Paul Krugman Reveals How Republicans Plan to Win in 2018 — Even While Voters Despise Their ‘Reverse Robin Hood Agenda’

“If they can’t win on the issues, they’ll try to win on something else.”

Source: AlterNet

Author: Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Link: https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/paul-krugman-reveals-how-republicans-plan-win-2018-even-while-voters-despise-their?src=newsletter1096537

Emphasis Mine

our long national nightmare begins…

Republican lawmakers around the country are making their pitch to the American voters that they should be re-elected to continue their control of the legislature  — but there’s a conspicuous absence in their messaging: any sign of a coherent agenda to make the country better.

The reason for this absence is simple. They don’t have one.

As Paul Krugman argued in a New York Times column Monday night, Republicans’ actual policy ideas are deeply unpopular with voters.

“In fact, Republican policies are so unpopular that the party’s candidates are barely trying to sell them. Instead, they’re pretending to stand for things they actually don’t — like protecting health coverage for Americans with pre-existing conditions — or trying to distract voters with culture war and appeals to white racial identity,” he wrote. “The G.O.P. has become the party of no ideas.”

Meanwhile, the one legislative success of the party since the 2016 election was the major tax cut bill passed in 2017. Republicans aren’t running on that, though, because voters also hate it. The vast majority of voters recognize that the tax cuts were designed to benefit corporations and the wealthy while driving up the federal deficit — a deficit which the GOP is likely to use as an excuse to cut social programs.

President Donald Trump, the so-called populist, has forced the party into acquiescing into his adopting its one idiosyncratic economic policy preferences: tariffs galore. But as Krugman wrote:

And Trump’s tariffs suffer politically because some Americans are already being hurt, while the supposed beneficiaries have good reason to doubt whether they will be helped. In fact, even as Trump boasts that his steel tariffs have revived the industry, two major steelworker unions have voted to go on strike — because while corporate profits have surged, workers’ wages haven’t.

In short, the American public seems to have wised up; voters seem to have recognized the G.O.P.’s reverse Robin Hood agenda of taking from ordinary families and giving to the rich for what it is.

So what will be the GOP response to this dismal state of affairs? If you said “adopt more popular policy views,” guess again.

Instead, they seem, Krugman explained, to be doubling down on what made Trump a distinctly vile candidate: demonizing people of color.

“And it might work. After all, studies of the 2016 election clearly show tharacial resentment, not ‘economic anxiety,’ was what put Trump over the top,” Krugman said. “But if the G.O.P. does win, it will have won very, very ugly. And American politics will become even worse.”

 

 

The Real Evil Behind the Republicans’ Tax and Budget Plans

Republicans have long dreamed of destroying the social safety net once and for all.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Neal Gabler / BillMoyers.com

Link: https://www.alternet.org/news-amp-politics/gop-long-game-tax-cuts?akid=16463.123424.ZIXTn7&rd=1&src=newsletter1086211&t=17

Emphasis Mine: 

Bloggers additions:

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=   In memory of the late Belle Likover – http://obits.cleveland.com/obituaries/cleveland/obituary.aspx?pid=186268198        =

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It isn’t easy watching the country you love fall down a black hole from which it is not likely to emerge, but that is precisely what happened this past week with the Senate passage of the so-called “tax reform” bill. Bernie Sanders spoke for many when he said it will “go down in history as one of the worst, most unfair pieces of legislation ever passed.”

To which I’d add, not only the worst legislation, but also the most radically transformative passed in our lifetimes. The bill seems to have something to hurt every American, except for the wealthy. It raises taxes on most middle-income wage earners over the long haul, eliminates the individual mandate for health care (which will send insurance premiums soaring) and allows oil drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. The House version removes deductions for large health care expenses and compels graduate students to pay taxes on tuition waivers, though the Senate version retains both. Speaking of the health care provisions alone, former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers predicted millions would die.

But to be perfectly honest, bad as they are — and they are very bad — these aren’t likely to be the worst problems with this patchwork legislation. Though it was seemingly thrown together at the last minute, with senators scribbling changes in the margins even as it was being debated on the floor, and though it was concocted solely to give the Republicans and their monster-in-chief a legislative victory — any legislative victory — it would be misguided to think that there isn’t some grand scheme behind it.

In fact, for all the haphazardness, the tax reform measures passed by the House and Senate, which must be reconciled in conference before final passage, achieve a deliberate and much-cherished GOP goal that supersedes short-term victory. Republicans have long dreamed of destroying the social safety net once and for all. This is the bill that finally threatens to accomplish their plan.

The New Deal, which created that safety net, arose in the Great Depression precisely because the free markets that Republicans insist to this day are the answer to every problem failed Americans miserably. Government was needed to bail them out then and to protect them in the future.

New Dealism was a set of programs — Social Security, public works, fair labor laws, conservation and dozens more — but it was also an attitude about government and the role it could and should play, from actively helping citizens in distress to equalizing an unfair tax structure.

The proof of its success is that Republicans didn’t dare revoke it when they came back to power. Frankly, they couldn’t, because New Dealism was too popular for them to do so. Dwight Eisenhower didn’t even reduce the highest marginal tax rate of the 1950s, which sat at 91 percent. And believe it or not, no one outside of right-wing extremists called him a socialist.

