the right and the left, the search for scapegoats or villains can eclipse the need for real solutions.

While roughly a third of the populations in Europe and the U.S. may be supportive or sympathetic to right-wing nationalist movements, another third are opposed - often strongly - and the rest are essentially bewildered and passive. In the competition between the right-wing nationalists and the left-wing social democrats in Europe, for example, the right-wing has both a practical and historical advantage. By and large, right-wing nationalist movements are less concerned with the trappings of democracy and favor strong, authoritarian leaders.

The rise of European fascism in the 1930's is, of course, an extreme example, but it does illustrate how left-wing movements, who are often dedicated to democratic practices, are at a real disadvantage in their struggle against right-wing nationalist movements. While both the left and right can be co-opted by charismatic demagogues, the right has shown a greater proclivity to line up behind a powerful authority figure, who is dismissive of the democratic process.

Both Donald Trump himself and his supporters have shown many of the characteristics of past right-wing nationalist movements. Trump's own personality is in line with narcissistic leaders who have risen to power within nationalist movements. More importantly, the willingness of both Trump and his followers to challenge, or even discard, the processes of democracy is typical of these kind of movements. The constant drumbeat that the system is "rigged" or "corrupt," may have a ring of truth, but it is fundamentally an attack on the democratic system of government, however flawed it may be.

Both the left-wing and centrist movements in Europe and the U.S. have struggled against the rising tide of right-wing nationalism, without much success. This week, Austria may elect a far-right nationalist as president, the first in Europe. In the latest U.S. election, socialist Bernie Sanders has appealed to younger, educated voters, but has made few inroads with older, white, male and working-class voters who are the core of the right-wing nationalist movement. And while centrist Hillary Clinton maintains strong support from older women and minorities, her support among the same demographic is weak.

The fundamental problem is that neither the left or centrist parties in Europe or the U.S. are addressing the struggles of the middle-class and working-class voters who are the core of right-wing movements. Breaking up the big banks or addressing income equality may sound like a good idea, but it does little to speak to the citizens who believe that immigrants, foreign nations and their own governments are the source of their troubles.

Until the left/center parties can figure out how to reach those citizens, the right-wing nationalist movements will continue to grow. And since they are increasingly operating outside of the norms of the democratic process (e.g. Trump's outrageous and defiant statements and the proclivity towards violence and intimidation), the right-wing has more ammunition, especially in the age of social media, with which to increase their power and influence.

Rahel Gebreyes   |   May 18, 2016    4:08 PM ET

Women of color are a big priority for Hillary Clinton's campaign, and according to her senior policy advisor, Maya Harris, the democratic frontrunner has policy ideas to prove it. 

Interestingly, Clinton has had a complicated relationship with black female voters during this election cycle. While the demographic has come out in droves to support the candidate, and she's gained many high-profile endorsements from ladies who exude #blackgirlmagic, Clinton has also faced criticism from prominent author Michelle Alexander and younger activists

But Harris believes Clinton is whole-heartedly dedicated to their cause. Sitting down with The Huffington Post at Clinton's Brooklyn headquarters last week, Harris said the former secretary of state has been an advocate for black women-owned businesses and hopes to combat the barriers they may face.  

"She's putting forward plans like how we're going to be able to increase access to capital, which has been a barrier [and] a challenge for many women who are trying to start up businesses, in particular African American women, who she's heard stories from along the campaign trail, and certainly over the years," Harris told host Caroline Modarressy-Tehrani.

Clinton has also pushed for affordable child care, paid family leave and an increased minimum wage, all of which would impact women of color in a big way, Harris suggested.

[Of] minimum wage workers, women are nearly two-thirds, and they're predominately women of color. Women of color are often in low-wage jobs that don't have benefits. They don't have paid sick days. They don't have paid family leave. And they are not earning enough to afford childcare when childcare costs have gone up 25 percent over the last decade. In the majority of states, it costs more for childcare than for college tuition.  

Harris added that she thinks Clinton's plans are both realistic and achievable. 

"She has concrete plans and proposals that add up and that would make a real difference in the lives of many women of color," Harris said. 

Hear more from Maya Harris in the video above.

Could the U.S. Become a Multi-Party Nation? Emerging Factions and the Electoral College

Carl Nettleton   |   May 16, 2016    1:53 PM ET

While the U.S. allows multiple parties to participate in the political system, it is, and always has been, a system dominated by two political parties. However, this year both the Democrats and Republicans have evolved into factions that could be imagined as new political parties.

The Democrats have two wings. Bernie Sanders, previously an independent, now leads a faction focused on social programs and lifting the status of the less financially endowed. Hillary Clinton espouses traditional Democratic values, but also focuses on U.S. responsibilities in the world order.

The Republicans are more complicated. The Tea Party faction, although marginalized during this election cycle, still seeks a reduction of both government spending and the influence of government in the lives of individuals. A favored candidate, Rand Paul, dropped out of the race early. A core group of Republicans, represented by the Bush family, Mitt Romney, and others, espouse more traditional party values. Ted Cruz represents a faction that could be called the Revivalists, focused on a faith-based interpretation of governing. Finally, the Trump faction favors isolationism without the fiscal restraints of typical Republicans and, like Sanders, places an emphasis on being a champion for the less fortunate.

The "rigged system" alluded to in recent months has simply referred to the way each party places a presidential candidate before the voters in the general election. However, voters dissatisfied with government and political polarization have threatened to overtake the system and wrest away some of the control from party leaders.

How would the campaigns have evolved if coverage of other candidates in the broadcast media had been equal to the coverage Trump received?

The role of the media in this cycle has been particularly revealing as reporting has continued to move toward titillation from journalism. The Pew Research Center for Media and Journalism reports that "while the question of what is entertainment and what is news is open to interpretation, the data clearly indicates that there have been major shifts in how the news media define the news."

An article on October 22, 2015, in The Atlantic reported that "Under a law passed in 1934, the FCC requires broadcast television and radio stations (but not cable channels) to give equal opportunities to "legally qualified" candidates. The law exempts news programs, which the FCC has broadly interpreted to include talk shows like The Tonight Show."

As a celebrity with non-conforming approaches to campaigning, Donald Trump has met the entertainment demands of the 24-hour news cycle and the requirements of the FCC by perceiving the value of being entertaining in a way that ensures coverage by both broadcast news channels and cable news shows.

How would the campaign have evolved if coverage of other candidates in the broadcast media had been equal to the coverage Trump received? Would Bernie Sanders be ahead of Hillary Clinton if his early campaign had been covered seriously and equally? Would John Kasich still have been in the race if his more mainstream and less entertaining approach to campaigning had been given the same air time as Trump? Would Libertarian Gary Johnson have received more coverage if the public knew that he self describes himself as aligned with the policies of Bernie Sanders but with fiscal constraint? What would have happened if the uncivil and unprecedented name-calling and allegations had not been reported, or at least not in an around-the-clock way?

If no candidate received the 270 electoral college votes required, the election would be sent to Congress. What would that outcome be?

More importantly, has media coverage been complicit in fracturing the parties by spending more time covering personalities and the entertainment value of candidates rather than their content and policies? Has this shift in coverage in part been responsible for the polarized political climate, leading to the possibility of a true multi-party system emerging in the United States?

How would voters respond if they had choices like the following in the general election?

  • Democratic Party: Hillary Clinton

  • Green Party: Jill Stein

  • Libertarian Party: Gary Johnson

  • Republican Party: John Kasich

  • Revivalist Party: Ted Cruz

  • Social Democrat Party: Bernie Sanders

  • Tea Party: Rand Paul

  • Trump Party: Donald Trump

How would the electoral college respond? According to a 2004 fact sheet authored by the Regents of the University of California, the electoral college "offers many unique benefits," including the following:

  • Even in close elections it is relatively easy to determine a winner,

  • It allows a president to receive a mandate from the people, as every president must receive a majority of electoral votes to be elected, and

  • It maintains a two-party system.

The Regents fact sheet also says this: "If an election was determined by popular vote, there would likely be several candidates and voters would have a difficult time identifying their preferred candidate. In an election with multiple candidates, the winner would be unlikely to receive a majority of votes."

If no candidate received the required 270 electoral college votes, the election would be sent to Congress. What would that outcome be?

Whether one or more of the factions imagined above evolves into a true political party remains to be seen, but it will likely be difficult, particularly for the Republicans, for each party to effectively merge their factions into a unified platform, other than a common desire to defeat the opposition candidate.

In addition, Both Democrats and Republicans know that if one of their candidates created another political party, then their party's votes would be reduced in the election. This pressure is the connecting tissue that each party does not want to break, even when distinctly differing perspectives have emerged. Given this need to stick together, a true multi-party general election is not likely in 2016, and perhaps never.

