Author Archives: geovlp@earthlink.net

What’s the Magic Number?

Reading the political Interwebz today has been profoundly depressing. It’s exactly the same talking points on all sides, with zero apparent chance anything at all will be done to prevent the next tragedy.

In many ways Barack Obama’s reputation as a humanitarian was… overblown. But increasingly over his two terms, and especially after Orlando last year, he fairly shook with the moral outrage that is the only sane response to these recurring horrors. It was far more sensible than the “thoughts and prayers” pablum coming from Trump and so many other Republicans today, while their political allies blame everything BUT a nation that allows weapons of mass murder to be sold in every strip mall. With such a stalemate, no meaningful political action is likely.

So what would it take for that dynamic to change? By both Nevada law and common sense, this was a terrorist attack. In 2001, a terrorist attack caused a Republican president to launch two trillion-dollar wars and completely.revamp and give more power to America’s domestic surveillance industry. So 3000 dead definitely counts on all sides as a big deal. Apparently a mere 59 dead (and 519 wounded, with both numbers still likely to rise) isn’t enough to count. Neither was 49 dead in Orlando, or 25 dead (20 of them schoolchildren) in Sandy Hook, or 32 dead in Blacksburg. That’s the four deadliest mass shootings in American history, all in the last 10 years. With many more “lesser” outrages along the way. Someone is likely planning the next one right now.

So how many people does some motivated nut job have to kill before the debate shifts? A hundred dead on some crowded downtown street? 500 killed during Monday Night Football? 1000 murdered in Times Square on New Year’s Eve? WHAT’S THE MAGIC NUMBER? I’d like to know, so that when “only” 25 or 49 or 59 die, we can save our outrage for another day when it might matter.

Or maybe it isn’t a number. Maybe the Vegas dead don’t count because what happens in Vegas stays there. And the 49 in Orlando didn’t count because they were queers, and the kids in Sandy Hook were too young to vote, and the terrorists responsible were all “just” Regular Guys With Issues, and none of them brought down iconic buildings in a global financial center. (Just like some hurricane victims are more important than other, less white ones.)

I hope not. I hope it’s just a magic number. Whatever it is, I want to know when this country will join the civilized world in getting serious about controlling the ownership of weapons of mass murder. Because the dead themselves really don’t care about these kinds of distinctions.

My Interview of Judge Roy Moore

Last night, Roy Moore, the twice-removed former chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, made national headlines by decisively winning Alabama’s Republican primary to replace Jeff Sessions in the US Senate. Moore won despite – and because of – the entire Republican congressional leadership’s all-out support for Moore’s opponent, interim senator Luther Strange. And they supported Strange because even by what now passes for Republican orthodoxy, Moore is an alarmingly unhinged lunatic. Now, unless Moore loses to the Democratic nominee in December, he’s in. That the Democrat even has a chance to win (he does) tells you just how beyond the pale the notion is that a guy like Moore could serve for years in the US Senate.

But it’s not like Moore’s an unknown quantity. For nearly two decades he’s been a folk hero on the Christian far right for his insistence that God’s law – his God’s law – his interpretation of his God’s law – supercedes the US Constitution. Indeed, it’s hard to imagine Moore taking any oath of office with a straight face, since his entire career is built on his enthusiasm for some sort of American racist redneck version of Sharia law. He shouldn’t be able to reconcile, on the one hand, swearing (on a Bible) to defend our Constitution, with, on the other hand, “Thou Shalt Not Lie.”

But he can, and very likely will. Moore grew up in a Jim Crow culture where white racists used Bible verses to defend slavery, lynching, and segregation (among other things). Years later, that’s still Moore’s version of “Christianity.” And in Donald Trump’s America, it might just carry him to the US Senate as one of the 100 most powerful legislators in the country.

Back in 2003, Moore was forced out of office for the first time, for installing a monument to the Ten Commandments in the rotunda of the state supreme court, and then refusing a federal court order to remove it. To capitalize on what he (of course) called his oppression as a Christian, he toured the country with, and in fact was offered the 2004 presidential nomination for, a small collection of far-right proto-fascist fanatics called the “Constitution Party.”

Moore’s politics were exactly the same back then – but instead of touring the wilderness with a fringe group of nuts, he’s now the Republican nominee for the US Senate. That’s how far Republicans have changed in 13 years, despite a near-continuous record of policy failures whenever they’ve had power at the state or federal level. But modern Republicanism is all about who you hate, and Roy Moore hates whomever his imaginary sky friend tells him to hate – fags, sure, but also much, much more. Judge Roy Moore, like Joe Arpaio and so many of these other figures, is a world class hater.

So when Moore came to Seattle in 2004 as part of that wilderness tour – at an event that got almost no local media coverage – I went. And I interviewed him, one-on-one, for a full hour.

Now, it so happens that I spent some significant years of my childhood in South Carolina, with parents dedicated to making sure I wasn’t gonna be subject to no desegregation. So I’m bilingual – I speak fluent redneck. As such, despite living in a den of godless liberals and personally showing skepticism over some of his claims, I was still, for this 2004 interview, a middle-aged white guy with a suddenly resurgent accent. We got along just fine.

Here’s my take on that interview, originally published nationally by Working Assets on July 2, 2004. Thirteen years later, my last sentence from that column now makes my skin crawl.

Here Came the Judge

I came. I saw. And, last Wednesday night, I left, still not one of the Believers.

I hope I never am. But still…

The event was called “America’s Call to Honor God,” and my attendance was something of a setup. One of the two featured speakers was Chief Justice (Forcibly Retired) Roy S. Moore, the Alabama judge who was removed from his state’s highest judicial post by a federal court late last year after he refused to remove a monument to the Ten Commandments he’d had installed in the rotunda of the state Supreme Court.

Moore was a repeat offender. He’d been elected Chief Justice due to the popularity of his earlier stand as a state circuit judge in Gadsden, when he defied a lawsuit against his posting of the same Ten Commandments on his courtroom wall. After his latest legal loss in November, there has been talk that the politically ambitious Moore’s next step is to run for governor.

And there he was, in a suburb of Seattle, along with Constitution Party presidential candidate Michael Anthony Peroutka. (The Constitution Party, in case you’re not up on your right wing fringe parties, was born a few years ago as Howard Phillips’ US Taxpayers Party, accused of some unsavory links to militias and bigots and the like.)

The whole event drew 500 the previous night in Spokane, but only about 100 of the faithful came on a sunny Seattle evening.

And at this point, I suspect editors and readers would expect that I’d launch into some sort of a narrative wherein I relay how horrified I was to be in the midst of a bunch of people who were nuttier than fruitcakes.

Except that I can’t. Because I wasn’t, and they weren’t. (Bigoted and delusional, though? Hell yeah.)

Granted, I found plenty to disagree with, some of it hair-curling. Both Moore and Peroutka inveighed against America’s secular enemies, in a worldview that came at times perilously close to confusing devout with paranoid. As when we learned, at one point, that virtually all government programs designed for the greater good, from social works to environmentalism to health care to seat belts, came straight out of the Communist Manifesto.

The evening went on like that, its political content filled with some observations I found abhorrent, some (e.g., criticism of out-of-control federal spending) I completely agreed with. But in both the speeches and in conversation, I found Moore and Peroutka both to be men worth giving a respectful, if skeptical, hearing. And here’s why:

They have both given up good, comfortable, powerful jobs because they refused to compromise their moral beliefs. And on this Independence Day weekend, I respect that.

Granted, alarm bells tend to go off whenever I hear anyone inveigh, as Moore did, The Truth, as something he has and his critics don’t. I find that a lot easier to take when people aren’t trying to impose their version of The Truth on others. That’s exactly what got Moore into trouble in Alabama.

But I couldn’t help but wonder, as I listened, about how our political and social world might differ if more people in our country made moral values the center of everything they did

For example – and let’s pick on Michael Moore, since everyone else is – how different would our political world look if everyone who has flocked to see Fahrenheit 9/11 had done so not simply to feel good and entertained about hating George Bush, but as part of a lifestyle whose job and leisure time choices were devoted to an understanding of what actions could help each of us make a better world.