Still, there were elements of the Republican Party that chafed over New Dealism and never gave up hope of rescinding it and returning America to its primordial state — when the wealthy controlled everything and ordinary people were left to fend for themselves. The Republicans, a coalition of big business, farmers and small-town Rotarians, hadn’t been the party of the people for a long time.

The GOP’s two deepest strains may have been personal responsibility and Social Darwinism, and neither was especially hospitable to government intervention of any sort. In combination, these beliefs challenged the very foundations of New Dealism, assuming not that government was a collective instrument to help Americans when they needed it, but that government assistance subverted self-sufficiency and undermined the natural order of things: the poor were poor and the rich were rich because they deserved it.

(N.B.: Social Darwinism was a product of Herbert Spencer – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herbert_Spencer.  The Principle of Natural Selection is Survival of the Fitter, not Survival of the Fittest, as is often misstated.)

This was by no means the entirety of the Republican Party. Though it is impossible to imagine right now, there was a progressive wing of the party with stalwarts like Robert La Follette, George Norris and William Borah. And there were moderates who, while favoring Wall Street, didn’t abhor all government involvement in the economy.

With this concession, New Dealism not only endured the griping against it, but, during Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, grew — with Medicare and Medicaid signal achievements. By necessity, even Richard Nixon was a sort of New Dealer, introducing the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

That’s the way it was throughout the postwar period — until Ronald Reagan.

Of the many ways Reagan changed American politics, among the most important was taking the extreme right-wing factions of conservatism who had been knocking at the party’s door and letting them in. This was a sneaky trick and a cataclysmic one that eventually would lead to Donald Trump.

(N.B.: It is often stated – as in ‘Reagan changed’ , above – that a POTUS was alone responsible for legislation. In Fact – as Donald J. Trump and many of his supporters have learned – a bill becomes law only after it has passed both houses and signed into law by the President: the PPACA  is a example.  I might also observe that when 40 was in office, his mental capacity to comprehend what was happening was always in question.)

Once upon a time, these folks were widely dismissed as kooks and pushed to the margins. Now they were at the heart of the party. All you need to know is that Reagan got his political start delivering speeches about “the ant heap of totalitarianism” and reviling Medicare as inevitably leading to a socialist dictatorship. (We’re still waiting.)

Reagan and his right-wing friends shared one great ambition: to destroy New Dealism. Part of this was to further enrich their rich benefactors and disempower the poor under that old guise of free markets and Social Darwinism. But there’s another possible reason, more psychological than ideological: You hurt people because it makes you feel more powerful and because you think they have it coming. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) admitted as much the other day when he said, in defense of the estate tax repeal, that if you give ordinary Americans tax breaks, they will just waste their money on “booze, women and movies.”

Inevitably, New Dealism and Republicanism cannot coexist, because New Dealism is about helping people and Republicanism is about insisting that people can only help themselves. There is not a shred of empathy in the latter.

And therein lies the real driving force and the grand strategy behind this so-called tax reform. The House and Senate bills will both increase the deficit — the deficit about which Republicans have caterwauled for 50 years — by more than one trillion dollars! But rather than admit such rank hypocrisy, they deny that a trillion dollars will actually be added to be the deficit. The biggest dissemblers say that the resulting economic growth from tax cuts will take care of it, which is utter nonsense. The less egregious liars say that they will raise taxes if the deficit balloons, which is also nonsense. But — and here is the fine print — they say that if necessary they will cut government programs to keep the deficit under control.

That is the basic point. The object of tax reform is to create a gigantic deficit to justify ending the New Deal.

The time will come, and it is not far off, when every New Deal and Great Society program will be on the chopping block. And when they are, Republicans will start their deficit hawk mating call again. And because the deficit will have swelled so much, programs will be slashed. They won’t just nibble away at the edges. They will try to kill the whole thing.

Democrats will protest. They may even be in power. But if they are, they will be handed an untenable situation, having to choose between deficits and programs. In effect, Democrats are being set up. You can already hear Republicans saying we can’t afford Medicare, Medicaid, food stamps or even Social Security. It is government as cruelty.

In the past, when it came to New Dealism, Republicans always had to hide their true intentions because when they dared reveal them, as George W. Bush did when he sought to privatize Social Security, the hue and cry was deafening. In fact, a few weeks ago I wrote about how Americans were wising up, and it’s true that the more they learn about this “tax reform,” the more opposed they are. Right now, the opposition is overwhelming.

But with Donald Trump in charge, Republicans feel no need to conceal. They have been emboldened, I think, to show their true selves because they feel Trump has their back with his supporters — and as long as they have that army behind them, they are willing to take the risk of promoting a “reform” nearly everyone else hates. Those aggrieved white men who form the bulk of rank-and-file Republicanism don’t care if they have to pay more taxes. They don’t care if premitheir health insurance premiums soar. They don’t care if their children can’t afford to go to college. Surveys show that they are more devoted to Trump than to their own welfare, and they will follow Trump wherever he leads, even if he leads them to financial disaster. He voices their hatreds, and hatred trumps policy. Such is modern Republicanism.

In a way, you can’t blame Republican office holders for being fired up. They have the New Deal in their sights, and they are eager to pull the trigger. Yet this country already has suffered grievously from Republicanism and Trumpism. It has lost its moral compass, and is about to put an alleged child molester in the Senate. America is going to suffer a great deal more once the deficit reckoning comes and the great unraveling begins. When the social safety net is gone, what happens to those who fall — which in truth, could be every single one of us?