However, public dissatisfaction with the current polarized state of national politics, the seemingly irreconcilable factions within each major party, and the clear voter interest in party outsiders Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders, suggests that the connecting tissue might soon be broken and an evolution to a true multi-party system could be in our future.

Jodie Evans: A Codepink Disrupter

  |   May 13, 2016    6:11 PM ET

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Media White-Washing The White House On Syria

Michael Wallach   |   May 12, 2016   11:13 AM ET

As the Obama administration closes out its last year, it has sought to spin its role in the now obvious Syrian chaos and human catastrophe as an attempt to stay out of a civil war, that perhaps, it should not have stayed out of. It is an admirable narrative of a President and his foreign policy team that sought to do good, by refusing to involve itself in another war in the Middle East, only to discover the tragedy that the region was nastier than it had imagined. It is a sad tale of good men who did nothing, or certainly not enough, and it has only the singular problem of being altogether false.

The White House has been deeply involved in the Syrian uprising from the beginning, while simultaneously attempting to hide its own involvement, but you wouldn't know it from the recent press.

The collective memory of the media on this issue has been, as to be expected, amnesiac. A recent New York Times Magazine feature story on Ben Rhodes, the White House foreign policy speechwriter and "Aspiring Novelist Who Became Obama's Foreign Policy Guru," glowingly portrays Rhodes as one of the strongest proponents and most powerful voices inside the "Oval Office debate over Syria policy in 2012 -- resulting in a decision not to support the uprising against Assad in any meaningful way." The Magazine goes on to explain how Obama "kept the United States out of a civil war in Syria..." due to "Obama's particular revulsion against a certain kind of global power politics." When asked about the 450,000 deaths in Syria, Ben Rhodes, Obama's "guru" replies. ""Yeah, I admit very much to that reality," he says. "There's a numbing element to Syria in particular. But I will tell you this," he continues. "I profoundly do not believe that the United States could make things better in Syria by being there. And we have an evidentiary record of what happens when we're there -- nearly a decade in Iraq."

"Ben Rhodes wanted to do right," writes the NY Times Magazine, "and maybe, when the arc of history lands, it will turn out that he did. At least, he tried. Something scared him, and made him feel as if the grown-ups in Washington didn't know what they were talking about, and it's hard to argue that he was wrong."

The narrative is as straightforward as it is compelling - the White House and its young idealists are now becoming more aware of, but still struggling with, the tragedy of the world, and under attack for having been too hands-off in Syria: perhaps the perfect set up for Hillary's "more muscular" foreign policy outlook to take shape in. Too bad it's all a lie.

In 2011, The Washington Post itself reported the Obama administrations covert and influential instigation of the Syrian uprising. "The State Department has secretly financed Syrian political opposition groups and related projects, including a satellite TV channel that beams anti-government programming into the country, according to previously undisclosed diplomatic cables" explained The Post. "Classified U.S. diplomatic cables show that the State Department has funneled as much as $6 million...since 2006 to operate the satellite channel and finance other activities inside Syria...The U.S. money for Syrian opposition figures began flowing under President George W. Bush in 2005," wrote the Post, and that "The financial backing has continued under President Obama."

The Post report was based on cables released by Wikileaks. "the cables... show that U.S. Embassy officials in Damascus became worried in 2009 when they learned that Syrian intelligence agents were raising questions about U.S. programs," wrote the Post. "Syrian authorities "would undoubtedly view any U.S. funds going to illegal political groups as tantamount to supporting regime change," read an April 2009 cable signed by the top-ranking U.S. diplomat in Damascus at the time."

The money was originally intended to go to anti-Assad forces within Syria, but none could be found who would take foreign money for such a project. So instead, it went to a group of openly-anti Assad Syrian ex-patriots in London, under the name "the Movement for Justice and Development. The group, which is banned in Syria, openly advocates for Assad's removal. U.S. cables describe its leaders as "liberal, moderate Islamists" who are former members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Several U.S. diplomatic cables from the embassy in Damascus reveal that the Syrian exiles received money from a State Department program called the Middle East Partnership Initiative. "According to the cables, the State Department funneled money to the exile group via the Democracy Council, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit." Even the conservative mainstream Post couldn't help but comment on the irony of the effort. "According to its Web site," wrote the Post "the council sponsors projects in the Middle East, Asia and Latin America to promote the "fundamental elements of stable societies."

When forced to comment, the State Department at the time pinned the number at $6.3 million, but at least one Wikileaks cable has the amount of State Department funding at $12 million, and that is just between 2005 and 2010.

The raison d'etre of the cables was indeed that the White House considered this support to be top secret and feared any press over the matter, both because it would prove false the administration's claims of non-involvement and it would of course delegitimize the armed opposition movement in local eyes if it were outed to be a foreign-backed insurrection. "A June 2009 cable" wrote The Post, "listed the concerns under the heading "MJD: A Leaky Boat?" It reported that the group was "seeking to expand its base in Syria" but had been "initially lax in its security, often speaking about highly sensitive material on open lines." The cable cited evidence that the Syrian intelligence service was aware of the connection between the London exile group and the Democracy Council in Los Angeles. As a result, embassy officials fretted that the entire Syria assistance program had been compromised."

Of course, the White House instigation of the Syrian civil war, and assistance to the Syrian rebels did not end with these programs. We need not even begin to peel away at the many layers of financial, military and organizational support that the US has lent to the Syrian civil war rebels through its allies Israel, Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, who had been arming the rebels from the very beginning. The figure of $6 or $12 million dollars from the State Department was only the very tip of the iceberg. By 2015, in classified debates inside the House Intelligence Committee, The Washington Post later reported that lawmakers were debating how much to continue funding "a secret CIA operation to train and arm rebels in Syria... that U.S. officials said has become one the agency's largest covert operations, with a budget approaching $1 billion a year."

Was this money going towards a television station? Of course not. The Post makes clear that "much of the CIA's money goes toward running secret training camps in Jordan, gathering intelligence to help guide the operations of agency-backed militias and managing a sprawling logistics network used to move fighters, ammunition and weapons into the country."

In fact, from the very first moment of the war, this was no popular uprising that failed to generate Western support, but a foreign-backed assault on a stabile society. Much was done to weaken Assad in the years leading up to it, but the war can be said to have begun, in earnest, in March of 2011, when clashes in the street turned violent (and eerily took the exact same form as that the 1983 CIA backed unsuccessful Homs rebellion in Syria) in which rebel snipers on rooftops shot police and then cried massacre when the police shot back.

Here is the version according to "CNN Fast Facts" on the history of the conflict. "March 2011: Violence flares in Daraa after a group of teens and children are arrested for writing political graffiti. Dozens of people are killed when security forces crack down on demonstrations." Much of the rest of the mainstream media portrays the situation in the same tone - a popular demonstration against Assad was met with brutal force from a maniacal dictator.

Yet here is the version from onlookers themselves. ""I have seen from the beginning armed protesters in those demonstrations ... they were the first to fire on the police. Very often the violence of the security forces comes in response to the brutal violence of the armed insurgents." - Jesuit priest Father Frans Van der Lugt, January 2012, Homs Syria

As Professor Tim Anderson, author of the new book "The Dirty War on Syria" writes: "A double story began on the Syrian conflict, at the very beginning of the armed violence in 2011, in the southern border town of Daraa. The first story comes from independent witnesses in Syria, such as the late Father Frans Van der Lugt in Homs. They say that armed men infiltrated the early political reform demonstrations to shoot at both police and civilians. This violence came from sectarian Islamists. The second comes from the Islamist groups ('rebels') and their western backers, including the Washington-based Human Rights Watch. They claim there was 'indiscriminate' violence from Syrian security forces to repress political rallies and that the 'rebels' grew out of a secular political reform movement."

"In 2011, we saw armed Islamists using rooftop sniping against police and government officials, drawing in the armed forces, only to cry 'civilian massacre' when they and their collaborators came under attack from the Army," writes Anderson. "Careful study of the independent evidence, however, shows that the Washington-backed 'rebel' story, while widespread, was part of a strategy to delegitimize the Syrian Government, with the aim of fomenting 'regime change'."

Indeed, the "sectarian Islamists" who instigated the violence whom Anderson refers to are the Muslim Brotherhood, former members of whom the many secret millions of dollars in US Government funding had been going to.

