Robert C. Koehler

Step one: Defeat Trump — but now comes the hard part

Step one: Defeat Trump. OK, now comes the hard part.

We have to take back the country, and what I really mean is take it "forward," beyond situation normal — endless war, structural racism, consumer culture and ecological devastation — and into what one might call planetary stewardship.

This sounds, of course, absurd, as though there's any facet of the American status quo, political or economic, that would abandon its interests and embrace a vision-in-progress: of a world that has transcended nationalism, borders and war . . . of a world that has transcended us-vs.-them thinking and dominion over Planet Earth.

Idealism, man! There's nothing Americans are better at than mocking it. Nonetheless, beyond the mockery, I believe there is an enormous segment of the population that understands the need to create real peace and believes — or wants to believe — in a future that is not caged in the past. Does such a movement have any resonance, any hope of political traction?

"I believe there is an enormous segment of the population that understands the need to create real peace and believes — or wants to believe — in a future that is not caged in the past. Does such a movement have any resonance, any hope of political traction?"

Danny Sjursen puts it this way: "What seems certain is that, as ever, salvation won't spring from the top. Don't count on Status-quo Joe to slaughter Washington's sacred cows of foreign policy or on his national security team to topple the golden calves of American empire."

Nor will a vision of planetary salvation be willingly articulated by the mainstream media, which will report it only in binary terms: progressives vs. centrists, or whatever. For instance, in a typically dismissive headline recently, NBC News informed us: "Corporation-free zone: Progressives press Biden to lock out big business" as he puts together his cabinet. The job of the media is to turn a vision into a cliché — that's the best way to prevent it from creating actual change.

You might say democracy itself is essentially a cliché at this point. The team Biden is putting together is full-speed-ahead military-industrial complex. No matter how ravaged the world is from endless wars, they will continue and we will not talk about them. America's leadership role is 100 percent militaristic and selling weapons is what keeps everyone (who matters) happy.

Vince Cable, the former leader of the UK Liberal Democrats and a guy attuned to political realism, writing about the American political future in The Independent, believes there is only one way for money to be available for the Biden administration to address anything of value to the people who voted for him: "a big injection of dollars and political support into the armed services. . . .

"This is the one cause for which conservative Republicans may be willing to spend unlimited amounts of public money. The promise to build a new fighter jet in a Senator's state is perhaps the one thing that might persuade him also to put more into health and education. . . .

"In the coming four years, Keynesian economics is not going to be delivered in the U.S. through a 'Green New Deal' but it may come about with the help of defense spending."

So what's coming up in the world beyond Trump is more of the same and then some: the relaunch of NATO, as Cable points out, and maybe a Cold War with China, along with "big arms deals with Taiwan, Japan and India." This all feeds "a narrative, with which both Democrats and Republicans are aligned."

Militarized unity! Of course Biden understands this. And this is the context progressives have to acknowledge; it's the only context we have, and thus it's the context in which a vision of global healing and transcending militarism must emerge. The cliché of American democracy would have us believe that the people have had their say and now it's up to Biden to Make America Normal Again. See you in four years!

The Americans who have taken to the streets this year — and millions who haven't — know otherwise. Now it's time to keep our voices loud and vibrant, to push for change at many levels with more urgency than ever.

As George Monbiot wrote: "Trump stormed into the political vacuum. Chaotic and unscrupulous, in some respects he offended the neoliberal consensus, ripping up trade agreements, while in others he reinforced it. But the important point is that he was a monster the consensus created. His success was a product of the fake unity and fake healing of elite political agreement. When mainstream politics offered only humiliation and frustration, people turned to a virulent, demagogic anti-politics."

Trump was the opposite of a visionary. He was a racist clown and liar who convinced almost half the electorate that his political incorrectness was real. Now that things are allegedly returning to a pre-Trump, centrist normal, we must, as Monbiot put it, "build and sustain social movements that are bigger than the Democratic Party."

Left to the Dems, these movements would never get political traction:

• The movement not to defund but to rethink policing and, indeed, social order and security. Broken, impoverished communities need healing, not the presence of an occupying army. This is armed racism.
• The movement for empathy and compassion at the border, and for understanding that U.S. foreign policy is one of the major contributors to global displacement and the creation of refugees.
• The movement to demilitarize foreign policy, dismantle and abolish nuclear weapons, slash the military budget and rethink our relationship with Planet Earth. What does it mean that we all live on one planet?
• The movement to recognize and begin addressing the planet's climate emergency, move beyond fossil fuels, recycle all "waste" and reconnect with nature.