Neal Gabler is the author of five books and the recipient of two LA TImes Book Prizes, Time magazine’s non-fiction book of the year, and USA Today’s biography of the year. He is a senior fellow at the Lear Center for the Study of Entertainment and Society.

 

Joseph Stiglitz: ‘Trump Has Fascist Tendencies’

Nobel prize-winning economist on the threat from the U.S. president, fairer globalization—and whether Bernie Sanders would have won.

Photo Credit: Michael Vadon / Flickr

Source: The Guardian via AlterNet

Author:  Larry Elliott / The Guardian

Emphasis Mine

Harry Truman once demanded to be given one-handed economists because he became so frustrated with his advisers meeting every demand for answers with “on the one hand, on the other hand”.

Truman would have liked Joseph Stiglitz, the Nobel prize-winning economist who worked for a later Democratic president, Bill Clinton, and who does not mince words when talking about the current incumbent of the White House, Donald Trump.

Stiglitz, in London to publicise his new book, says that for the past six or seven years he has been growing increasingly disturbed by America’s growing inequality and the simmering anger it has caused.

“I began to say ‘if we didn’t fix this problem we are going to have a political problem’ and historically a Trump figure, a fascist kind of figure arises.”

Asked whether he really thinks Trump is a fascist, Stiglitz says: “I certainly think he has those tendencies. He is restrained by our institutions and every day those institutions work we feel relieved. We don’t know what the bounds are and we don’t know how far he would push those bounds.

“A couple of things are most disturbing – the attack on the press and the attack on the foundations of knowledge which goes beyond the press.

“We have never had a president who day after day lies and is unaffected by it. Normally everybody you deal with is tethered by a sense of responsibility and truth, but not him.

“I think the other thing you have seen with some of these fascist leaders is using ‘us versus them’ as a way of dividing society.” Stiglitz says Trump is using racism and misogyny to divide America. “To me it is deeply, deeply disturbing.”

Stiglitz had his differences with Clinton, for whom he worked as chairman of the council of economic advisers, and Barack Obama, criticising both for not doing enough to ensure that the fruits of growth were more evenly shared.

But he sees Trump as not just misguided but positively dangerous – a man who has difficulty telling the truth, whose word is not to be trusted and who might even respond to being thwarted in his plans by pushing the nuclear button.

He gives as an example the president’s determination to rip up the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), which created a free trade zone between the US, Canada and Mexico a quarter of a century ago.

Trump thinks the agreement has been bad for America but is running into strong opposition from big business, which has outsourced production to exploit cheaper labour costs south of the Rio Grande.

“What I worry about is that when Trump is confronted with the reality that he can’t do on Nafta what he wants to do he will strike out like a little kid and do something dangerous – like putting his finger on a button he shouldn’t be putting his finger on.

Would Trump really put his finger on the nuclear button because he was thwarted over Nafta? “We don’t know. There is a discussion in Congress to restrain his ability to put his finger on that button.”

Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential race has encouraged Stiglitz to update and expand his 2002 book, Globalisation and its Discontents. The original book, written in the wake of the violent protests on the streets of Seattle, Prague, Washington DC and Genoa, assumed that globalisation’s discontents were in poor countries. The new book charts how the unhappiness has spread from the developing to developed world and led to Trump, Brexit and growing support for extreme parties in continental Europe.

Stiglitz attributes Trump’s election to globalisation, rising inequality and the legacy of the 2008 financial crisis.

“This is a global phenomenon. Part of it is growing inequality and the way people have come to understand that inequality. They see the world doing better and they see that they are not getting better off. They don’t want to say it’s because of what I’ve done, it’s because of what’s happened to me. Something that Trump said captured what a lot of people think: the system is rigged.

“Part of this is a legitimate anger relating to the crisis of 2008 and how we handled it. We saved the banks, we saved the bankers and we saved the shareholders; we didn’t do much for homeowners and the workers who were losing their jobs.”

Stiglitz says he told Obama before he became president that the focus should be on helping ordinary Americans. “But the dominant influence were the bankers in Wall Street.”

The rules of the American economy were rewritten in the 1980s in ways that weakened labour and watered down anti-trust and other competition laws, Stiglitz says. He believes discontent would have surfaced even without the 2008 crisis. “But I think it worsened it, crystalised it.”

He added: “The crisis of 2008 made things much much worse. Millions of Americans lost their homes and the way things were managed was grossly unfair.”

The reason neither developed nor developing countries are happy with globalisation, Stiglitz says, is that trade agreements were written by and for corporations and against ordinary workers in both places.

Stiglitz was born in Gary, Indiana, in 1943. Then a booming steel town, Gary has become one of the places in the midwest that has come to symbolise America’s rust belt decay. Stiglitz says he understands the anger that turned Indiana into Trumpland because for the poorest Americans wages adjusted for inflation had not increased for six decades.

The US economy has been growing at a reasonable pace in the year since the presidential election, with unemployment falling, consumer confidence strong and the stock market rising. So does Stiglitz thinks Trump’s economic strategy will work?

“There is no way … that it will raise living standards. The reality is that the standard of living will go down if he succeeds in doing any significant part of what he is proposing.