According to Anderson, "In February 2011 there was popular agitation in Syria, to some extent influenced by the events in Egypt and Tunisia. There were anti-government and pro-government demonstrations, and a genuine political reform movement that for several years had agitated against corruption and the Ba'ath Party monopoly. However only one section of that opposition was linked to the violence that erupted in Daraa. Large anti-government demonstrations began, to be met with huge pro-government demonstrations. In early March, some teenagers in Daraa were arrested for graffiti that had been copied from North Africa 'the people want to overthrow the regime'. It was reported that they were abused by local police, President Bashar al Assad intervened, the local governor was sacked and the teenagers were released."

"Yet the Islamist insurrection was underway, taking cover under the street demonstrations. On 11 March, several days before the violence broke out in Daraa, there were reports that Syrian forces had seized 'a large shipment of weapons and explosives and night-vision goggles ... in a truck coming from Iraq'."

A truck of arms coming to Syrian rebels from Iraq? Who would be sending these? Certainly not the Iranians, not the Russians and certainly not the Iraqi government. Who does that leave left? The US and it's allies, of course.

"The western media consensus was that protestors burned and trashed government offices, and then 'provincial security forces opened fire on marchers, killing several' (Abouzeid 2011). Yet a close study of the media turns this on its head. "While its headline blamed security forces for killing 'protesters'," writes Anderson, "the British Daily Mail (2011) showed pictures of guns, AK47 rifles and hand grenades that security forces had recovered after storming the al-Omari mosque. The paper noted reports that 'an armed gang' had opened fire on an ambulance, killing 'a doctor, a paramedic and a policeman'. Media channels in neighbouring countries did report on the killing of Syrian police, on 17-18 March. On 21 March a Lebanese news report observed that 'Seven policemen were killed during clashes between the security forces and protesters in Syria' (YaLibnan 2011), while an Israel National News report said 'Seven police officers and at least four demonstrators in Syria have been killed ... and the Baath party headquarters and courthouse were torched' (Queenan 2011). These police had been targeted by rooftop snipers."

From there the war was taken North, in an assassination campaign that killed Syrian soldiers and commanders and led to the eventual battles and balkanization of Syria into tinier and more fractured pieces that were either were successfully still under Syrian government control or had been seized by the rebels as "free."

Much of the news on this issue, aside from cables discovered by Wikileaks, has come from the US backed Qatari news channel Al Jazeera, of course - an operation financed by the US, and owned by its close ally, the Royal family of Qatar, who are avowedly anti-Assad. Indeed, as Anderson points out, Al Jazeera "blacked out these attacks, as also the reinforcement provided by armed foreigners. Former Al Jazeera journalist Ali Hashem was one of many who resigned from the Qatar-owned station (RT 2012), complaining of deep bias over their presentation of the violence in Syria. Hashem had footage of armed men arriving from Lebanon, but this was censored by his Qatari managers. 'In a resignation letter I was telling the executive ... it was like nothing was happening in Syria.'"

Anderson goes on, "After months of media manipulations, disguising the Islamist insurrection, Syrians such as Samer al Akhras, a young man from a Sunni family, who used to watch Al Jazeera because he preferred it to state TV, became convinced to back the Syrian government. He saw first-hand the fabrication of reports on Al Jazeera and wrote, in late June 2011:

'I am a Syrian citizen and I am a human. After 4 months of your fake freedom ... You say peaceful demonstration and you shoot our citizen. From today ... I am [now] a Sergeant in the Reserve Army. If I catch anyone ... in any terrorist organization working on the field in Syria I am gonna shoot you as you are shooting us. This is our land not yours, the slaves of American fake freedom' (al Akhras 2011)."

Of course, such laments aren't too commonly portrayed in the American press. Rhodes does do us the service of at least partly explaining why. "All these newspapers used to have foreign bureaus," he said. "Now they don't. They call us to explain to them what's happening in Moscow and Cairo. Most of the outlets are reporting on world events from Washington. The average reporter we talk to is 27 years old, and their only reporting experience consists of being around political campaigns. That's a sea change. They literally know nothing."

Oh the beauty of the circular logic of the media reporting on the administration today, where even the past doesn't exist, except as explained by the White House. How strange must it be at the center of it, where everybody seeks "to do right," through "his own sense of the urgency of radically reorienting American policy in the Middle East in order to make the prospect of American involvement in the region's future wars a lot less likely" and in which the "tragedy" of the deaths of 450,000 Syrians is to be grappled with, but nothing more, and certainly not accepted with any moral, intellectual or political responsibility.

Now that the 450,000 deaths and millions of global refugees that have resulted from the instigation and backing of our Syrian rebels has resulted politically for the US in not much more than a stronger hand by Assad, and deeper, successful involvement in the region by Iran, Hezbollah and the Russians (though the Israelis have successfully used the war as cover and pretext to physically seize the remainder of the Golan Heights), the foreign policy establishment appears quite set that to displace Assad or at the least minimize his control, they they will have to further increase US involvement in the war. Perhaps that is why the administration is attempting to portray the devastation and chaos of the Syrian situation as a popular uprising it needed to have backed more forcefully against the evils of Assad. To do so, it has to wipe clean the nation's memory of the White House's recent past with this new fiction and inspire the country to believe in itself "as a moral actor" (NYT Magazine) again.

It's a good thing there is a novelist in the White House. And, thankfully too, the media will assuredly remind us again soon, Hillary Clinton has a plan.

Michael is a former Middle East Analyst for the State Department. He resigned in protest when he was offered to have his budget doubled to over two million dollars if he focussed his research efforts on how best to distract the public of the Middle East from the tragedy of the Iraq war and "reaffirm common American values." He is now a freelance writer and screenwriter.

Who Is the Enabler of Donald Trump's Affairs?

John A. Tures   |   May 12, 2016    9:46 AM ET

Donald Trump has gone on the offensive against Hillary Clinton, claiming she was the "enabler" of her husband's affairs. But if that's the case, and if affairs are so bad, what does that say about the GOP nominee's own past?

Many of us, with me included, were surprised when President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton didn't split up after so many of his affairs. He certainly weakened his legacy with them, and tarnished the image and respect of the Oval Office, no matter what his approval rating was.

Some were surprised that she chose to stay with him. Some felt sorry for her. But Trump has sought a new label for her: "the enabler" of Bill Clinton's affairs. It's a curious tactic, especially for someone who brags that he loves women and will win their support in the Fall of 2016, no matter his historically low support among women for a presumptive nominee of either party.

If Trump is right, and being an enabler of affairs is bad, then affairs must be bad as well. It doesn't say much for a man with multiple affairs. US Magazine has an interview with Ivana Trump, while Huffington Post has an interview with Trump's second wife, Marla Maples. Yet like Bill Clinton, the ones we know about may just be the tip of the iceberg.

I believe there's a saying for Trump's words. It involves living in a glass house, and throwing stones.

But Trump didn't always feel that Bill's affairs were so bad, according to the NY Daily News.

"He [Trump] had been much more sympathetic about Clinton's sex life in 2001, shortly after Clinton left office, telling an Australian reporter how awful it was that Clinton had been asked if he'd had sex with Monica Lewinsky. 'What he should have done is fought for years not to answer it,' said Donald."

There's another applicable saying. "It takes one to know one."

But who are Trump's enablers? They are his adoring fans. I'm not talking about conservatives who wanted Ted Cruz or John Kasich or Marco Rubio or Jeb Bush badly, and are forced into the choice of accepting Trump or boycotting the convention and skipping the election.


Here's an example of an enabler, and it comes from another media celebrity who likes Trump, from ""

In early April, Anne Coulter appeared on the Eric Metaxas show to tout Trump's virtues. When the host said "His vice of choice was adultery," Coulter replied "Allegedly."

When Metaxas detailed the affairs, Coulter responded "we have degrees of murder, we can have degrees of adultery....It's not his strongest point. Oh well, he's the only one who's going to build the wall."

During Clinton's impeachment, supporters did not condone the affair with Monica Lewinsky, or anyone else. They claimed that it was not an offense worthy of removing the president from office. Coulter's words are a lot closer to condoning affairs, something that should never be done. That's what an enabler is.

John A. Tures is a professor of political science at LaGrange College in LaGrange, Ga. He can be reached at

Hillary Clinton Does Not Represent Values that Help Women

Anis Shivani   |   May 11, 2016    5:33 PM ET

"I strongly argued that we had to change the [welfare] system...I didn't think it was fair that one single mother improvised to find child care and got up early every day to get to work while another stayed home and relied on welfare...The third bill passed by Congress cut off most benefits to legal immigrants, imposed a five-year lifetime limit on federal welfare benefits, and maintained the status quo on monthly benefit limits, leaving the states free to set benefit limits...I agreed that he [Bill] should sign it and worked hard to round up votes for its passage...Weeks after Bill signed the law, Peter Edelman and Mary Jo Bane, another friend and Assistant Secretary at HHS who had worked on welfare reform, resigned in protest." - Hillary Clinton in her 2003 memoir Hard Choices.