Plenty of people, of course, do make those kind of choices – the teachers and nurses and social work types who get paid a relative pittance but justify it as valuable work, for example, or those who volunteer their off hours for worthy causes. But far more of us just do whatever we need to in order to get by and feel better. We don’t think much about, let alone take guidance from, those larger issues.

Roy Moore did. He took a stand I disagree with, but I find it far more valuable, all in all, that he took a stand in the first place. He risked something for his beliefs.

Good for him.

And I hope he never becomes governor.

The Amazon Application

Recently, Amazon announced that it would be issuing a request for proposals (RFP) for a second headquarters campus in North America, equal in size to its eight million square foot, 50,000 employee Seattle footprint.

Much attention was paid to the executive order signed by Mayor of Seattle For A Day Bruce Harrell, instructing city staffers to explore the feasibility of bidding for the second HQ. Dozens of other US and Canadian cities have also expressed interest.

I wrote about this in the column published today in the South Seattle Emerald. While other local media attention focused on lessons that Seattle may, or may not, have learned from its Amazon experience, Amazon has also learned from its Seattle experience.

While researching that column, I happened to obtain from a top-secret source this copy of the never-before-published – because it’s fictitious and I made it up – Amazon application for cities interested in luring the online retail giant. Here it is.


AMAZON CO-HEADQUARTERS APPLICATION

So you want to join the Amazon family? Awesome! Just answer these 30 simple questions.

Part I: Personal

1. Name of city or equivalent jurisdiction:

2. Population of city or equivalent jurisdiction:

2a: Population of metropolitan area:

3. Name and title of city or equivalent jurisdiction’s chief elected official:

3a. Name of that official’s two eldest children:

4. List two Fortune 500 companies we may contact as references.

5. In ten words or less, why do you want Amazon to locate in your town? (One of those words must be “jobs.”)

6. Use the word “desperate” in a sentence.

7. What is your annual budget (expenditures)?

Enclose a cashier’s check in this amount for your non-refundable application fee, payable to “Amazon.com, Inc.”

8. What is your annual budget (income)?

8a. If Amazon selects your location, what is your expected annual budget (income) in five years?

(Your answer must be equal to your answer for #8.)

Part II: Demographics

9. Percentage of population in #2a with graduate degree education:

9a: Current minimum wage (if any):

9b. Percentage of population with graduate degree education presently working for minimum wage or lower pay:

9c. Percentage of 2016 voters who supported Donald Trump:

(If Canadian, relax. You just scored a big advantage.)

10. Percentage of population which owns one or more firearms:

11. Median age of population:

12. Median household size:

13. Median household income:

14. Median household debt:

15. Number of icky homeless people:

Part III: Civic Amenities:

16. List all major newspapers and television stations in your market:

16a. Are they for sale?

17. Name of closest major airport:

17a. What airline uses this airport as a hub?

17b. Is it for sale?

No, stupid, we mean the airport.

18. Name all major local research universities:

18a, Are they for sale?

They are now.

19. Amount of office space in central business district:

Don’t bother checking. It’s for sale.

20. Number of residential units in metropolitan area:

We just bought them.

21. What is your annual budget for:

21a. Public transportation?

21b. Parks?

21c. Public schools?

21d. All social services (combined)?

21e. All corporate welfare benefiting companies other than Amazon?

Add your answers to #21 a-e. Divide that number by the combined total of your answers for #21 a-e. This will be your future annual discretionary budget, in U.S. dollars.

Part IV: Legal

22. What is the youngest age at which a local resident can legally work?

23. Has your jurisdiction outlawed slavery?

24. How about indentured servitude?

25. Wage theft?

26. Please provide a comprehensive list of your jurisdiction’s environmental and workplace safety laws and regulations:

Above space must be left blank.

27. Name of highest ranking local prosecuting attorney?

27a. Is he or she for sale?

Part V: Loyalty

28. Excluding your answer to #7, how much is your jurisdiction willing to pay Amazon annually in perpetuity if we select you?

29. Excluding your answer to #3a, how much are you, personally, willing to pay Amazon if we select you?

30. Do you subscribe to Amazon Prime?

Please return your application and application fee in the enclosed envelope. Remember to put first class postage on the envelope. You think we’re paying for that shit?

Houston Has Got a Problem

The catastrophic flooding in Houston is going to get a lot worse in the coming days – especially in its poorest neighborhoods

I posted on social media Friday night – and reiterated on KEXP Saturday morning – that Harvey directly hitting Houston would be a worst-case scenario as natural disasters go, because the city is so badly situated (and unplanned) to deal with catastrophic flooding – built on swampland, nowhere for floodwaters to rapidly drain, and no way to move around (let alone evacuate) the millions who live there.

The worst case is happening in real time now. The flooding is already horrific, and as Harvey inches along, the forecast is for four or five more days of rain – at least two or three feet of more rain to come (beyond the 20 inches forecast for today alone), to go along with the torrential rain it’s gotten already.

Most of the flood photos I’ve seen so far are from relatively affluent parts of town: the areas along Allen Parkway and Buffalo Bayou (which always floods in heavy rain), I-610, the Galleria neighborhood, the Montrose, etc.

But as with New Orleans 12 years ago, some of the worst flooding with rainfall like this will be in the poorer black (Third Ward) and Latino (Second Ward and East End) neighborhoods on the east and southeast sides of town. In Houston’s case, the problems won’t end once the rain does: as rainfall and floodwaters from other parts of Houston and areas upstate sloooowwwly make their way to the Gulf of Mexico, mostly without the benefit of river banks, those are the neighborhoods that will be inundated. What the emergency response will be like in the poor, non-white neighborhoods likely to be hit the hardest? And will the local, national, and international media even notice, or will they be too busy training their cameras on damage downtown and the pricey homes in, say, Hilshire Village?

The financial costs of Harvey, especially in Houston, are likely to be record-breaking – but those poor neighborhoods are where the risk of loss of life is going to be highest. Keep your eye on them. And not coincidentally, this is also where the risk of serious environmental damage (along the Houston Ship Canal in the Second Ward) is greatest; and, once mosquitoes have their delirious, end-times breeding orgy in all the stagnant water afterwards, such areas are also the risk of outbreaks of third world diseases like malaria and cholera are greatest as well. (When I lived in Houston, I taught industrial hygiene at the Univ. of Texas School of Public Health there; don’t even get me started on the state of Texas’ approach to environmental and public health spending, which has gotten even *worse* in the intervening years.)

At least 100,000 mostly poor, mostly black people who were evacuated from greater New Orleans and “resettled” to Houston in the wake of Katrina still live in Houston. I can’t begin to imagine what they’re feeling right now.

And like New Orleans a dozen years ago this Tuesday, the rest of the world is going to watch Houston’s human drama and be astonished at how ill-equipped, slow, and indifferent to human suffering a city and country of such wealth can be. I wonder if ICE will be grabbing people from the emergency shelters.

As with New Orleans, what would already be a bad situation is being made far worse by past political choices. When sprawl, no zoning (and almost no urban planning at all), and climate change intersect, this is what it looks like.

We’ll see how much the Texan and Trump governments care about Harvey’s poor and non-white urban victims. I hope everyone who needs help gets it.

I’m not optimistic on that point.

* * *

I’m a low-income activist, disabled, and dedicated (despite money and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting to stay in a city, Seattle that has turned its back on many of us. Since 1996 I’ve also offered news and commentary, with my colleague Maria Tomchick, Saturday morning at 8:30 on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.

If you find my reporting and analysis valuable – and would like to help me spending more time doing this and less time scrambling to pay for my food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish

Ten Days Which Will Live in Infamy

Donald Trump’s end game is a new civil war. The first step in preventing that war – or, if necessary, winning it – is understanding who and what the threat is.

“Yesterday, December 7th, 1941 — a date which will live in infamy — the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked…” – President Franklin D. Roosevelt, in a speech to a joint session of Congress just before the United States formally declared itself at war with Japan

Roosevelt’s speech is one of the most famous in American history, held up as an example of an American leader rising to the challenge when the American people are attacked.