“He is proposing deglobalisation, breaking up the efficient supply chains that have been created and raising costs. If manufacturing jobs do come back to the US they will be done by robots in hi-tech parts of the country rather than the rust belt states.”

The updated Globalisation and its Discontents sketches out three possible ways forward: doubling down on the current model of globalisation, the new protectionism, or a fairer globalisation. More of the status quo is not politically feasible, he says, and wouldn’t work anyway, while Trump is the manifestation of the new protectionism. “It means going back into yourself, ignoring all the advantages of trade such as specialisation. It’s dishonest populism. We have to make globalisation work, stop more than 100% of the gains going to the people at the top.”

But is fairer globalisation any more politically feasible given the likely push back from the 1%. “There is going to be resistance. But we are democracies.

“I don’t think we can have democracies that work where most of the people are not benefiting economically, where most of the people are worried about their job security. Society can’t function without shared prosperity.”

Stiglitz says Bernie Sanders would have beaten Trump. “I see the election of 2016 as an election of protest. Bernie represented a return to the old values: a middle-class lifestyle, a home, a secure retirement, education for your children, healthcare. Jeremy Corbyn is saying the same thing in the UK.”

Instead America is led by a man Stiglitz says should not be in the White House. “He is not fit to be president. He does not have an understanding of the issues, the political process. He is used to making one-time deals. You can cheat your contractors when you buy a real estate property and fix it up. Reputation doesn’t matter. For the president of the United States reputation does matter. The reputation of the United States does matter. We are dealing with countries all over the world. They want to know if your word is good. Trump’s word is not good.”

Larry Elliott is the Guardian’s economics editor and has been with the paper since 1988.

 

 

 

 

 

Republicans call Obamacare a ‘failure.’ These 7 charts show they couldn’t be more wrong

Source: LATIMES.com

Author:Michael Hiltzik

Emphasis Mine

Congressional Republicans, evidently hoping that by repeating an untruth they’ll convince American voters, and perhaps themselves, that it’s a truth, on Wednesday said the Affordable Care Act has “failed.”

The undistilled version of this view came from House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wis.), who emerged Wednesday from a meeting with Vice President-elect Mike Pence to assert: “This law has failed. Americans are struggling. The law is failing while we speak. … Things are only getting worse under Obamacare. … The healthcare system has been ruined — dismantled — under Obamacare.”

Every one of those statements is demonstrably untrue. How do we know this? We know because every measure of healthcare spending, access and cost has improved since the passage and implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Timothy McBride of Washington University in St. Louis has done the heavy lifting of pulling together the relevant charts and graphs, and posting them online in a series of 12 tweets compiled on Storify. We’ve culled some of the most important, and present them here.

We should add, first, that Ryan also pledged, once the GOP repeals the law, to “make sure that there is a stable transition to a truly patient-centered system. We want every American to have access to quality, affordable health coverage

This is nothing but fatuous gobbledygook. The GOP has had six years to come up with an alternative plan, and never has done so. Its current strategy is to repeal the Affordable Care Act now, and then cook up a replacement sometime in the next two, three, even four years. (They can’t even agree on a time frame.) What exactly is a “patient-centered system,” anyway?

Here are the charts, courtesy of professor McBride.

First, the overall uninsured rate has come sharply down since the advent of Obamacare:

8 years of suffering under Barack Obama

Teri Carter's Library

andersonlogo

3C54DC7D00000578-4140672-Barack_Obama_waves_as_he_boards_Marine_One_and_departs_the_Capit-a-77_1484945371469 Photo credit: The Associated Press

The sentence I hear most from well-meaning, conservative friends since President Trump’s election is this: “We suffered 8 years under Barack Obama.”

Fair enough. Let’s take a look.

The day Obama took office, the Dow closed at 7,949 points. Eight years later, the Dow had almost tripled, closing at 21,414.

General Motors and Chrysler were on the brink of bankruptcy, with Ford not far behind, and their failure, along with their supply chains, would have meant the loss of millions of jobs. Obama pushed through a controversial, $8o billion bailout to save the car industry. The U.S. car industry survived, started making money again, and the entire $80 billion was paid back, with interest.

While we remain vulnerable to lone-wolf attacks, no foreign terrorist organization has successfully executed a mass attack here since 9/11.

Obama ordered the raid that killed Osama Bin Laden.

He…

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Milo Scandal Lays Bare the Moral Corruption of the Conservative Movement

He may not be an ideological conservative, but the movement created him. Now it must own him and the hatred he spews.

Source: AlterNet

Author: Adele M. Stan/The American Prospect

Emphasis Mine

Since the early days of its ascendance in the Republican Party, the conservative movement’s leaders have advanced their cause on two major claims that have shaped conservatism’s identity: moral rectitude and love of the Constitution. As it turns out, that was quite a sell job.

The hatred espoused by Trump and the cretins he’s defended, such as Breitbart News phenomenon Milo Yiannopoulos, initially found its voice, often in more polite language, in the conservative movement. Milo and the Donald may not be ideological conservatives, but they are nonetheless creations of the conservative movement. As I’ve noted before, these are players savvy enough to understand that conservatism never was fueled by ideology; it was always fueled by contempt for everyone other than non-Jewish white men.