Not liking Hillary has nothing to do with her being a woman. It has everything to do with the hypermasculine values she espouses.

Hillary is that rare combination, even in our grotesque political landscape, of a smooth-talking neoliberal with the worst tendencies of a warrior-neoconservative. You couldn't say that about Bill to the same extent, but there isn't a regime change opportunity, a chemical or conventional arms deal, an escalated aerial (or lately drone) war, or an authoritarian friend in need, that Hillary hasn't liked. If we get her, we will only be setting back feminism by decades, because her policies--like welfare "reform"--have always come packaged under the false rubric of caring for women and children. It's like George W. Bush's "compassionate conservatism," the rhetorical cover she needs to enact policies, time after time, that erode women's and children's standing even as she claims to be their steadfast advocate.

It has been disheartening for me to read some female intellectuals, particularly in the New York literary world, rage against any criticism of Hillary. We are told it's only sexism that makes us speak. We'd better check our feminist credentials. Are we, who criticize Hillary, misogynists? Then why do we have kind words for, say, Elizabeth Warren?

We've had similar criticisms of Condoleezza Rice, Sarah Palin, and Carly Fiorina. Fiorina, for me, was the scariest person running for president this cycle; you felt that poor autistic Ben Carson, if you begged and pleaded with him for your life, just might spare you, but not Carly! Carly even made a virtue of dragging Hewlett Packard down into the pits, which is not much different than Hillary's indifference to the erosion that occurred in foreign policy during her tenure as Secretary of State, as she failed to move into a more liberal paradigm, insisting on sanctions and other punitive regimes, in countries like Iran, that disproportionately hurt women. John Kerry, once he took over, quickly picked up the dropped ball and achieved diplomatic success on a range of fronts, including climate change, where Hillary had failed.

There is a palpable deficit of feminist values in this country's politics, after sixteen dark years of war, surveillance, vigilantism, police controls, economic servitude, and debt. To the extent that we can generalize about feminine and masculine values, the country desperately desires--well, two-thirds of it anyway, those besides Trump and Cruz fans--a reinjection of feminine values. That means compassion, acceptance, and understanding for those left behind by misguided economic policies. That means valuing, once again, as this nation has done for the periods it has shone brightest, imagination, beauty, soft-spokenness, and unexpected generosity.

In the early 1990s Hillary did represent, to some limited symbolic level, a change for the better in terms of feminist values--though this certainly didn't translate into actual policy improvements for women or children or minorities, rather the opposite occurred in policies engineered by the Clintons. Furthermore, one could argue that it was George H. W. Bush who prompted the relative humanization of the 1990s, after the harsh Reagan-era rhetoric, promising a kindler, gentler nation, and aspiring to be the "education president" and "the environmental president." The elder Bush's policies were to the left of either Clinton, when it came to immigration, civil liberties, clean air, disability, and many other issues.

The Clintons went out of their way to pursue--often gratuitously--policies that hurt women and children. The reelection seemed safely in their pockets, yet they went ahead anyway with harmful laws on crime, welfare, telecommunications, immigration, and surveillance, legitimizing right-wing discourse that was to bear full fruit in the following decade. It was the Clintons who set the stage for the massive harm that was to befall women, immigrants, the poor, the elderly, and children once they provided liberal cover to social darwinist ideas that had been swirling around in maniacal think tanks but had not been able to make it through congress.

The Clintons have somehow managed to convince half the sane world that they should be the natural recipients of African-American votes, despite everything they have done, when in power, to erode the economic security of African Americans and other minorities; the false hope raised during the 1990s was that the economic boom, itself a mirage as it turned out, would eventually lead to significant wage gains, but that never happened.

Poor and minority women and children were drastically hurt by the welfare bill the Clintons so enthusiastically pushed through congress, and likewise all the policies, from trade to student aid, they pursued in the name of fiscal responsibility, cutting the deficit and the debt, and playing by Wall Street's tune. On neoliberal disciplinary virtues (which in Hillary's mouth are twisted in a rhetoric of "empowerment"), she's little different than Milton Friedman, the greatest post-war popularizer of the "free market" mythos. "Personal responsibility," separating the virtuous from those deserving of sanctions, is as much a credo for her as it was for Reagan, as it was for Barry Goldwater.

The global IMF and World Bank consensus, the regime of structural adjustment to make developing countries fall in line with the dictat of bankers in the developed world, reached the peak of its authority during the 1990s (even Reagan hadn't been as effective at legitimizing the paradigm in the developing world). The so-called "Washington consensus" was, and remains, a nihilistic retort to any type of redistributive policies poorer countries might wish to pursue to uplift their people. Is cutting education and health care and utility subsidies, in the name of balancing budgets to the satisfaction of the global banking elite, a feminist value? Yet no one is more responsible than the Clintons for making the withdrawal of government from public services worldwide gospel--at least until some Latin American countries finally started breaking away from the imposition in the 2000s.

Though she still likes to present herself as a fighter for women's and children's rights, let's keep our sights on Hillary's actual record.

When Central American refugee children started streaming over the southern border a couple of years ago, Hillary was quick on the mark to condemn these poor souls to death and oppression. In a 2014 discussion with Christiane Amanpour, she refused to say that she would allow unaccompanied minors fleeing violence to stay in the country, insisting instead on the "message" of deterrence that had to be sent to prevent others from thinking of seeking refuge in the U.S.

Though Bernie Sanders didn't use this example during the last Democratic debate, when it came time to tighten the screws on bankruptcy laws, making it harder for poor people--often women--to escape the burden of unreasonable debt, Hillary was there to do the big financial institutions' bidding (the law eventually passed congress in 2005).

She has always been late to the scene, and adopts a placating rhetorical stance, on any cutting-edge progressive issue, from gay rights to drug legalization to doing something about mass incarceration, even if her policies (such as the "defense of marriage") have explicitly promoted the regressive attitudes in the first place. She likes to show up, once someone else has done the job, to pick the credit, as she did when she eagerly stood with New York governor Andrew Cuomo for passage of the $15 minimum wage, something she was opposed to in principle at the national level; in any case, incrementally lifting the minimum wage to $15 in different states, in three to five to seven years, is already too little too late.

The huge affection shown for Barack Obama in the first six months of 2008 was because he came across--rather disingenuously as it turned out--as embodying feminist values. He enunciated an ethics of compassion we had sorely missed during the macho Bush years. All that changed as soon as his nomination was secured, and after June 2008 he had no further interest in holding anyone accountable for the vicious hypermasculine deeds of the preceding eight years.

Hillary has always undercut feminism by selectively appropriating hyperfeminine tropes when it suits her politically, undermining the ideal of the equality of men and women, including emotional equality. She calls up the tears when necessary, for example in the 2008 New Hampshire primary, to get sympathy. The entire subtext of her sixteen-year-long positioning for the presidency seems to be, I've paid my dues, especially in terms of the emotional costs, so I must have my turn. This is not a particularly empowering feminist message. Likewise, to keep repeating the one million miles she traveled and the 112 countries she visited as Secretary of State seems a throwback to the prefeminist notion of backbreaking work for its own sake. She was there, she may not have a record to point to, but she sure showed up and worked her butt off to be physically present everywhere!

I desperately wish to see a female president. It happened long ago in many other nations, some of which are not even "developed" countries by our reckoning. Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and many others did it a while ago. Yes, it would be wonderful to have a female president, but it turns out that this time it's Bernie Sanders who comes closest to representing the feminist values of caring, trust, understanding, compassion, peace, and yes--love.

If only, for a single moment in this campaign, Hillary had showed some humanity, a momentary break from her constant triangulating and having it both ways, thinking she's obligated to always give a confusing double-edged answer to every question! She didn't do it on her 2014 book tour either, which told me she had learned nothing from the way her 2008 campaign failed to resonate with voters looking for feminist values.

She is a severely compromised candidate, because the way she articulates her policies jars so badly with what we expect of an ethics of caring. It is jarring in the same way that Condi or Carly were, and it is a particular contrast to Bernie's soft side on full display at rallies and in debates, and to Obama's softer side (at least until the summer of 2008). I don't believe the country will only accept a female president if she's dressed up in patriarchal regalia; this is yet another way Hillary has long been undermining feminism, by making us believe that actual feminist values are simply not palatable for public discourse at the national level.