Seventy-six years later, it is the president himself who is attacking both Americans and American ideals, and doing so both for short-term political gain and in a naked attempt to remake our country in his own morally repugnant image.

Ten days ago, a day after the tragedy at Charlottesville and just after a Seattle rally organized by white nationalist Joey Gibson, I posted an essay, “Trolling the Left,” explaining the goals of such seemingly pointless rallies. They fit into a broader white nationalist strategy to normalize race-based hate groups as an accepted part of America’s mainstream political spectrum.

What We’ve Just Seen

At the time, I promised to follow up by looking at how we can resist such groups without playing into their trap of giving fodder for false equivalence between hate groups and their opponents. And I had to keep delaying that piece, first because the President of the United States – in a now-infamous tirade last Tuesday and several times since – used exactly that reasoning to defend the white supremacist protesters at Charlottesville.

Since then, it’s been an unending rush of new developments that have been chaotic even by Donald Trump’s high standards. The ten days between Charlottesville and Trump’s Nuremberg Rally-style campaign event in Phoenix last night may well go down in history as the pivotal moment in which Donald Trump, currently the most powerful man in the world, made explicit his desire for a new race war in the United States.

The last week and a half has overshadowed Charlottesville itself. What will be remembered most is not the terrorism of a white supremacist rally, but the forces that Trump’s response to it has unleashed. Here’s a quick timeline of what we’ve just witnessed:

Saturday, August 12, 2017: In the largest such rally in many decades, Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, neo-Confederates, and other hate groups gather in Charlottesville, Virginia, ostensibly to protest that city’s removal of a Robert E. Lee statue from a city park and the renaming of that park as “Emancipation Park.” A white supremacist from Ohio drives his car into a large crowd of counter-protesters, killing one and injuring 20. Two Virginia State Police charged with monitoring the chaos also die when their helicopter crashes.

Trump draws widespread condemnation when his initial response is to blame “all sides” for the violence, failing to criticize the hate groups that both organized the event and were responsible for the deaths and injuries.

Overshadowed in the news, a white supremacist rally the same day in Berkeley, organized by a movement of fascistic white thugs that calls itself “Proud Boys,” also ends in violence.

Sunday, August 13: At least a thousand vigils and protests across the US commemorate the death in Charlottesville. In Seattle, up to a thousand counter-protesters confront police and an unrelated white nationalist rally.

Monday, August 14: Trump issues a more moderate statement on Charlottesville that does, in fact, criticize such hate groups by name.

Buried in the Charlottesville news, Trump’s Department of Justice confirms it has demanded that a host company turn over extensive personal information on all 1.3 million people who visited a web site used to help coordinate Washington, DC protests of Trump’s inauguration last January – an extraordinary broad effort targeting anti-Trump protesters for doing nothing more than visiting a perfectly legal web site.

Tuesday, August 15: At a press conference at Trump Tower in New York supposedly meant to tout an infrastructure plan, Trump erupts in a long, angry tirade in response to reporters’ questions, in the process repudiating anything helpful about Monday’s statement as not representing his true feelings.

Among other things, Trump again blames both sides for Charlottesville’s violence – citing both “bad people” and “really good people” on both sides; criticizes efforts to remove Confederate statues from public spaces as “erasing history” (as though “erasing” and “not glorifying” are the same thing), and rhetorically asks whether statues of Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, as slave owners, would be the next to go. (For all their many faults, neither ever waged war against the United States for the purpose of defending the practice of slavery, a rather crucial distinction for many people.)

Wednesday, August 16: Elected officials, including many Republicans, broadly condemn Trump’s remarks. The mother of the woman killed in Charlottesville goes on national TV to make all the points Trump should have been making.

Thursday, August 17: Trump doubles down again on his rhetoric.

Friday, August 18: Trump fires senior advisor (and the country’s second most notorious white nationalist) Steve Bannon. Bannon promptly rejoins Breitbart News, promising to pressure Trump from his media platforms to stay true to Bannon’s white supremacist priorities, especially on immigration.

Saturday, August 19: A white supremacist rally in Boston – organized by Gibson, among others – is overwhelmed with 40,000 counter-protesters.

In many ways, Boston is an ideal city for this type of rally: a booming economy (like Seattle’s) masks white working class neighborhoods with a long history of racial resentment, and poorer black neighborhoods that have often been neglected by every city department except the police. And yet, anti-racists there have modeled the most effective way yet of responding to such hate groups: with sheer, overwhelming numbers of people that reject racial hatred as a community value.

Monday, August 21: Trump “addresses the nation” with what is billed as a new approach to, and escalation of, the US war in Afghanistan. The “plan” turns out to have a lot of rhetoric about “winning” and almost no details; the only notable element is Trump’s insults aimed at Pakistan, a critical ally in that war and the territory through which most American military supply lines to Afghanistan go. (Pakistan does, in fact, have an issue with Islamists protecting the Taliban and other extremist groups – especially in the ISI, Pakistan’s notoriously thuggish intelligence agency – but the relationships between the ISI and Pakistan’s elected government and judiciary are far more complicated than Trump acknowledged.) The speech, which seemed to announce a major escalation in the longest-running war in US history, is quickly forgotten, overwhelmed in the news cycle again by race and Russia.

Tuesday, August 22: The New York Times reported that Trump and McConnell had not spoken since an angry August 9 phone call – in which Trump not only berated McConnell (again) for failing to deprive tens of millions of Americans of access to health care, but more importantly, for McConnell’s failure to “protect” Trump from Senate committees from investigating his Russia connections. That exchange that could well lead to another charge if Trump is ever impeached over obstruction of justice.

Meanwhile, CNN reported that Glenn Simpson, owner of the company for which Christopher Steele produced his now-famous (and largely vindicated) “campaign dossier” on Trump last year, testified for ten hours before one of those committees, the Senate Judiciary Committee. As part of his lengthy testimony, Simpson also gave the committee 40,000 pages of documents, including information on all of Steele’s sources.

That night, at a campaign rally in Phoenix, Trump escalated his racially charged rhetoric on several fronts. He alludes to pardoning notoriously racist Phoenix area former sheriff Joe Arpaio, now awaiting sentencing on contempt of court charges for ignoring a federal court order to stop department policies that for years have systematically profiled, abused, and violated the civil rights of non-whites, especially Latinos. (Aside from being the country’s most high-profile openly racist elected official for decades, Arpaio was also, during Obama’s presidency, the country’s second most famous Birther.)

Trump also appealed to the same local racism that fueled Arpaio’s career, vowing to shut down the federal government – which faces imminent crises in September over the need for Congress to pass both a debt ceiling increase and federal budgets – if that legislation does not include funding for his Mexican wall. In other words, Trump is willing to risk a global financial recession (at best), costing the American economy trillions, to try to force taxpayers to spend billions of dollars on a project whose only real purpose is the symbolic rejection of non-white immigrants.

Even more disturbingly, Trump again defended statues glorifying Confederate heroes, this time directly appealing to and identifying with white bigots, and ending with a rallying cry that sounds a lot like the declaration of a race war:

They’re trying to take away our culture. They’re trying to take away our history. And our weak leaders do it overnight. These things have been here for 150 years, for 100 years…We are Americans and the future belongs to us. The future belongs to all of you. This is our moment. This is our chance. This is our opportunity to recapture our dynasty like never before.”

Of course, Trump’s “we” is not all Americans. It’s those Americans whose “dynasty” was built on white supremacism, and who want that privilege – based directly on the subjugation of non-whites – back.

What This All Means

Trump’s direct appeal to white identity is unprecedented in American presidents. The sentiments, of course, are older than our country itself, and for the last half-century one of our country’s two major political parties has used white supremacist sentiments to win elections and political power. But there’s a reason why even Republican officials who’ve used such tactics themselves are now running away from (or, in McConnell’s case, confronting) Trump. The presidency is different. A president’s job includes serving, defending, and representing all Americans – not just the ones who support you or share your skin color or gender or privilege. In his naked appeals to racial identity, Trump has crossed a critical line.