Take the recent flap over the scheduled appearance of Breitbart News editor Milo Yiannopoulos to keynote the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC), which will take place later this week at a resort near Washington, D.C. After consternation reached a fever pitch over a video, long available online, showing Yiannopoulos saying that sex between men and pubescent boys could be a good thing for the boys, CPAC rescinded its invitation to the right’s favorite bad boy.

But CPAC’s addition of Yiannopoulos to its schedule came the day after an appearance on HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, in which the self-styled flamboyant bomb-thrower revealed his hatred toward everybody but white men. It wasn’t until video went viral on Monday from an appearance last year on a radio show called The Drunken Peasants, in which Yiannopoulos made his now-infamous pedophilia endorsement—courtesy of a tweet from a right-wing outfit called the Reagan Batallion—that CPAC rescinded its invitation.

Responding via his personal account on Twitter, Brendan Karet of Media Matters for America, put it succinctly:

MILO: nazis are smart
CPAC: ok
MILO: trans people are sick
CPAC: mhm
MILO: target undocumented kids
CPAC: yes
MILO: NAMBLA’s good
CPAC: wait

While Milo’s endorsement of pedophilia was about abuse of minors by Roman Catholic priests rather than members of the North American Man-Boy Love Association (NAMBLA), you get the idea.

By Tuesday, Yiannapoulos resigned his post as a senior editor at Breitbart News, where he had served under the leadership of Stephen K. Bannon, who is now the senior White House strategist and member of the National Security Council. At a press conference in New York on Tuesday, he accused the radio program’s producers of deceptively editing the videos (they didn’t), but nonetheless apologized for using “imprecise language” in his Drunken Peasants appearance.

Then he defaulted to the classic conservative victimhood stance, accusing the media of conducting a campaign against him to deprive him of his First Amendment rights. “But let’s be clear what is happening here,” Yiannopoulos said, as reported in The New York Times. “This is a cynical media witch hunt from people who don’t care about children.”

(See Trump corollary description of “the media” as “the enemy of the American people.”)

On display here is the recurring misrepresentation of First Amendment guarantees by countless conservatives who claim victimhood when something offensive they’ve said garners opposition. The First Amendment does not guarantee one a speaking slot at CPAC, an audience on a college campus, or a booking on television program. In fact, the First Amendment does not at all address what a non-government entity may or may not do in guaranteeing one’s right to speak one’s mind on that non-government entity’s platform. The First Amendment simply prohibits the government from “abridging the freedom of speech.” To date, none of Milo’s opponents, to my knowledge, have suggested that he be censored by the government, or jailed for his spewings.

At the close of a very bad few days, in which he lost his book deal with Simon & Schuster, his job with Breitbart News and his speaking slot at CPAC, Yiannopoulos was fast at work on what he does best: marketing his hateful brand.

“I’m proud to be a warrior for free speech and creative expression,” he said at his press conference. “I’m not going anywhere.”

With its more than 50-year quest to keep restaurants racially segregated, women as second-class citizens, LGBT people in the closet, and the planet a dumping ground for the waste of industrialists, the conservative movement must own Milo Yiannopoulos. His ginning of hatred againstrans peopleblack  peopleMuslimsJews and women stems from the license granted him by the underpinnings of the conservative movement. He is its creation, its values encapsulated in one especially vile human being.

Adele M. Stan is a weekly columnist for The American Prospect. Follow her on Twitter @addiestan.

See: http://www.alternet.org/right-wing/milo-and-moral-corruption-conservative-movement?akid=15232.123424.ZRuP4k&rd=1&src=newsletter1072739&t=8

Peekskill Blues: Sounds of Fascism

1949 was the “last postwar year,” the year America came apart.

Source:portside

Author: Jennifer Young

Emphasis Mine

The protesters gathered outside the concert grounds as evening fell. It had been a humid, hot day in Peekskill, New York, but as the afternoon waned, light breezes wafted in from the Hudson River. The crowd was waiting for Black folk singer and political activist Paul Robeson, who was scheduled to perform as the concert headliner at the picnic grounds that night. The protesters kept themselves occupied, waving American flags and singing patriotic songs. Some of them held signs that had been recently spotted around the neighborhood, reading “Wake up America, Peekskill did.”

But the mood changed rapidly as the sun sank. As would-be audience members drove up the road and attempted to enter the grounds to attend the concert, they found their path blocked by several large trucks and piles of rocks. Soon the traffic jam stretched for two miles. Those in the back of the line couldn’t tell what was going on. Tensions rose. Concert organizers assembled their own guard, forming three lines stretching across the road. They crossed their arms, stared their antagonists in the face, and waited. At 7:30, the violence began. Protestors broke off pieces of a nearby fence and swung them at the men facing them, screaming, “Kill the Niggers, kill the kikes, kill the Communists.”

“No one of you leaves here alive.”

A young Black girl just arriving on the scene with her parents looked up to see plumes of smoke rising from the hillside. A twelve-foot wooden cross burned brightly against the darkening sky.