Eileen Myles (a poet whom I like a lot, and who in fact wrote in praise of my first poetry book), recently wrote a defense of Hillary, because "wouldn't you want...[a vagina] sitting on the chair in the Oval Office?" Indeed, Eileen, I couldn't agree more, and I respect you for your lifelong commitment to equality, but may we please get a vagina that doesn't have a patriarchal mind attached to it?

We who support Sanders are not BernieBros. Please don't demean us by calling us that. It is not about hating Hillary's gender. It is about our own desperate desire for feminist values.

Anis Shivani's books in the last year include Karachi Raj: A Novel, Whatever Speaks on Behalf of Hashish: Poems, and Soraya: Sonnets (forthcoming June 2016). His new novel is A History of the Cat in Nine Chapters or Less.

Undone by Elektra: Operatic Politics in the Age of Trump

Peter Alexander Meyers   |   May 9, 2016    9:23 PM ET

When today you strain your eyes to see the sea from the sloping ruins of Mycenae it is clear that King Agamemnon's palace was a place of blinding light. Sophocles told as much. Elektra -- a word for shining in Greek -- enters the drama named for her by greeting the day (ω θάος ἁγνὸν, she says). As ancient tragedy stems from this overwhelming luminosity, it is dark in an unexpected way. It displays in brittle detail the acts and forces to which its characters belong. Inexorability surrounds and crushes them. The glare of circumstance is what impressed the Greeks in drama, as in politics. Although no protagonist at the center of the action -- blinded -- could completely open her eyes, sometimes she talks things through with an impersonal group of persons known as the chorus. Spectators who failed in looking were dragged out of the shadows by the chorus -- a virtual community -- telling them what was what.

Tragic daylight. It confuses us moderns. We gag the chorus. Spoiler alerts sanction obscurity. We are invested in interiority. Secrets. Existential isolation. We expect everything to arise, should it arise, from murk. Darkness is our place and symbol. So when today we are drawn into a story of the murder of a king and his daughter's path to retribution, everything is turned outside in.

The opera Elektra by Richard Strauss follows this inversion. The words and drama painted in music by that composer in 1909 were written by Hugo Hoffmanstahl, a "young Narcissus," bourgeois aristocratic reactionary prodigy of the dying Austro-Hungarian empire. The protagonist emerges from this twilight world. As such, she can hardly avoid being cast in the way she comes to us in the opulent and fever-pitched production offered by New York's Metropolitan Opera.

And how is that? The very first line in the modern Elektra tells by asking where does she live? In a dozen ways, Hoffmanstahl and Strauss answer that she lives in the dark. Although in the course of the opera Elektra is repeatedly offered light by her sister Chrysothemis, she will have none of it. Gloom and subterfuge surround her until the bitter end. Assassin mother assassinated and the father avenged, Chrysothemis will still have a light to shine. Her final question -- "who has loved us?" -- is put brutally down by her sister. Elektra's line is that whatever light there can be comes from within ("Seht ihr denn mein Gesicht? Seht ihr das Licht, das von mir ausgeht?"). This is certainly not the evangel of Christ. It is individualism pure and simple. Under the thin patina of a few famous Greek names there are some quite modern women. The Viennese Chrysothemis insists against the background of a way of life headed for dissolution and war that "Love is everything! Who can live without love?" ("Liebe ist Alles! Wer kann leben ohne Liebe?"). Elektra's reply -- like so much in Strauss -- comes straight out of the Romantic pseudo-archaism of Wagner: "Love kills" (The line "Ai! Liebe tötet" is of course a play on the Liebestod of Tristan und Isolde).

In the United States, the generation coming out of World War II invested itself in the transformation of culture. Emerging scholars charted with new insight the significance of this changing context for the production and reception of opera. As sociologists like David Riesman, William H. Whyte, or C. Wright Mills "reconsidered individualism" modernity's epochal sublimation of tragedy came to be more generally recognized. That recognition itself became a powerful instrument of critical inquiry in works like The Death of Tragedy by George Steiner. Historian Carl Schorske showed that in fin-de-siècle Vienna "Hoffmanstahl applied the principles of art to politics by accepting psychological man" at the same time that that writer, like many others, paradoxically persisted with classical themes. The few examples of scholarship I give are drawn from a very long list. For a while, it seemed as though the stage of everyday life would be set by a heightened attention to meaning in culture and the obvious relevance of careful and studious learning.

That was the Sixties. Then came reaction against it and Ronald Reagan's revival of the Cold War and cultural politics (on the larger significance of this see my book Civic War). In the course of several more decades briefs that had been supported by powerful scholarly research were made over into trivial common sense. The result was not what anyone anticipated.

Critics today parrot and sample from great post-war scholars but rarely advance or even notice the profound questions they raised. Criticism tends to converge with therapy. While even that could elevate democratic audiences (Jonathan Lear's Love and its Place in Nature sketches that prospect) it more often than not provides instead reassurance for spectators who want to feel comforted rather than disturbed that Elektra can be "an intimate, psychologically penetrating, family drama" (Heidi Waleson in the Wall Street Journal).

Indeed, in the press of a world occupied by consumerism and the tightening noose of neoliberalism, it is a relief that Elektra could be The Sopranos or even Modern Family with a bit of orchestral background and a higher ticket price (Pierre Bourdieu's 1979 book Distinction tracks one vector of this). This may be what makes Patrice Chéreau's sporadically clever staging at the palatial Metropolitan Opera compelling for so many. The dark although never intimate stage fuels regression. It feels good to be hypnotized by the remarkable voice of Nina Stemme and other singers in this great cast. It is, in the age of Hillary Clinton, satisfying to be caught up in empathy by an impassioned portrayal of a larger-than-life woman struggling with powers in and out of her control.

But in our moment -- with the contortion of American civic culture at all levels and in so many ways, with the imminent victory of casual but relentless bigotry sustained by a Trump presidency -- no self-respecting citizen -- no audience ideal or real for the opera -- should be satisfied with this sort of distraction.

The problem with the production and reception of this opera is of an "emperor's new clothes" variety. The Met's Elektra fails to make clear the most elementary fact about it: we have before us a morass of musical incoherence in support of reactionary drama.

Recall that for Sophocles, everything was bound up in the making and breaking of opportunities (καιρος), the stream of which presented on stage forming a unity of action held together with several layers of dialogue. Even the murder of Agamemnon's murderer Aegisthus -- lines 1442-1510 -- unfolds as a conversation. This ensures that it is not misunderstood by anyone as an individual fact. The chorus -- the observers, the community -- gets the last word.

For Strauss and Hoffmanstahl, there is no action. There is barely movement. The set is almost unadorned, and what passes for innovation in staging -- several initial minutes without music after the curtain goes up -- reduces the scene yet further. (Chéreau, in what might be a Freudian joke against the bavard Greeks, clearly takes his cue from Elektra's penultimate word schweigen [be silent] like a dog chasing its tail; if this was a new trick for artists like George Maciunas it is not today.) The only dramatic moment -- which is to say, an event we did not know would come that arrives -- is the rapid departure of Orestes when the deed is done; the only real psychlogical complexity appears in Klytämnestra because enough is temporarily withheld from her to let her Narcissism get the better of her.

Apart from that, Strauss the composer wanders without pause for nearly two hours. The text brought to the stage is, as Hoffmanstahl himself noted of his later work, more proto-Modern Trauerspiel than tragedy (Walter Benjamin pointed to this in 1928). The result feels like it wants to be an oratorio. Under pressure of Strauss' inflated impressionism even this is reduced -- as the astute Lawrence Kramer observed decades ago -- to "a kind of enormous Lied expressing Elektra's subjectivity." A corollary of this confusion of genres appears in compositional technique and motivation: "To a degree extreme even for Strauss, the orchestra of Elektra is dependent on the narrative action, obsessed with illustrating every detail, emotional and physical, remembered or imagined."

This locates but does not identify the problem. For, again, effectively, there is no "narrative action." So what then is the orchestra dependent on? The answer is that the music itself is dependent on the expression of Elektra's subjectivity.

Yet the dramaturgy intends to make this subjectivity incoherent. Even Elektra's opening line -- "Alone! Pain, completely alone" (Alein! Weh, ganz Alein) -- individualizes what is happening to her. By contrast, Sophocles has already positioned Orestes as a companion for Elektra by the time we meet her and her suffering. Her problem is in this and many ways socially constructed. (Her suffering, by the way, is not "pain" but δυστηνος, the "wretchedness" that is linked to her lot in life, her μοιρα; these are joined for example by Aeschylus at Persians 909.)