Perhaps this was inevitable; after all, as a businessman, celebrity, and politician, Trump has been a racist thug for decades. It was part of what endeared him to his followers in the first place. Why wouldn’t he appeal to such sentiments now?

Trump is in trouble politically and legally, and he knows it. The various Russia investigations have expanded to include not just collusion (and treason) in last year’s election, but various illegal business practices and associations going back decades. Family members are also implicated. Trump’s efforts to stop these investigations are not only backfiring, but building a seemingly airtight case for obstruction of justice on top of his other legal problems. He is not only making America an international pariah, but, more importantly for Trump himself, badly damaging his own brand. His public approval ratings are at historic lows, a particularly infuriating development for a guy who obsessed over his ratings, cannot tolerate criticism of any kind, and needs the oxygen of adoring rallies like Phoenix to feed his insatiable narcissism.

His political problems are equally serious. In the face of the collapse of efforts to repeal ObamaCare, Trump seems to have no significant allies in or influence with Congress, even though his own party controls both houses. That rift was fully exposed by Trump’s response to Charlottesville. There’s simply no precedent for this, either, in situations where one party controls both the White House and Congress.

The tensions between Trump and McConnell are part of a campaign of Trump criticism of Republican senators he views as insufficiently loyal to him. For his part, a former McConnell aide close to the senator published an op-ed this week wondering aloud about the prospects of impeachment – a complete reversal of what had until recently been Congressional Republican loyalty to Trump, as both party nominee and president, during even the worst of Trump’s depredations.

One of Trump’s most basic tactics for responding to self-made crises is to change the subject. The Afghanistan announcement was not only an announcement of war (usually a winner for presidents who feel they need a political boost), but a futile attempt to drive Trump’s responses to Charlottesville out of the news. It bombed.

Ever since the election, critics have worried how Trump would respond if confronted, as all presidents are, with an exterior crisis. That may still happen. But the most likely crises at this point – economic collapse, constitutional crisis, efforts to either block investigations or impeachment – are of Trump’s own making. And they’re potentially imminent.

In the face of his presidency’s collapse, Trump’s only real political option is to appeal to his still-adoring political base, the voters who supported him because he insulted politicians of both parties, because he was a racist, misogynist bully, because Trump’s wealth protected him from the consequences of behavior they wished they could emulate. That Republican voter support for Trump is his only leverage against the Senate Republican defections necessary for impeachment. Trump has begun appealing directly to those whites’ sense of grievance, especially their sense of lost entitlements – a “dynasty” built on treating other Americans like second-class citizens.

Donald Trump is playing the race card. Because he can.

How This All Games Out

As alarming as all this is, Trump’s tactics will outlive him regardless of his success or failure. In the end, it does not matter whether Trump is a grotesque racist, or whether he merely cynically plays one for political expediency. He is invoking and legitimizing old hatreds that he can no more control than he can control a wildfire. And he is setting precedents, for how presidents can use their political power, that will become even more dangerous when used by a more skilled successor.

Trump himself has got to go, and the sooner the better, whether through impeachment for high crimes and/or misdemeanors, his clear mental unfitness for the pressures of the presidency, or the dangers inherent when that unfitness is paired with the keys to the global economy and the nuclear codes. Extraordinary circumstances call for extraordinary measures. Every day that Donald Trump remains in office now escalates the clear and present danger not just to Americans, but potentially to all life on earth.

But while Trump is a serious menace, he’s still only a symptom of a bigger problem: those tens of millions of Americans who genuinely believe he can do no wrong. Many of them do so because his racist beliefs legitimize their own. After decades of conservative media and its “alternative facts,” many of them are immune to reason or even objective reality, rejecting it as “fake news” or as a lie perpetrated through one or another bizarre conspiracy theory. Many of these folks own weapons; some will, by sheer statistical probability, have anger, mental health, or other personal issues that Trump’s appeals play to. In particular, Trump’s legitimization of the idea that only some Americans are real Americans is virtually an invitation to violence.

At that point, there are only two possibilities. Either Trump remains in power, beseiged by criticism and likely presiding over a shaky economy (e.g., the looming debt ceiling showdown). Or he will be removed from power.

If the former, Trump is almost certain to try to implement far more repressive policies that essentially gut what’s left of the Bill of Rights. We’ve already seen some of this, with the gutting of immigrants’ legal rights of representation and appeal, and with last week’s DoJ attempt to collect personal information on anyone who viewed an anti-Trump web site. It would become far worse if a beseiged Trump remains in power; pushback is inevitable. In particular, non-whites are not about to quietly accept a return to second-class citizenship or worse.

And if Trump is removed? He won’t – literally cannot – go quietly. He will inspire violent responses from loyalists. There will be much talk of civil war and enemies (i.e., non-whites, liberals, and Republican traitors) within. Some people will act on that rhetoric. Meanwhile, federal and many local governments will still be controlled by a party built on fear, greed, lies, and white supremacy. And these reactions to a Trump removal will still demand pushback.

So How Do We Respond?

The huge crowd in Boston last weekend was a helpful, hopeful reminder of what we most immediately need: massive responses that communicate that white nationalism, white supremacism, and the politics of hatred and division have no place in our or any other community.

The project to rehabilitate racism as a mainstream political and cultural force has been triggered in the first place by the accelerating cultural and political conclusion in past decades, especially in urban centers whose cosmopolitan residents drive most of the U.S. economy, that racism is simply socially unacceptable. To the extent this has been upended in recent years, especially with Trump’s ascension, it needs to be made unacceptable again – the more unequivocally, the better, by non-whites and whites alike, by individuals, organizations, corporations (including media companies) and governments alike.

The more that white nationalism in particular is rejected as a mainstream political philosophy, the more isolated it becomes and the harder it is to write off far right violence as equivalent to the (usually far lesser) violence of people defending themselves against it. The overarching project is to finally relegate racism, and the politicians who pander to it, to the fringes of American civic and political life.

There are no neutral observers in this divide. You either oppose white supremacism, or your silence (or support) serves to legitimize it. This goes especially for institutions – companies and news outlets most crucially – that like to place themselves outside any such fray. You either actively oppose the Trumpian agenda – and support the ideals that the United States, with all its myriad flaws, still aspires to – or you must be held accountable for your choices. We who reject racism, white and non-white alike, are not only the large majority of this country, but we have disproportionate economic and cultural influence. We need to use it.

The one thing we do not have is political power to match our numbers. There are a lot of reasons for this, especially institutional. The more sclerotic parts of the Democratic Party also bear a lot of responsibility. But at the moment, that’s the vehicle available. Building electoral alternatives, inside or outside the Democrats, is an essential long-term project that won’t help us much with an immediate threat.

We cannot afford infighting or purity tests at a time when our basic freedom, and for many of us our very existence, is under attack. We will need as many allies as possible, including people who we may not agree with on anything else. That’s fine. What Trump is unleashing is a serious threat that goes to the core of who we are as a people – all of us. In the end, despite our differences, anti-racist unity is our only answer. United we stand; otherwise, you know the rest.

[Author’s note: I’m a low-income activist, disabled, and dedicated (despite financial and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that has increasingly turned its back on many of us. Since 1996 I have also offered news and commentary, along with my colleague Maria Tomchick, Saturday morning at 8:30 on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.

If you find my web and radio reporting and analysis valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for my food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

Trolling the Left

Today’s alt-right rally in Seattle appears to be part of an organized, well-funded effort to normalize white nationalism – by baiting progressives into equivalent violence.

I spent part of my childhood in South Carolina, in the Deep South.

It’s where I first learned to despise racism, particularly the hypocritical hatreds of racists who think of themselves as “good Christians.”

More relevant to today’s events, we lived outside town, in bottomlands across the street from an open reservoir. As such, our neighborhood had snakes. Lots of them. All different kinds, ranging from benign to poisonous to don’t-go-anywhere-near-it deadly. One of the first things you do, as a kid in that environment, is to learn which ones were which. Knowing each species’ particular warning coloration tells you their likely behavior, the level of the threat, and how best to respond.