Tommy Tomkins, a local white high schooler, only tagged along to the protest because his friend with a car wanted to go. He was seventeen, “the gung-ho age where John Wayne makes you feel happy.” He couldn’t see much when the violence broke out on the road. Men were standing around with bats and then suddenly, a voice yelled that somebody had been knifed. Everyone began pushing and punching. He watched his friends as they threw rocks into the crowd. He saw a group of men pull a nicely dressed woman from her car and punch her, over and over. He felt scared, excited, frightened, sick. The men surrounding him were in their thirties and forties, salesmen and clerks, men he saw every day. Some were college students home for the summer, and many were active in their local churches. The only way he could tell one group from another is that the guys he was with were the ones shouting, “Kikes! Go back to Russia!” Finally, he managed to slip away into the night, leaving his friends behind.

By ten o’clock, state police broke up the melee. Protestors melted back into the woods. Only twelve arrests were made, including several of Tommy Tomkins’s friends, who were proud of their newfound fame. A judge let them off with a warning.

*  *  *

Ku Klux Klan activity in Peekskill, just an hour north of New York City, was nothing new—local groups protested Catholic presidential candidate Al Smith in 1928, and every few years they organized a march against an assortment of perceived foes. But in 1949, Russians tested their first hydrogen bomb (N.B.: that was a fission, not a fusion(hydrogen) bomb in 1949) and Communist forces gained the upper hand in China. Anti-Communism became a great panic, a fever-dream in which enemies suddenly appeared in the guise of friends and neighbors. It wasn’t hard to hate and fear Communists, if you had already grown up hating and fearing Catholics and Jews and Blacks. But none of the concert organizers had imagined the kind of violence they would face. “Why should anyone make trouble?” asked writer Howard Fast, chairman of the concert, in the days leading up to the event. It wasn’t a political meeting or demonstration, just a summer picnic.

The concert’s main organizer, William Patterson, a prominent Black Communist and the executive secretary of the leftwing Civil Rights Congress, planned the event as a fundraiser and as a showcase for Robeson, his close colleague. But Robeson never made it to the concert grounds that day—stuck in the traffic jam caused by the roadblock, he returned to Manhattan amid rumors that he was being burned in effigy somewhere along the hillside.

Robeson had performed in Peekskill at benefit concerts for the Civil Rights Congress for the previous three years without incident. But veterans in the northeast began protesting Robeson earlier that summer, after the Associated Press reported the singer as saying, “It is unthinkable that American Negros would go to war on behalf of those who have oppressed us for generations, against the Soviet Union, which in one generation has lifted our people to full human dignity.” Many chapters of the American Legion, and other veterans’ groups, immediately denounced Robeson as a Moscow-loving Communist, an un-American. Veterans of Foreign Wars picketed a Robeson concert in Newark, and the New Haven American Legion tried to ban his concerts there. The Peekskill Evening Star published Robeson’s comments days before the Peekskill concert, prompting several locals to pen letters to the editor, calling on concerned citizens to take action. “The time for tolerant silence that signifies approval is running out,” one writer declared.  “It is clear that fascism can be introduced gradually and almost imperceptibly.”

On August 30, thousands of people gathered in Harlem’s Golden Gate Ballroom to hear Robeson declare he would return to Peekskill to deliver his canceled concert. In response, veterans again announced that they would stop the event, pledging to bring 30,000 people to parade and demonstrate at the new concert venue, the Hollowbrook Country Club. At this, the local media and the District Attorney grew alarmed, and the DA pleaded with veterans’ groups to move their protest elsewhere. They refused.

On the afternoon of September 4, over 20,000 people arrived at the country club and took their seats on the lawn. African-American soprano Hope Foye stepped onto the stage and delivered the first half of the program, singing the art song repertoire of Bach, Verdi, and Mozart. Then Robeson, a towering figure with a resoundingly deep bass-baritone voice, took the stage. He began to sing a traditional African American spiritual. When Israel was in Egypt’s land … Let my people go … Oppress’d so hard they could not stand … Let my people go.

Up and down the hillside, thousands of men, most of them white, stood together in a human chain, encircling and protecting the concert and the singer. One guard could see down to the entrance of the Hollowbrook grounds at the far end of the field. At 1:30 p.m., as Robeson began the second half of his program, the guard heard the protestors’ parade begin. Though the protestors had promised to bring thirty thousand, the guard counted fewer than a thousand people, walking in single file to make the group seem bigger. About half an hour later the parade marched back into view from the other direction, this time attempting to make even more noise. “Hitler started it, we’ll finish you!” the marchers yelled. “Hitler killed only half the Jews, we’ll kill all the rest!” “You got in, but you’ll never get out!” The guard saw a policeman laugh.

As the concert ended, audience members trickled back to the parking lot to find that the bus drivers they had hired to drive them back to New York had disappeared. Men from the audience, many of them old-time labor activists from the Fur and Leather Workers Union and other radical unions, immediately climbed into the buses and offered to drive everyone home. As vehicles moved single-file down the narrow lane, police moved in and slowed the flow of traffic at the country club entrance. As cars inched past the police roadblock, drivers could see that the roads were lined with protestors, many wearing white World War I helmets. The police turned away from the protesters and stood facing the road, as baseball-sized rocks flew through the air, launched from protestors’ hands and aimed at car windows. Many hit their target. Men, women, and children were caught in a trap, huddling low in their cars as missiles hurtled through their windshields. One man sat in his battered car and picked shards of glass out of his young daughter’s hair.