Today one might say that Elektra suffers from PTSD. Or following the contemporary Viennese vocabulary of Hoffmanstahl or Strauss, she is "hysterical" in Freud's now discredited sense. (She does not have Jung's "Elektra complex.") In any case, reviewers of the current production extol the presentation of Elektra as an incisive case study in psychology and applaud the way the modern heroine appears cut off from larger circumstantial forces and relationships. For example, Geoffrey O'Brien in the New York Review of Books seems to believe that because Stemme's "singing is of a piece with her every stance and gesture" what "she gives us [is] not unleashed madness but white-knuckled restraint in the face of intolerable inner pressure." This is a mistaken and misleading view.

It is true that with its modernization, the Elektra story ceases to be about socially-inscribed deeds that come back to haunt us. What Hoffmanstahl and Strauss seek to represent is a mind that is lost, vengeful, and obsessive. It is not by chance that this mind is female. Or that an attempt is made to connect that disorder to the essential character of the woman in which it resides. Strauss conjures a person in the grip, not of the tragic, but of the irrational, and guilty of destroying tradition (represented in her failure to mourn correctly, whatever that could mean in the 19th century). In so doing, Elektra does not give us a woman. It advances a hostile image of women more generally. The precise disorder depicted, however, is the offspring of the authors' anti-feminist intention. So it is not, as O'Brien writes, "unleashed madness" but rather madness being led around by a particular leash.

This is a musical default. For in attempting to closely illustrate this fin-de-siècle fantasy of feminine irrationality and insubordination Strauss loses his way. Although he fills the score with technical contrivances of the Wagnerian trade and deploys some of the pastiche, citation, and "sampling" that would soon be found among the tools of modernists everywhere, the weight of his involuted artistic aspirations overwhelms him. Even superb playing by the Met's orchestra on the night of the final performance could not save him.

As a result of what might be considered an extra-musical consideration, Strauss appears as if led by an undiagnosed Attention Deficit Disorder. The music of Elektra fails to achieve the express or implied continuousness that is characteristic of great works of the period like Schönberg's Verklärte Nacht or Debussy's Pelléas et Mélisande. There is no more striking contrast than Lulu, an opera plagued with its own "woman problem." Nonetheless, the Met's production last Fall exhibited in high relief, especially in its second movement, Berg's astonishing achievement of musical continuum. Such specific gravity in music, its order or arc, the world it creates or allows to thrive, these are the truest measures of musical success and Strauss' failure.

But this failure is not only in the score. The attempt to represent a degraded mental state is also an artist's ploy to advance political content in music. "Reasonable" maternity, submission, and privacy are pitted against irrational and utterly public revenge. (If you mistakenly believe that Elektra's "triumph" over these other forces is somehow "good for women" you might want to read some misogynistic propaganda of the period like Otto Weininger's Sex and Character from 1903). Faced with how this semantic content is supported by contrived and ridiculous musical moments, praise for the "glowing string sound and delicacy [of] Straussian lyricism" (Tommasini in the New York Times) or "the composer's warmth and lyricism" (Waleson in the Wall Street Journal) it is not just anachronism. It is a political statement.

Keep in mind that the same strings praised by reviewers are the ones that follow you down the aisles of the supermarket. What you are hearing is amnesia, a forgetting of the specific history of lyricism and its increasing detachment from earlier cultural functions. It does not matter if Strauss came before Hollywood -- we chase after him even when his ship has sailed.

As the "conditions for a positive reception of lyric poetry became less favorable," Wagner's contemporary Charles Baudelaire "envisaged readers to whom the reading of lyric poetry would present difficulties." Even in attempting to revive the dying genre in a modern guise, that exemplary poet "went so far as to proclaim as his goal 'the creation of a cliché.'" Likewise in music. The inability to extract insight from the constitutive operation of cliché in modern lyricism -- as it occurs from Wagner to Duchamps to Frozen and television's The Voice -- is a clear sign of regression. As these lines written in 1939 by the critic Walter Benjamin suggest, such matters were brought to light long ago. Even before that, Alban Berg brilliantly addressed the question of lyricism in 20th century music in his second string quartet. (Theodor Adorno trenchantly referred to it as a "latent opera;" another great scholar, musicologist George Perle, later discovered it had a secret vocal program; Kate Soper, herself a brilliant path-breaking contemporary composer, performs this here). Both lyricism and its inflection towards ironic effect have been eviscerated. The damage has mainly accelerated with ever-widening dissemination of recorded music, the adulatory cult of nostalgic scoring for movies by composers like John Williams, and many other factors.

What I would like you to consider is this. For the musician or the audience or the critic to entertain lyricism in Elektra today, without irony, without anything that asks "why is this 'lushness' happening here and now?", is aesthetic absurdity. It is an appeal to the aural commonplaces of an audience defined by cinematic experience and desires (see my piece here on this). It obfuscates both musical and ethical facts. It further weakens our capacity to make associations between music, drama, and our own lives. And it privileges the anti-feminism at the core of Elektra.

The stakes are not insubstantial. Musical gestures may have topicality anywhere. For example, wherever you hear the first three notes of the Star Spangled Banner you know what to do. However, musical gestures have meaning because they are tied to particular time in space. Meaning is an intrinsic relation music creates to itself in a context. Without such meaning two main options for musical experience obtain. Listeners become wedded to something that has no meaning; or the love of music itself has no meaning. These are both forms of nihilism from which classical music cannot recover. This thought merits much more discussion but not in this essay.

My point here is somewhat different. In fact, as an opera Elektra is supercharged with extrinsic meaning. This meaning is obscured by the musical experience itself. Strauss succeeds in forming a fusional and obsessive bond between the audience and the degraded woman at the center of the piece. With this collapse of critical distance the audience for today's Elektra fails to see how music converges with reactionary politics of our own time (that is, not just in the familiar involvement of the composer with Nazism).

I will continue to insist, although without much explanation here, that one important cause of this regression is erasure of excellent scholarship from everyday discussion of culture. This also makes the assault on the university and the humanities by neoliberalism a relevant if tangential matter. Again, that's a discussion for another time.

As for the main topic here, you might want to read carefully work by Catherine Clément and René Girard. Lawrence Kramer brings their ideas together with his own as follows:

In civil society, sacrificial ritual migrates primarily to tragic drama, and nowhere more fully than to the series of tragic operas produced between Rigoletto and Lulu. Most of these operas participate, though more ambivalently than she recognizes, in the ideological project that Catherine Clément assigns to opera in general: the lamination of the Father's laws, of narratives bound to the 'undoing' of women, with so much musical beauty that critical resistance is lulled to sleep."

One bold-faced fact these sleepers ignore is Elektra's sister. Again Sophocles provides the contrast. For him, Chrysothemis is a "don't talk the talk if you can't walk the walk" kind of calculating political pragmatist. The sisters' relationship is a balancing operation between rash and considered action. It is mediated by the chorus. What Chrysothemis offers Elektra is not praise of love. It is counsel on how to pursue her self-interest. Keep in mind that Klytämnestra and Aegisthus are about to send her where she will never again "look upon the sun's brilliance." In the ancient tragedy, both sisters begin in a bad spot. That is not the hinge proposition that triggers events. Soon the drama threatens them with worse. They struggle against that.

Hoffmanstahl places the sisters at the very bottom of a pit. He gives Chrysothemis a carefully crafted fantasy of escape. To where should she escape? To what end? That is the key question not just for her but -- as the only articulated alternative -- for Elektra too.

Chrysothemis is a "cover girl" for a fin-de-siècle male supremacism exemplified in popular anti-feminist tracts of the time (again, see Weininger). For details you will really want to engage with Lawrence Kramer's superb article on all this from 1993. One point is simple enough. The representation of Elektra, as Clément told us, is bound up in "undoing" women -- making them stand out where incoherent and perish from their own integrity -- and Chrysothemis is placed next to Elektra to illustrate what women must do not to be undone. Strauss and Hoffmanstahl offer in this second character an absurd, cartoon-ish, and utterly typical presentation of a reactionary and maternalist vision from a century ago. This is supposed to provide an alternative to Elektra's degeneration. That degeneration is further warranted by Elektra's own mocking rejection of Chrysothemis.

Today, neither producers nor audience at the Met seem concerned in the slightest with this opera's blatant and condescending attack on feminism from this and many other angles. O'Brien (New York Review of Books) seems to approve when he writes "throughout there are to be no metaphorical intrusions, no signposted historical or political cross-references."

Does he really not see that where Sophocles' Elektra was a tragedy, the Elektra of Strauss and Hoffmanstahl is nothing but and inevitably one giant metaphor? The ridiculous pretense that this production has been shorn of its historical and political references contributes to the naturalization of its most odious and most pressing contemporary elements.