As an adult, I’ve applied that same logic to recognizing the warning colorations of the uniforms and vehicles of various law enforcement agencies. And the same analogy applies to right wing hate groups.

The white nationalists at today’s rally in Westlake Park were not the same as the Klan members in robes, or the neo-Nazis in full regalia, or the Confederate flag-loving, Yankee-hating misanthropists, all of whom gathered for this weekend’s festival of hate in Charlottesville. They were also qualitatively different from the last such rally, when a group used the City Hall plaza a few months ago for the avowed, forehead-slapping purpose of protesting Sharia law in the USA. And that, in turn, was different from the fiasco created by Milo Yiannopoulos’ January appearance at the University of Washington – in which the wife of a non-white, Trump-loving agitator who had been assaulting counter-protesters all evening wound up shooting and nearly killing one of those protesting.

But the organizers of each of these Seattle events had one important thing in common, and also in common with the human sewage that descended on Charlottesville this weekend: they understood the media and propaganda value of traveling to a progressive city to troll the liberals.

In today’s case, the event’s organizer, Joey Gibson, insists that he and his followers just want “dialogue” and “understanding.” He said this repeatedly from the stage today, as well as an interview last night with the invaluable Sakara Remmu, conducted just hours after the deaths in Charlottesville. Another reporter friend who’s followed Gibson’s career says that this is a standard part of his schtick – but that today’s gesture of opening the mic to counter-protesters, a rather brilliant move that also at least temporarily defused the crowd’s anger, was a new tactic and probably a concession to yesterday’s events in Virginia.

Gibson himself? He didn’t even stay for the end of the rally. He had a plane to catch, so he could be in Berkeley for a nearly identical rally there on Monday. And despite Gibson’s protestations, in the Remmu article, on stage today, and elsewhere, that he’s not a Nazi or fascist, the same reporter saw him at yet another rally last week in Portland taking a selfie with an openly racist local alt-right leader. The Portland event featured a format and rhetoric nearly identical to today’s Seattle rally. It, too, drew the inevitable counter-protesters. Actions are louder than words.

All three rallies (Seattle, Berkeley, Portland) have been organized by Gibson’s “Patriot Prayer” group, though that group’s name was absent from today’s rally, billed as “Freedom Rally Seattle.” And while Gibson can spout all the rhetoric he wants to about peacefulness and understanding, these words – Patriot, Prayer, Freedom – are designed to attract fans whose predispositions don’t exactly match his rhetoric – a mixed bag of right wing nut jobs who apparently think that pissing off liberals sounds like great fun. Sometimes, as at the City Hall protest earlier this year (which had a pugnacious Proud Boy security detail just after that group had had a spate of bad publicity), they come itching to brawl. Sometimes, like today, they don’t. More importantly, it’s a format designed to draw counter-protesters. That’s the real point.

Gibson appears to be making a full-time living doing nothing but organizing these hatefests in the cities he thinks – often correctly – are most likely to give him a hostile reception. The group sells plenty of MAGA gear, but merchandise alone isn’t paying for Gibson’s travel, living and organizing expenses. Someone or someones with deep pockets is almost certainly helping to underwrite his operation. Now why would they do that? It isn’t just to troll liberals.

A clue comes from Donald Trump’s response to yesterday’s events in Charlottesville, in which he condemned violence “by all sides” but never specifically name-checked racism, white nationalism, fascism, Nazism, or the alt-right as in the least way responsible. Trump’s statement was widely reviled, including by some right wing politicians and commentators, as a particularly repugnant example of both-siderism.

Remember that two of Trump’s top aides, Steve Bannon and Steven Miller, are explicit white nationalists. In that contest, both-siderism has another function: to place white nationalism on the political spectrum as an opposite but equal phenomenon to, say, Bernie Sanders supporters. The point isn’t just to defend or popularize white nationalism – it’s to normalize it.

Gibson’s operation, with its intentional effort to draw angry critics, is another, more cynical way to similarly balance the scales. Inevitably, somebody on the left is going to hurt someone at one of these rallies. Ideally (maybe, from the standpoint of Gibson, and definitely, from the standpoint of his funders) someone on the left will bring a gun and use it.

At that point, you’ve got the ideal equivalence to shitshows like Charlottesville – and as a bonus, a martyr that can be a rallying point for the alt-right and its fellow travelers, whose sense of grievance and persecution is the oxygen they breathe and cultivate. Groups like Patriot Prayer are not just trolling cities like Seattle; they’re aiming higher. They want a violent response, because it’s a counterweight to the inevitable violence on their side. And with balance comes normalization. The real game is being played at a much higher level than counter-protesters jeering speakers, or some cosplay dude decked out in what he thinks is a uniform who sucker-punches a hippie, or cops pepper-spraying marchers, or ordinary pedestrians that get pepper-sprayed as well or trapped in a melee. They’re all collateral damage. From the standpoint of the organizers, none of their lives manner.

Assuming Donald Trump doesn’t launch nukes that destroy all life in the Northern Hemisphere, one of his most lasting negative impacts will have been to bring racism, misogyny, xenophobia, homophobia, and all other manner of ugly bigotries not only back into mainstream American politics, but to normalize such views in much of the country as once again acceptable in polite company. Beyond specific public policies, white nationalists like Bannon are all about the next step in that de-evolution: making white nationalism not only accepted everywhere as a normal political and cultural view, but, in much of the country, the dominant view. Most white nationalists really aren’t that into Hitler or the Klan – but Klansmen and neo-Nazis love them, because they want their views to follow a similar trajectory, and normalizing white nationalism creates far more space for them to do so.

Today, a day after Charlottesville, someone easily could have gotten hurt, or killed; Gibson could easily have gotten his wish. Seattle police, preoccupied (as usual) with corralling the anarchist-led antifa contingent that first met a mile away, pretty much left the protesters and counter-protesters in Westlake Park itself to their own devices. There certainly wasn’t enough police presence to respond quickly if violence suddenly erupted. The same was true last weekend in Portland, but with a smaller crowd on both sides.

If the same thing had happened in Seattle today, with Charlottesville fresh in our minds, but with last Sunday’s weather, in the heat and asphyxiating wildfire smoke, emotions might have been far more raw. This also explains why today’s rally seemed to go on, and on, and on. In such circumstances, some people get bored and leave. Others just get angrier.

Nobody on either side of today’s protest came to downtown Seattle to change anybody’s mind. They came (Gibson’s conciliatory rhetoric notwithstanding) to bait each other. And if some alt-right cosplay dude gets shot? You can just see Gibson’s teary press conference: “We kept calling for dialogue and understanding, but all those liberals know how to do is hate.” And Donald Trump issues a much more explicit condemnation of radical leftist terrorism.

The game is to troll anti-racists, and to bait us into showing up, with the hope someone will lose control. We take this bait, every time, as people like Gibson know we will – we’re never going to allow such repugnant ideologies to go unchallenged. And we shouldn’t.

But it’s playing with fire. If even one person decides to mete out justice on his or her own terms, we’re doing white nationalists’ work for them in a way that will reverberate widely.

That – not the words from any stage – is the real danger here. Know your snakes.

[Author’s note: I’m a low-income activist, disabled, and dedicated (despite financial and chronic health pressures) to reporting and commentary from and for those of us fighting for our rightful place in a city that has increasingly turned its back on many of us. Since 1996 I have also reported, along with my colleague, Maria Tomchick, Saturday morning at 8:30 on KEXP 90.3 FM Seattle.

If you find my web and radio reporting and analysis valuable – and would like to see me spending more time doing this and less time stressing over how I can pay for my food, rent, and medical care – please consider donating whatever you can to help support my work. The PayPal button is on the lower right on geov.org’s home page. Many thanks for your help! – Geov Parrish]

What’s Next for Nikkita Oliver?

A narrow loss in the primary is the best possible outcome for the movement Oliver leads

Today marks nine days since the August 1 primary election. Only a few votes remain to be counted, and Nikkita Oliver’s mayoral campaign will then need to decide whether it wants to pay for a recount. But it’s nearly impossible for disputed ballots and a recount to help Oliver make up all of the more than a thousand votes she now trails Cary Moon by.