Protestors began hunting down any Black people they could find, pulling them from their cars. One Black man was dragged from his car and hit over the head by several men. As he attempted to crawl underneath the car for protection, four state troopers stepped in to join the melee. The man crawled back down the road towards the concert grounds as the troopers continued to beat him.

The Westchester County Grand Jury ultimately indicted six people for their actions during the second riot. None faced serious consequences. In the meantime, Robeson launched a six-city concert tour, vowing he would not be silenced “until every Black man in America can walk with dignity in his own country.”

*  *  *

After that night on the road, Tommy Tomkins began to listen carefully to the things his mother said about Jews. She made it sound like Jews had taken something from them, and the riot was a way of trying to even the score. It made him uncomfortable, but he couldn’t find anyone to talk to about it. His house was full of lace doilies, but no books. The Peekskill riots turned him into a liberal, he said later. He decided, all of a sudden, to leave Peekskill, maybe go to college. He didn’t return home for class reunions.

Following the riots, accusations flew in all directions, and many commentators tried to reconstruct the causes of the violence. Some veterans admitted that they had not anticipated the intense currents of hatred that had surged through the crowds of protestors like an electrical fire. The ACLU’s investigative report blamed anti-Semitism as the chief cause of the riots, but the Civil Rights Congress demurred, suggesting that “the pogrom was more against Negroes than against Jews.” A writer for the New York Age, a Black newspaper, blamed whites on both sides of the divide, arguing that Black bodies were on the line whenever whites instigated violence. Communism, with all its promised panaceas, the columnist wrote, could not solve this fundamental problem.  Woody Guthrie remarked later that he’d seen a lot, but Peekskill was the worst.

The Westchester Grand Jury, convened to examine the causes of the riot, placed blame on Communists, concluding that men like Robeson and Patterson hoped to inflame racial tensions for their own political gain. The anti-Communist, Jewish intellectual-led journal Commentary reached similar conclusions. “Peekskill is an ordinary American community which has undergone rather extraordinary social strains,” they wrote. The authors argued that the riots did not erupt solely from prejudice, but also from a necessary defense reaction against the “totalitarian regime waging an undeclared war” against America. They also placed the blame for the riots on social upheaval, racial integration, and the influx of left-wing summer residents who had a destabilizing effect on the community.

Blaming Cold War fear-mongering on American elites, the socialist Monthly Review countered that the riots erupted because large swaths of the American public had been “worked up to a dangerous state of frenzy.” The Review’s editors declared that the real perpetrators of the violence in Peekskill were the federal government, the police, religious authorities, and the media. Ultimately, these authors believed, the violence at Peekskill demonstrated to those paying attention that the American ruling class need not trouble itself by assembling paramilitaries like the SS, because the instruments of power were already available for the taking. Institutions of social control, from the police, the media, veterans’ organizations, and local government, could be effectively harnessed as special instruments of violence and intimidation. “It is clear that fascism can be introduced gradually and almost imperceptibly,” they wrote. Fascism was imminently achievable in America, they believed, because the country lacked a strong labor movement and an outspoken liberal intellectual class that would strenuously defend the violation of civil liberties when they occurred against political and racial minorities.

*  *  *

The folksinger Woody Guthrie, who experienced the second riot from a smashed-up Jeep, remarked later that he’d seen a lot, but Peekskill was the worst. He holed up at home in the following weeks and churned out twenty-one songs about that night. Guthrie wrote obsessively, spanning musical genres from Carter Family country standards to Joe Hill protest ballads. Thematically, the songs all focused on the same material: burning crosses, stoning, and police violence. His moody, dark “Peekskill Blues” includes the lament, “P’liceman beatin’ down my buddy / I c’n see him in my dream / If you ev’r seen your buddy Kueklucked / You know just what I mean.” In his characteristically repetitive, circular style, Guthrie’s focus returned to rocks flying, and blood dripping on broken glass. In his telling, the bloodshed in Peekskill flowed into the Hudson River, so “New York waters gonna taste like Peekskill blood.” But Guthrie didn’t believe in passive resistance; he threatened to “grab you bloodyrock hoodlums, an’ I’ll sink you in that Hudson mud.” Throughout his Peekskill song cycle, Guthrie blasted the enthusiastic violence of small-town American men and women, the casual way they invoked Hitler, and the group mentality they cultivated that bred vicious hatred.

Born a year after the brutal lynching of a mother and son in his Oklahoma hometown, Guthrie came of age in an atmosphere of casual, unreflective racism. As a young man in 1930s California, Guthrie sang minstrel songs on his radio show until he received a “politely incandescent” letter from a young Black listener. The effect of this letter upon Guthrie was profound: he read the letter on air, publicly apologized, and promised he would never use the word “nigger” again. From Guthrie’s subject position as a “Dust Bowl refugee,” he slowly developed an empathy for the underdog that would characterize his later lyrics and activism. He began to examine the stories of other marginal and disenfranchised people in songs such as “When the Curfew Blows,” which described police harassment of migrants.

Fascism had always been creeping in around the edges of American politics, but now it had sprung up overnight in poisonous fluorescence, threatening the vitality of the entire landscape.