"Who is Elektra, if not the daughter who lives every day for vengeance? That's the question this remarkable production explores." As the review in the New York Times ends this way we can see more precisely the problem. There is no enduring reason for most people today to care about such a person. There is almost nothing we can learn from her. For us, today, vengeance should be the last thing brought to the foreground of this opera. Elektra continues nonetheless to be the fetish of a society that remains obsessed with the un-doing of women. And the opera in her name remains a sign of unrelenting pressure against the egalitarian values that male supremacists seek to extinguish, now as then. That audiences critical or otherwise do not notice this confirms its importance. Such blindness is one reason why Donald Trump has a good chance of becoming president in a country that is more than half women.

A generation ago the Professor Kramer I referred to a moment ago could look forward to a staging of Elektra that would take two steps forward. It would relinquish all pretensions of classical tragedy. And it would recognize that the opera's true protagonist is not Elektra at all "but the condition of being obsessed with her."

However, like the cultural critics of the Weimar Republic before him, Kramer failed to foresee the scene at the Met today. It is not just that critical resistance is lulled to sleep. Our self-consciousness is so overwhelmed by obscene wealth and the revival of everyday misogyny that audiences seem to no longer even notice the essential role played by anti-feminism in this ridiculous work.

As to whether I am right or not in asserting that Elektra and other familiar works in the European operatic tradition are anti-feminist, you will form your own opinion. The larger problem is that with our stunning lack of self-consciousness -- about scholarship, about history, about the musical experience itself, and about the person who you are as you sit in a theater and take it all in -- such urgent matters are so easily pushed aside.

The Media of the Ultra-rich: First Greece Next USA

Creston Davis   |   May 9, 2016   12:10 AM ET

I spent 9 months in Greece last year when I witnessed the rise of the political party Syriza. It was the first time in modern European history that a left leaning party rose to national power. Syriza's sensational rise was a direct result of how Greece's own corrupt politicians, who followed the orders of the 1% ruling powers in the European Union (orchestrated by Germany, the IMF, the World Bank and the European Commission) put the Greek people into massive debt. This debt was then used to discipline the country of Greece into absolute enslaved obedience to the policies of the 1% which is called, "austerity." This was a designed program of the 1%, especially Germany, private investors, and above all the banks that systematically forced Greece into selling off their precious public assets including islands, artwork, agricultural and public infrastructure to private corporations and the financial industry. By forcing Greece into debts via corrupt politicians from the mid-90s to 2014, Greece would be beholden to the non-democratic technocrats' agenda no matter what the people of Greece desired. It was a coup d'etat not by tanks (as in WWII when Germany occupied Greece) but by banks. The word we have for this is called, "neoliberalism" an anti-democratic economic ideology that sides with the 1% over the rest of us.

Syriza's rise to power in the national elections in January 2015 was the Greek response to fight against the policies of the 1% designed to literally sell their country off to the rich and powerful. As soon as Syriza took power in parliament the war between the ultra-rich 1% and the people of Greece began. The Greeks wanted their country back, they wanted democracy. The ultra-rich wanted to continue the financial enslavement policies they were not only exacting on Greece but also on Spain, Italy, Ireland, Portugal and other smaller countries on the periphery of the European Union.

Essentially what the world was observing was a literal class-war waged by the .001% against democracy and the autonomy of countries to make decisions best for themselves and not the banker. I was there observing this war from the streets of Greece even while the US media continued to irresponsibly misrepresent the real issues in order to assist the ultra-rich in succeeding in their scheme to enslave humanity to the financial industry. I even helped organize an international conference, "Democracy Rising" in which leading intellectuals, economists, theorists, political parties, artists, and activists came together to draw awareness of this unjust war leveled against the Greek people.

This war between Syriza and the global financial elites (including the IMF in the US) came to a boiling point in early July 2015 when Greece's Prime Minister, Alexis Tsipras called for national referendum (vote). For the first time in decades the people of Greece could democratically vote on whether or not they wanted to continue accepting these dehumanizing austerity financial policies.

Within hours of Tsipras calling for this vote the banks were shutdown and the corporate media (who were siding with the ultra-rich) launched a fear-mongering campaign to ironically scare people into voting against their own democracy and accept another round of crippling economic policies that by any measure was economically impossible to ever repay.

This same war that happened in Greece last year has been taking place in the United States since the early 1980s when Ronald Reagan took office and embraced the economic ideology of "neoliberalism." It has taken three and a half decades for someone like a Bernie Sanders with the help of Occupy Wall Street in 2011, to raise enough awareness that this financial war against democracy is a reality of such proportions that it's difficult to even comprehend. The Sanders platform is designed to call us to arms to finally fight against the financial technocrats who have bought the government and its politicians like for example, Hillary Clinton who represents the face of neoliberalism. The irony of Donald Trump is that its a sign that the billionaire class no longer even needs politicians like Clinton to do its dirty work in waging a war against us, against democracy and against the American way of life forgotten for the better part of the past half-century.

Back in the the States, I've observed the primary elections of both the Republicans and Democrats, and I cannot help but feel a deja vu: What I saw in Greece last year is happening here in the United States. The media of the ultra-rich (Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, etc.) are, in their own way, orchestrating a campaign of fear to keep the 99% of us locked into ignorance in order to further perpetuate and spread the power of the ultra-rich against us. There are countless examples of the media manipulating us into accepting a system that has already been bought and sold out from under our democratic control. You can easily observe this when Trump has received over 65% of the election coverage and Clinton the other 30% while Sanders has received less than 3% and yet he has done something so unprecedented in the history of American democracy that it raises serious questions about the credibility of the media that so nakedly peddles the ultra-rich's agenda to the detriment of our future.

Just recently Alex Seitz-Wald of MSNBC published the story that presents Sanders as dangerous to the Democratic National Party. "But Sanders' unique small-dollar fundraising machine" he says, "and commitment to change the party at the convention have kept him alive, and that makes the DNC's transition process this year especially fraught."

Correct me if I'm wrong, but the point of a democracy is to contest power so that power is maximally expressed for the people, by the people and of the people. But for the likes of Seitz-Wald and the rest of the anti-democratic media, the core questions that Sanders is raising not to mention the way he's campaigning, are considered a threat and serve as a road-block to the two-party political system that has already sold its soul to the banks. Instead of observing that the way Sanders has raised his campaign funds via a record breaking individual contribution of 27 bucks, which is the most democratic way to raise funds, it's dismissed as a "machine". Such an unsavory metaphor could have never been more misguided. To reduce the millions of financial supports to an impersonal "machine" is not only insulting but gets it exactly wrong. Hillary and Trump (who inherited his funds) are the machine of the 1% not the Sander's campaign.

Who said History Doesn't Repeat itself?

In the end, we have a historic possibility before us: We have Donald Trump who's grandparents are German whereas Sander's father, Elias immigrated from Poland to the US in 1921 and many of his Jewish relatives died at the hands of Germany's fascist policies during the Holocaust. When Trump speaks of walls and against ethnicities and minority groups you cannot help but hear the echoes of Germany's own policies during economically fraught times such as in the early 1930 when Hitler rose to power. Hillary, on the other hand, appears to just be "neutral" a mainstream candidate who is a Methodist, but, in the end, the cards are being stacked against the American people if our only choice is between a neoliberal multi-millionaire Clinton or the billionaire Trump who can literally buy his way into the Oval office.

Bob Tognetti   |   May 6, 2016    2:04 PM ET

As the presumptive GOP nominee, Donald Trump likely will have the chance to show if he can turn blue states red in November -- as he's claimed he can. That might seem implausible, but if the 2016 primary season taught pundits anything, it’s to expect the unexpected.

But many states are considered locked into “blue” and “red” walls. Those walls are considered to be groups of states where one party’s presidential nominee has a strong, if not guaranteed, chance of claiming victory. Since 1992, 19 states have consistently gone to the Democratic candidate, while 13 states have consistently voted for the GOP. (Even though Washington, D.C., isn’t a state, it’s counted as one since it has 3 votes in the Electoral College.)

Blue Wall

California (55), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), Hawaii (4), Illinois (20), Maine (4), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (11), Michigan (16), Minnesota (10), New Jersey (14), New York (29), Oregon (7), Pennsylvania (20), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), Washington (12), Washington D.C. (3), Wisconsin (10)


Red Wall

Alabama (9), Alaska (3), Idaho (4), Kansas (6), Mississippi (6), Nebraska (5), North Dakota (3), Oklahoma (7), South Carolina (9), South Dakota (3), Texas (38), Utah (6), Wyoming (3).