Four years ago, nine days after the general election in November, Kshama Sawant finally passed Richard Conlin in their city council race. Sawant trailed by several thousand votes on election night, and drew a lot of criticism for failing to concede on the spot, but she – we – knew the race was closer than that initial count, and as the days went by she narrowed the gap more and more quickly.

I helped run that campaign, and so I was with Sawant and dozens of supporters crowded into her campaign office as we waited for that ninth day’s ballot numbers to be released. When they were, it was utter euphoria. It also happened to be my birthday, so the whole room sang happy birthday to me while all of the assembled TV cameras waited patiently for Sawant to speak. It’s an awesome personal memory, made even sweeter by the very real improvements to the lives of thousands of Seattleites by Kshama’s presence on city council these past four years.

So quite aside from my opinion of Oliver and her campaign, I have very positive associations with the drama of a radical, grass roots campaign fighting back from an election night deficit to win. And I like underdogs. I should want Oliver to prevail for that reason alone.

Over the past months, I’ve talked with people involved in Nikkita’s campaign, but I haven’t played any direct role in it. But if I were helping to run her campaign, despite my personal preferences, I’d be quietly rooting against Nikkita catching Moon, not for it.

If Oliver had edged out Cary Moon, what people would remember next year is not that Oliver narrowly won in August, but that Mayor Jenny Durkan had beaten her, badly, in November. Large numbers of Seattle voters who might be willing this fall to take a chance on Moon would never give Oliver that same benefit – because Moon is older, more experienced, more moderate, less polarizing, and yes, wealthy and white. If Oliver had beaten Moon, a Durkan campaign flush with money would have had a field day scaring Seattle voters about the risks of an Oliver win. Those ads would work.

Now, instead of being a candidate soundly rejected by general election voters, Oliver is sitting pretty by nearly beating Moon. In doing so, she far exceeded most expectations. Her campaign has been a rallying point for a movement that is now much more experienced and organized. Oliver surged at the end, and so her movement has a ton of momentum going forward – momentum that would largely evaporate if she lost badly to Durkan. Instead, she’s sitting pretty.

So what’s next?

It’s hard to tell to what extent Oliver’s newly formed People’s Party is an independent vehicle that can continue to grow and organize over the next two years, or whether it’s simply a transitory vehicle for Oliver’s personal ambition. But whoever wins in November, Oliver and her movement will now be a force on a number of issues that her movement cares deeply about.

The first and most obvious of those issues is affordable housing. Seattle has done quite a bit on that issue already. Sawant has shepherded a number of tenants’ rights reforms through city council and into law. Seattle voters passed a record-setting housing levy last year, much of which is dedicated to creating more affordable housing. In this year’s city budget, Sawant’s proposal to redirect the $150 million now earmarked to a new police precinct building failed to attract other council support – but the pressure it generated led directly to the success of Lisa Herbold’s proposal to add $29 million in new housing to the budget.

Nothing done so far has led to a fundamental paradigm shift in the developer-friendly city policies that have helped create and exacerbate this crisis in the first place, but Sawant is now quietly working on a more sweeping set of reforms for this fall. Whatever Sawant proposes – or even if some compromise proposal emerges – Oliver’s movement will now potentially be a powerful grass roots asset in trying to force city council (and, eventually, a new mayor) to act.

Should Durkan win in November, you can count on Oliver and her followers to also be a strong counterweight to what will likely be the default pro-law enforcement bias of Durkan. If Moon wins in November, it will surely be with the implicit or explicit support of much of Oliver’s army – and that support should come at a price. One of the first demands will be that Moon take a tougher stance in the now-stalled city contract negotiations with its police unions. If Moon is smart, she’ll also offer Oliver herself a place in Moon’s administration, utilizing Oliver’s undeniable organizing skills in service of a more populist Moon agenda.

And then there’s the new youth jail – a proposal already confronted with noisy opposition, opposition that is now larger, more savvy, and can claim a mandate from Oliver’s unexpected primary success.

A lot will happen before then, but this city-wide primary outcome also leaves the Peoples’ Party better positioned to be a force in 2019’s campaigns for the seven city council district seats. In particular, Bruce Harrell (Southeast Seattle) and Rob Johnson (University District) – both of whom won only narrowly in 2015, and both of whom have been resistant to the council’s recent progressive bent – have to be looking over their shoulders at what Oliver’s having had her strongest showing in their districts means for their re-election prospects.

Oliver and the Peoples’ Party would survive a loss to Durkan, of course, and would continue community organizing anyway – and there’s also the possibility that Oliver would again exceed expectations in a general election race against Durkan. But we’ll never know, and that’s the point. If Durkan won big against Oliver, she could reject out of hand Oliver’s populist demands as having been resoundingly rejected already by Seattle voters. Now, as mayor, neither Durkan nor Moon can claim that.

Oliver and many of her supporters will likely paint this month’s narrow margin as a bitter, frustrating loss. But really, this is just about an ideal scenario. And the narrowness of this loss will just be more motivation going forward.

If she chooses to do so, Nikkita Oliver will now be a local political force for a long time to come. It could scarcely have turned out better.

Can Moon Beat Durkan?

After a crowded and confusing primary race to replace Mayor Ed Murray, it’s down to two candidates: former U.S. Attorney Jenny Durkan and civic activist Cary Moon. With most of the ballots counted, Durkan has 28.7 percent of the votes cast for 21 different candidates. Moon, in second place, has 17.4 percent – and has steadily closed the gap with Durkan as late votes came in. (Nikkita Oliver, in third place, has yet to concede, but nothing in four days’ worth of published totals suggests she can catch Moon. It’s over.)

Durkan enters the fall campaign as the strong favorite to become Seattle’s mayor, and many observers are already assuming her election is inevitable.

They shouldn’t. Cary Moon can beat Jenny Durkan.

To be sure, Durkan has some formidable advantages. In the primary, she was the near-unanimous pick of Seattle’s political and civic establishment, inheriting much of the support that, until April, made the re-election of Ed Murray seem inevitable. She will be able to raise enormous amounts of money, and will also benefit from third party spending (mostly from business PACs) that Moon will get little of. Plus, her family is both wealthy and well-connected, and Durkan’s federal background meant she can also pull in celebrity national endorsements like former acting Attorney General Sally Yates, a hero among Seattle’s legions of Donald Trump critics.

But Moon has advantages, too. And Durkan has vulnerabilities.

Start with those primary results. Durkan nearly doubled Moon’s vote total in the early going – but just as there was clear establishment support for Durkan, critics of Seattle’s status quo – especially housing and homelessness policies, police reform, and Seattle’s widening gap between our haves and have-nots – split their votes among all of Durkan’s five major opponents. In particular, Moon, Nikkita Oliver, and Bob Hasegawa all clearly ran in opposition to the business-as-usual approach represented by Murray and Durkan. Durkan, at week’s end, had 48,193 votes. Combined, Moon, Oliver and Hasegawa drew 70,325 votes. That’s nearly 60 percent voting for the outsiders among these four (including the only two people of color among the six major candidates), going into a general election where the average voter will be younger, less affluent, and less white than in the primary. Viewed through that lens alone, Durkan suddenly seems quite vulnerable.

Of course, Moon still has to win over the people who didn’t vote for her. Her campaign should be looking at several priorities in its race against Durkan, but the very first priority, which she’s already begun to do, is to court the endorsements, and then the voters and ideally some of the donors and volunteers, of Oliver and Hasegawa.

That’s by no means a given. Oliver finished a strong third running with the support of the newly formed People’s Party, in direct opposition to not just Durkan but the entire local Democratic Party. Moon, who like most Seattle politicos identifies as Democratic, will have to make the case to Oliver and her voters that not all Democrats are the same, and that she shares far more of Oliver’s agenda than Jenny Durkan ever will.