And so much more! Activists must seize the moment. The vision driving these movements, so long mocked and marginalized, must enter the political mainstream and begin to change the world. The time is now.

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Ben Franklin's Worst Nightmare

The ground feels a little soft, but we're going to stand it.

Premise one: Having a fair election -- all votes counted, all who are eligible and want to vote allowed to vote -- is far, far more important, even in 2008, than who wins.

Premise two: Fair elections are not a given. They never have been, but things are worse now than ever before because of a perfect storm, you might say, of factors that have converged in the new millennium: officialdom's seduction by unsafe, high-tech voting systems; the seizure of power by a party of ruthless true believers who feel entitled to rule and will do anything to win; a polite, confused opposition party that won't make a stink about raw injustice; and an arrogantly complacent media embedded in the political and economic status quo.

The result: Benjamin Franklin's worst nightmare.

"Well, Doctor, what have we got -- a Republic or a Monarchy?"

"A Republic, if you can keep it."

As Franklin, who uttered those words in answer to a citizen's query as he left the final session of the Constitutional Convention of 1787, saw with clarity, we don't have an easy form of government. Rather, it's a complex, unstable yoking of disparate forces, many with a blind urge to dominate. Only by keeping them in relative check do we maintain our relative freedom and, most importantly, our right to participate in our macro-destiny: that is, to have a say in, to help determine, the country's direction.

Without an intense degree of citizen involvement at the structural level -- down there amid the gears and cogs of universal enfranchisement -- our government will soon default to something far simpler: one that is of, by and for whoever seizes power.

I know, just thinking about this is terrifying. The stakes are too high. We have no context for contemplating the possibility that the United States is anything but "the world's greatest democracy," which surely explains why most of the media, including a phalanx of progressive publications that ought to be on hair-trigger alert about vote suppression and manipulation, have ignored or dismissed the glaring danger signals.

These signals include, among much else: obscenely long lines in many African-American and student precincts on Election Day 2004; bogus voter challenges and purges; vote-flipping ("I pressed Kerry and Bush lit up"), weird vote totals (more votes counted than cast, undervote totals that defy common sense) and an array of other "glitches" in precincts that use electronic voting machines; and huge discrepancies between exit poll results and vote totals that, in other parts of the world, would instantly cast doubt on the validity of the election.

It all comes down to the first few words of Dorothy Fadiman's about-to-be-released documentary, "Stealing America: Vote by Vote," spoken by investigative journalist Greg Palast: "The nasty little secret of American democracy is that not all the votes get counted."

It has been my privilege to be part of two new documentaries -- Fadiman's, and David Earnhardt's "Uncounted: The New Math of American Elections," which is currently in theaters and available on DVD -- that focus on the disquieting irregularities (see above) of the 2004 and subsequent elections.

Both movies, by presenting the issue in Americans' medium of choice, and by creating a context for the possibility of election fraud that transcends Chicken Little and reminds viewers of our nation's long history of citizen struggle and vigilance, raise the hope that today's crisis will resonate with a large segment of the public and lead to widespread anger and awareness ... and maybe something that doesn't go away. A demand for paper ballots, perhaps. A citizens' movement.

Recognizing and capturing that "something" was, I think, the unstated goal of a recent two-day brainstorming session I attended in Palo Alto, Calif., that Fadiman organized among people long involved in the issue.

After a lot of anguished back-and-forth, we came out of it with a mission statement that was almost Zenlike in its quiet resonance: To encourage citizen ownership of transparent, participatory democracy.

The vision here, coiled in each word, is of a nation full of election monitors, demanding answers, standing tough when they are rebuffed or told, no, this information is not public (computer voting-machine source codes, exit poll data); or no, the public isn't allowed here (vote-count premises); or sorry, we didn't anticipate such a large turnout (not enough voting machines, not enough ballots).

"This really is the serious business of our lives," said Ion Sancho, election supervisor of Leon County, Fla., a fair-elections hero and one of the participants. "My goal is waking people up. My tactic is to put myself in the middle of the road and say" -- to anyone who would suppress or interfere with the vote -- "hey, you're going to have to hit me."

These are just words unless you sign on with your life.

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