This coming election cycle, according to Cook Report, 19 states are considered safe for Republicans and 16 safe for Democrats.

Trump wants to challenge those 16 safe states.

Pundits say he has created an environment that may switch traditional red and blue states. But the changes might not be in the direction Trump wants. It’s still too early for general election polls to be of much use in predicting what actually will happen, but they do provide an early look at how people in the states feel about the candidates.

Utah and Arizona are good examples. In a Dan Jones & Associates/ poll last month, Hillary Clinton and Trump were tied at 38 percent, and a recent Arizona survey by the Behavior Research Center showed Clinton up by 7 points. Both states have been Republican strongholds since the 1960s.

Meanwhile, some pundits have argued that Trump may be able to pick up Rust Belt states that traditionally go blue. These states have him down but only narrowly trailing Clinton. According to HuffPost Pollster’s Pennsylvania general election chart, Trump is 8 points behind Clinton. And a Republican hasn’t won the Keystone State since George H.W. Bush took it in 1988.

It's important to note that most of the “walled” states haven’t been closed off forever. Up until the 1992 election, the GOP consistently won the state of California, while West Virginia was a dependable blue state until the 2000 election.

CORRECTION: This article initially said George H.W. Bush won Pennsylvania in 1992; in fact, Bill Clinton won that year.

Tigress versus Warthog

Jeff Danziger   |   May 4, 2016   10:13 PM ET


Cleveland Native Runs for POTUS

Judy Frankel   |   May 2, 2016    3:30 PM ET


In the first installment of my Search for the Next POTUS, meet James "Jimmy" Bell of Cleveland, Ohio. Though he originally declared his Presidential candidacy as a Democrat, he's now running as an Independent write-in candidate. He's working with Supernova Communications, a local political strategy group. He has filed a letter of intent to run in only six states so far.

James speaks in slow, measured, run-on sentences. When asked why he wants to be President, he said, "Neither Democrats nor Republicans have truly met the needs and purposes of the American people from the standpoint of truly being a free and true democratic democracy and also I believe that we as a government and a people can do better and we must do better and these kinds of change that will allow us to truly become a great, not only a great American people, a great American country, but a better world and a better place in which to raise our children and grandchildren."

I asked how he plans on raising awareness about his campaign. He answered, "I do realize that this is an uphill battle because the mainstream media which is controlled by the powers that be would never ever want to see someone like me on the national and world stage because with my charisma and my presence, not only could I be, would I be, will I be President, but I would be a force to be reckoned with because I speak out of the trueness of the American condition of the plight of the underprivileged and disenfranchised and the disillusioned."

James Bell, candidate, Democrat, Independent, POTUS, President, Presidential race, Presidential election, Hillary, Clinton, Donald, Trump, 2016 Presidential race, Bernie, Sanders, Cruz, Kasich

VP Pick Can Make or Break Clinton and Trump

Earl Ofari Hutchinson   |   April 29, 2016    3:30 PM ET

GOP presidential contender Ted Cruz gave irrelevance to the oft-quoted line from Franklin Roosevelt's 1932 Vice President pick John Nance Garner, who famously said the vice presidency "is not worth a warm bucket of spit," or some such variance of that. By picking Carly Fiorina even before he won the GOP nomination, the pick was clearly designed to strengthen his position with the GOP base, among conservative women, and to attain the Holy Grail of a presidential ticket, and that's balance -- in this case, gender balance. The vice president pick has been a major political, strategic, and yes, potentially winning move by presidential contenders since John F. Kennedy picked Lyndon Johnson in 1960 as his running mate. Kennedy was a moderate, wealthy, erudite, Massachusetts senator who needed the southerner Johnson to assure the popular and electoral votes of the South.

This election the burden of getting the VP pick right is even more crucial for Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who barring a miracle or gross, naked, and crass backroom maneuvering by some in the GOP establishment who still cling tight to the stop Trump fetish, will almost certainly face off in the fall. It doesn't take much to see why both need to pick carefully and right their VP. They both have the highest negatives of any major presidential candidates in recent presidential history. They both are from the same liberal, northeast state, New York. They both have potential gender, Clinton, and unorthodox non-politician issues, Trump. They both have opponents who have rallied legions of voters to harangue, lambaste, demean, and ridicule them within their party. Many of whom vow that they won't vote for them no matter what. So the big questions are who will both candidates nab for their running mates, and what will he or she bring to the ticket that will help seal the deal for one or the other?

First, there's Clinton. The names that have been bandied about most prominently have been Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro, former Maryland governor Martin O'Malley, U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Elizabeth Warren, and even Bernie Sanders. It could well be any of them since they all are seasoned politicians, well-connected, have some name identification, and with the exception of Warren and Sanders, bring the much prized geographical balance to the ticket. But it will take more than that. It will take someone with few negatives, and the ability to pull legions of independents to the Clinton banner. They now make up more than forty percent of the general electorate. This is a historic high.

Hillary is a woman, so it almost guarantees that her pick will be a male. And given the loathing of many of Sanders' most rabid backers of Clinton, it will take someone who sees close to eye to eye with Sanders on the issues, or at least someone who won't alienate them further. The resume of that candidate will have to be top flight in every one of those areas.

Now there's Trump. He's shown that he has surprising appeal to a lot of the voter demographics that the GOP has traditionally craved, and that's the right side independents, lower income, less educated blue collar workers, and voters ticked off, disgusted, and alienated from deal-making, special-interest laden Washington Beltway politicians of both parties. He's going to need every one of their votes to offset the iron-clad backing that Clinton has from African-American, Hispanics, LGBT, and middle income, middle class, college-educated white women. Trump has hopelessly alienated all of them. The names that have been bandied about include: Governors Chris Christie, Scott Walker, Rubio, Mary Fallin, Susannah Martinez. And even John Kasich. Martinez and Fallin make some sense as conservatives, women, and in Martinez's case, she's Hispanic, which could make some think that Trump is not the manic anti-immigrant basher that he is.

The combative and oft-time alienating Christie brings name identification, and campaign stump skills to the ticket; Walker and Rubio bring the regional balance and are favorites of ultra conservatives and evangelicals. Rubio and Kasich carry the imprimatur of the GOP establishment.
They are all governors, and there's always an allure with governors because of their supposed prowess with fiscal and administrative management skills. Trump gave one clue when he said that his pick should be a party insider who knows his way around Washington, presumably to balance off while he's busily lambasting that very establishment.

The single biggest asset, though, that a VP pick brings to the presidential table is that he or she can turn on more voters than their potential boss can or has turned off no matter what part of the country they hail from, their gender, or their rank in the party. Whoever can accomplish that tricky feat will get the second biggest prize in the presidential derby. That's more important than ever this go round since that pick can make or break Trump or Clinton.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His latest book is From Sanders to Trump: A Guide to the 2016 Presidential Primary Battles (Amazon Kindle) He is an associate editor of New America Media. He is a weekly co-host of the Al Sharpton Show on Radio One. He is the host of the weekly Hutchinson Report Saturdays 9:00 AM on KPFK 90.7 FM Los Angeles and the Pacifica Network

In Search of the Next POTUS

Judy Frankel   |   April 29, 2016    3:42 AM ET

If you're like me, you aren't happy about the two presumed choices for President: Hillary and Trump. Bernie Sanders says he will run for Senate in Vermont again if he isn't nominated, and if Trump isn't the nominee, the other Republican candidates aren't any better.

The weirdness of this Presidential race lies in the fact that both Hillary and Trump are disliked by the MAJORITY of Americans. Recently an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll revealed that 65% of registered voters view Trump negatively and 56% of voters view Hillary negatively.

If a third option were taken seriously, they'd have a good chance of winning.

That's why I'm embarking on a mission In Search of the Next POTUS (President of the United States). I'm going to find a third candidate that has a real chance of winning, if only more people knew about them.

Over the next half year, I will be calling, emailing, Skyping, interviewing, videotaping, and otherwise contacting each of the outlier candidates listed at as well as the third party front-runners. If you know of anyone else running as a write-in who has filed enough letters of intent in all the states that accept write-ins, please post their name and contact info in the comments and I will investigate them as well.

Where is America's best and brightest? Where are the decent public servants who aren't beholden to special interests, who will work for the common good?

Where is the visionary leader who understands what's going wrong in the world and how to do the right thing?

If you like what I'm doing, please visit the Pledge for Honest Candidates to support my efforts, and follow this blog to discover the people running for POTUS that you never hear about in the news.

Remember, if you vote for the lesser of two evils, you're still going to get evil.