For the voters, part of Moon’s challenge will simply lie in introducing herself. Moon got important support in the primary, most notably with The Stranger’s endorsement (without which, Oliver likely beats her). But before this year’s campaign, Moon was virtually unknown to the average voter; her highest-profile past work was with her opposition to the downtown tunnel project. In hindsight, that looks remarkably prescient – but it was also several years ago. Neither Moon nor Durkan has ever held elected office, but Durkan at least can point to a high-level public position as U.S. Attorney for Western Washington. Moon still needs to prove to most voters that she has the chops to be a big city mayor, and to demonstrate what her priorities as mayor would be.

Durkan’s experience is her strength, but it’s also a significant vulnerability. Beyond being widely viewed as a representative of Seattle’s civic establishment, she’s not well-defined. Moon can help do that. Durkan’s pro-law enforcement background, as both a U.S. Attorney and a prosecutor, means that Moon can tie her to the widespread local establishment resistance (including the last three mayors) to taking seriously the need for wholesale reform of the Seattle Police Department. In particular, Durkan’s refusal as U.S. Attorney in 2010 to prosecute on federal charges the SPD killer of Native American woodcarver John T. Williams should be known to every single Seattle voter by November – and by contrast, Moon needs to stake out a strong pro-reform position. No other single issue is as likely to help mobilize Oliver and Hasegawa supporters.

Durkan has also not been clearly defined on how she would respond to the ill-effects of Seattle’s current population boom. For over a decade, establishment politicians like Murray have actively courted support by shoveling as much corporate welfare as they could find into developer and real estate pockets. Durkan inherits much of that support, whereas Moon made her name opposing the tunnel as, basically, a multi-billion-dollar, taxpayer-funded development scheme. Moon needs to make the case that addressing Seattle’s affordable housing crisis requires radical solutions, not simply the nibbling around the edges (while things continue to worsen) proposed by Durkan – and that creating meaningful amounts of affordable housing is also the single best way to address Seattle’s skyrocketing rates of homelessness. And Moon needs to make the case that her own personal wealth doesn’t blind her to the needs of Seattle’s less fortunate.

It will take money for Moon to be able to clearly define both herself and Durkan by November. Most voters never see a political candidate in person, and far more people vote in the November election than the August one. In the most recent similar elections, in August 2013, about 142,000 people voted for Seattle mayor (with a similarly competitive multi-candidate field), but in November of 2013 over 202,000 people voted for the same office. Compared to primary voters, the new November voters are almost by definition less engaged and less likely to know who the candidates are and what they stand for.

Moon’s fundraising in the primary (about $150,000) was only a third of Durkan’s. Now that she’s Durkan’s sole opponent, Moon will also need to court some of the primary donor money that went elsewhere – and Seattle’s new Democracy Voucher program doesn’t extend to the mayor’s race this year. Moon doesn’t need to equal Durkan’s fundraising, but she does needs to raise enough money to be competitive with Durkan in getting her message out. Moreover message needs to be clear and memorable enough to withstand Durkan’s inevitable October advertising blitz and high-profile establishment endorsements

Framing the Debate

Both women present as likeable, thoughtful, and competent – Moon is solid on this score, but she can’t make up the ground she needs to against Durkan simply by having a more winning or sympathetic personality or promising to “get things done” more effectively. Seattle’s century-long failure to elect a woman as mayor won’t be an issue this year, either.

Many of these are steps that political campaigns take routinely, but routine alone won’t be enough for Moon to win. Her best hope – and probably her only hope – for overtaking Durkan is to turn the race between the two into a referendum. If you like how things are going in Seattle – a booming economy and population, construction everywhere – vote Durkan. If you think Seattle needs a corrective to inadequate infrastructure investment, traffic gridlock, overflowing schools, a city government that shuts out the concerns of many of its residents, and policies whose affordability “solution” is simply to force any household that doesn’t have a six-figure income to leave town – vote Moon.

That focus would draw the ire of the Seattle Times and the city’s business establishment – and the likely support of The Stranger, Seattle Weekly (which endorsed Oliver in the primary), many of the supporters and legislative district endorsers of Oliver and Hasegawa, and more than a few backers of Mike McGinn (who also once won election as an outsider) and Jessyn Farrell. That leaves the younger, less affluent, and more non-white electorate that didn’t vote in August to tip the balance.

In that scenario, if you’re Cary Moon, you’ve got to like your chances.

Democracy at a Crossroads

The Trump presidency will end, or American democracy will end. Or both.

Last night’s bizarre spectacle of a health care vote in the U.S. Senate, in which a terminally ill John McCain cast the deciding vote to end (for now) the grotesque Republican effort to dismantle much of our country’s health care system because it got reformed by a black guy, was a pivotal moment in a much larger story.

In casting his vote, McCain, who will never have to worry again about re-election, gave cover to many of his Republican colleagues, who knew how dangerous their bill was but were more worried about the likelihood of losing a primary challenge (and their jobs) to the frothier end of the Republican base. A lot of people will debate why McCain voted as he did. Perhaps, as he claimed earlier this week, he really was offended by the charade of a democratic process used to force a vote on a bill literally written over lunch Thursday, and presented to the Senate less than three hours before the final vote.

But if that was the case, McCain could have avoided several days of this nonsense – and utter panic among millions of Americans whose lives were literally threatened by this week’s series of votes. He could have voted “no” on letting any of those bills ever reach the floor. But instead he let the process play out in a way perfectly calibrated to maximally humiliate and damage Mitch McConnell and Donald Trump.

More likely, McCain – who is every bit as vengeful as the president – never forgot Trump’s mocking during last year’s presidential campaign (and McCain’s re-election bid) of McCain’s brutal POW experience. This was revenge served on ice. And it brought cheers not only from Democrats and Americans who need (or might someday need) access to health care, but plenty of other Republicans who are now, finally, starting to openly turn on Donald Trump.

Aside from his usual petulant tweets, Trump actually had very little to do with the Senate vote. He’s been busier lately watching his business empire and his personal family (not to mention his political career) increasingly become the focus of Robert Mueller’s criminal investigation, and scrambling madly to try to head that off. He’s responded by publicly attacking every single official involved with oversight of the investigation; throwing Jeff Sessions, his most loyal Cabinet member, under the bus as a ploy to try to get the power to fire Mueller; and claiming that the FBI (which would inherit the investigation if the special counsel is fired) should report directly to him as his private law enforcement agency.

Meanwhile, the anonymous quotes that started coming out in the very first week of the Trump presidency, of a White House marred by complete disorganization, terrible morale, and vicious infighting, have burst out into the public. At the same time, Trump’s attacks on Sessions have reportedly enraged not only Sessions’ former Senate colleagues, but many of Trump’s Cabinet members, who reason (correctly) that if Trump can publicly humiliate and sabotage someone as loyal as Sessions in this way, any of them could be next. (Note that it’s the Cabinet members who would first need to sign off on any 25th Amendment attempt to remove Trump from power, and those same Republican Senate colleagues who would be the key votes to approve it.) Also this week, military leadership is all but openly defying the Commander in Chief on his bizarre tweet that (apparently) ordered all transgender individuals expelled from active military service. Even the fever swamp conservative media is finally starting to splinter, taking up sides on who to blame as the wheels fall off. (Hint: only the most credulous are buying the claims that it’s somehow all the fault of liberals.)

All the while, the Mad King (as Revel Smith so presciently dubbed Trump a full year ago) reportedly watches the infighting with glee, a mildly retarded five-year-old giggling and rubbing his hands in delight as his subjects shiv each other for his entertainment.

All in the last four days.

This is not sustainable.

Trump built his career – and enormous wealth – by relentless self-promotion, bullying, fraud, and lies. In the private sector, his wealth insulated him from the consequences. The same tactics somehow got him elected president. He’s not going to change now; it’s who he is.

But governing, unlike real estate, is a collaborative process in which there are many bases of power; trust is the coin of the realm. Trump doesn’t do collaboration, or trust; he does fear. And in a mere six months he’s managed to destroy what was already a remarkably small number of political allies in DC. Plenty of Republicans fear their unhinged base; they’ve treaded carefully around Trump because Trump enjoys a strong tribal loyalty among that base.