After World War II began, Guthrie joined the merchant marines. He grew angry at American hypocrisy, at segregated troops, and at the arbitrary cruelness of Jim Crow. In reaction, Guthrie began honing his own theory of fascism: “Anybody that hates a whole race or color or a whole nation or a whole continent of people is a Nazi and a fascist,” he declared. He believed that the American people needed to be on constant guard against the fascists and Nazis in their own country, not just overseas. To his alarm, these forces did not recede after the war. Guthrie worried that World War II had been fought for nothing: America retained its status quo.

In the late 1940s, Guthrie wrote a series of letters to his mother-in-law, the Yiddish poet Aliza Waitzman Greenblatt, in which he reflected on his sense of anguish that the forces of hate that brought the world into two massive wars could still endure. Guthrie worried that past generations made “sad and terrible mistakes” that the current generation could not undo. He wondered if his generation “did not do all in our earthly powers to set those wrong things right.” Borrowing from the language of the Jewish prayer Al Chet, the confession of sins recited eight times during Yom Kippur, the day of repentance, Guthrie composed his own pseudo-liturgical invocation. “We trusted wrong friends,” he wrote. “We followed wrong crowds. We read wrong words. We went lost ways and walked in the wrong winds. But we did fix up our rooms a little speck better than we found them. We found two faiths, two gospels, when we passed by this very spot, one gospel was the gospel of hate, and the other gospel was the gospel you call love … to the best of our mental ability, some of us in your generation and my own worked and labored to make the gospel of love sound out a little plainer.”

*  *  *

Peekskill didn’t change Guthrie’s vision, but it tinged it. For those on the left, men and women who had fought against fascism in Spain and then across all of Europe, homegrown fascism looked like a toxic bloom. It had always been creeping in around the edges of American politics, but now it had sprung up overnight in poisonous fluorescence, threatening the vitality of the entire landscape.

By the late 1940s, it was sickeningly clear that Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal, a rough coalition of labor unions, Jews, African Americans, Catholics, and Southern Democrats, was finished. In 1948, FDR’s former vice president Henry Wallace ran a third party presidential campaign under the Progressive Party, advocating government-funded universal health insurance, full voting rights for African Americans, and an end to the Cold War. He received zero electoral votes, and eked out a popular vote tally behind that of segregationist Strom Thurmond.

1949 became symbolic of this vertiginous transition from the FDR years into a more fractured, chaotic era. Reflecting on 1949 from the relatively removed vantage point of 1974, playwright Arthur Miller wrote an essay for New York magazine entitled “The Year it Came Apart.” Miller applied a dramatist’s eye to the transformation of American society in the late 1940s. He called 1949 “the last postwar year,” arguing, “an era can be said to end when its basic illusions are exhausted.” In early 1949, Miller’s Death of a Salesman first appeared on Broadway. His audience that year came of age during the Depression, elected the same president four times, witnessed Pearl Harbor, and won a World War. They understood Willy Loman’s struggles intuitively. But Miller soon lost his sense of communion with the public—the “tender pity for the fallen man” that characterized initial responses to Death of a Salesman became “a new bellicosity” in the public sphere, characterized by the vicious takedown of the vulnerable for the sake of power harnessed to moral authority.

Psychoanalysis overtook Marxism, and suddenly everyone was searching for hidden meanings, Miller believed. “We would be entering a period of what the Puritan theology called Spectral Evidence, the testimony of afflicted persons against their invisible, devil-sent persecutors,” he wrote. In 1952, veterans groups picketed the film version of Death of a Salesman, and pressured Miller to issue an anti-Communist declaration. In response, he wrote The Crucible, a story of the Salem witch trials.

On December 15, 1951, William Patterson and Paul Robeson delivered a petition to the United Nations, accusing the United States government of genocide. The document, hundreds of pages in length, censured state-sponsored racism, from police slayings in the North to lynchings in the South, and blasted “lives deliberately warped and distorted by the willful creation of conditions making for premature death, poverty, and disease.” The petition included an appendix listing hundreds of cases of the killing or assault of Black people since 1945. The American paradox was stated boldly for all to see: the ostensible guardian of democracy and freedom could not bequeath basic human rights to a portion of its own citizens. Largely ignored by the press and ridiculed by politicians, the petition nonetheless served future generations of Black activists, from the Black Panthers to Black Lives Matter, as a record and a template for holding the state accountable for its crimes.

A year before the Peekskill riots, Guthrie wrote in his diary, “Fascism is the gospel of hate that makes so much noise. You’d think that the gospel of hate was more in our mainstream than down in our undertow. The yells of hate are not as loud as the soft little echo of love and democracy. This fascist hate will wax your ears and spike your eyes, and love and love alone can heal the dead.” For Guthrie, this soft little echo of love and democracy was the only thing that could stand up to the Goliath of homegrown fascism. For many Americans now, it is the only tool they have left.

“We trusted wrong friends…” Woody Guthrie, May 26th, 1949. Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.
“Anybody that hates a whole race…” Woody Guthrie, June 14, 1949. Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.
“Fascism is the gospel of hate…” Woody Guthrie, July 1948. Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.
Excerpts from “Peekskill Blues,” by Woody Guthrie, Copyright Woody Guthrie Publications, Inc.

 

Jennifer Young is a Canadian writer, historian, and museum educator living in New York City. Her work has appeared on Time.com, Atlas Obscura, Orion, and Untapped Cities.

See: https://portside.org/print/2017-02-17/peekskill-blues-sounds-fascism