But regardless of whether his election last year was made possible by Vladimir Putin and the same clique of Russian oligarchs and mobsters that keep popping up in every facet of Trump’s life, he’s now vulnerable to impeachment on a number of fronts, not least of which being his clear and unapologetic efforts to obstruct justice. He hasn’t been able to get any part of his legislative agenda enacted by a Congress tightly controlled by his own party; half of his senior leadership is rumored to either be leaving or being pushed out; and more than a few of them are spending a lot of their (or Trump re-election) money on private lawyers.

Donald Trump has only one tool in his governing toolbox – fear – and the Republicans whose support he now needs to survive, let alone enact any part of his agenda, increasingly do not fear him.

Which Way Will It Go?

There are so many moving parts to this governing crisis that it’s impossible to keep up each day with the cascading bad news. But the need to govern doesn’t stop. In the next six weeks – some of which Congress won’t be in session for – Republicans somehow will need to pass both operating budgets and a debt ceiling increase to avoid the federal government shutting down all but its most essential services. Right now, it’s hard to imagine this Congress being able to do either. And at last report, the Trump White House hasn’t even tried to prepare any sort of plan for this contingency, which could cost the American economy billions (if not trillions) and trigger a global economic crisis. It would be comically inept were the stakes not so high.

And all of Trump’s (and Republicans’) wounds have been entirely self-inflicted. What happens with the first, inevitable, external crisis: when North Korea decides to try out its new toys, or a hurricane wipes out Miami, or Russia decides to annex Belarus, or somebody blows up the Gateway Arch? Has their ever been a presidency that inspired less confidence in its ability to protect American lives and interests? Has one ever seemed more willing to seize on any excuse to try to suppress threats to its power?

Trump is who he is, and he seems to hire people based solely on loyalty and on having bullying personalities similar to his. There’s a reason that he seems to think he has more in common with Vladimir Putin than any US politician. It’s hard to see how he salvages his presidency from this imminent train wreck by any means other than ending our country’s long, flawed but noble experiment with democracy. His most existential threat is the Russia investigation, and he seems determined not just to (illegally) kill it, but turn US law enforcement into his personal service and an arm of his political power.

Last night, as the Senate prepared to vote on its health care abomination, Bernie Sanders was making the cable TV news rounds, observing accurately that denying health care to millions of Americans, and driving up the cost for the rest of us, all to pay for tax cuts for the extremely wealthy, was only the tip of the current Republican agenda. That includes, among other things, privatizing Medicare, Social Security, the Veterans Administration, and any other economic sector not already owned by the privileged few. This is the oligarchic model Putin (who came from a KGB background and already had access to Russia’s security apparatus to further his goals) used to consolidate power in Russia. By selling off state assets to newly minted oligarchs who owed their personal fortunes to him, Putin was able in turn to buy off Russia’s legislature and courts as well, Now he’s untouchable.

This is who Donald Trump wants to be, and this is the template he’s trying to use. Cable news is full of politico types wringing their hands that Trump doesn’t respect democratic norms, but it’s rather more serious than that.

Now that’s Donald Trump has been elected (with a healthy assist from a hostile foreign power intent on undermining Western democracies), he has no further use for democracy in any form that could threaten his power. Norms of decorum are the least of it. And roughly a third of Americans would be just fine with a dictatorship, especially if it’s wrapped in religion and white nationalism. That’s more than enough to cloud the issues, and grease the skids, at every step in America’s descent. By the time our Dear Leader is killing journalists, torturing dissidents, and both expanding and further privatizing our for-profit prison system, it’ll be too late.

And if Trump wants to remain the most powerful man in the world, he’s pretty much closing off any other avenue of actions. He’s not that dumb.

The Even Bigger Threat

The good news is that the other two-thirds of us want no part of this dystopic future, and that within the halls of power, Donald Trump seems to have pissed off plenty of people who, like John McCain, are just waiting for their chance at payback. For every way that Trump can try to shut down the Russia investigation, Congress, law enforcement, and the courts still have a half-dozen ways to block him. Our government is fast approaching a reckoning in which this circus will do real damage to people who count (and who count their money). Trump can and will be neutralized.

The bad news is that while Donald Trump may be a dangerously ham-fisted, emotionally arrested megalomaniac, he’s still just a symptom, not the problem. Tens of millions of Americans still think he’s awesome. And he’s not the only billionaire who wants the US to become a kleptocratic oligarchy on the model of, say, Putin’s Russia, or China’s unique approach to totalitarian capitalism. The Koch Brothers still personally own several state governments, and there are plenty of other less visible would-be oligarchs who want a Trumpian future, regardless of whether Trump himself is in it.

And if Trump goes? Meet President Michael Pence, a Christian Jihadist who can seamlessly appeal to Trump’s religious fans and who is far more experienced and competent than Trump in making the levers of government work for his ends.

Trump’s dream of being permanent King of the Universe isn’t working out so well at the moment. But it’s what comes next that’s even more concerning. Every US president since Richard Nixon has claimed still more power for the Executive Branch; each successive one, up to and including Obama, has claimed for himself (and thus normalized) the new powers claimed by his predecessor. Even as Trump lies with every breath and tries to trample one once-unassailable check or balance after another in an effort to stay in power and out of prison, he and his party are governing so badly, and he’s personally alienating so many people who (like John McCain) have the power to thwart him, that chances are good the 45th President can be stopped in his bid for total power.

There will be far fewer McCains willing to stand up to the 46th President. There will only be the American people.

Revisiting City Council, Position 9

Pat Murakami herself managed to convince me not to vote for her.

Every time over these past many years, when giving election recommendations, I’ve encouraged readers and listeners not to take my word for it. Do your own research. I’m just one guy, and I can make mistakes.

And I made one in this year’s primary.

I tend to include strategic voting (not necessarily the best or most sympathetic candidate) among the factors that inform my picks, and on occasion I’ve chosen one candidate in the primary, and another in the general election. But I don’t remember ever getting information that caused me to change my mind before the vote in question has even happened. Until now.

And it’s not the race you might think, the one where several strong progressives are competing against each other for an open mayorship. It’s the at-large Seattle City Council Position 9, where I picked small business owner and neighborhood activist Pat Murakami over incumbent Lorena Gonzalez.

I was well aware that Murakami has some…problematic history fighting against the placement of social services in her neighborhood. But here was my logic: Gonzalez hasn’t been horrible overall. But in the city council’s most urgent issue, the runaway development that aspires to turn every third Seattle neighborhood into a miniature Manhattan, a series of zoning and development decisions have driven much of the city’s affordable housing and homelessness crises. Gonzalez has been and would continue to be part of that problem. Murakami likely would not.

For the last decade, as part of successive mayors’ zeal to ram through upzoning, neighborhood activists have basically been shut out of city decision-making. First, the long-time and highly respected head of Seattle’s department that oversees neighborhoods was forced out. Ed Murray moved to entirely defund the city’s neighborhood council system. The new district system for city council implemented in 2015, with all nine seats up for election, certainly encouraged more candidates – but the winners two years ago included arguably no council members previously known primarily as advocates in and for their districts. Meanwhile, small business owners are fast becoming an endangered species, and our city is doing less than nothing to help forestall tat. The only small business owner currently on city council, Tim Burgess, is retiring.

My logic was that while I’m not thrilled with Murakami’s record on issues I care about, her campaign platform is more nuanced than her history would suggest, and as one of nine members she would bring a badly underrepresented voice to city council. Plenty of readers, including some friends whose experience and opinions I respect enormously, objected, citing Murakami’s history, but I still think that logic was sound. They didn’t change my mind.

Pat Murakami herself did.

Responding personally to criticism in a thread from a post by the invaluable Sarajane Siegfriedt, here’s what Murakami wrote last week:

“If someone came here because they were rejected by their families (for example, because they are gay), then we should embrace and assist them. If their pastor sent them here with a one-way bus ticket because they are a drug addict that that community doesn’t want to deal with, then shame on them! Every community should take care of their own members that can’t take care of themselves….

“If the taxpayers of Seattle are fine with paying for permanent housing for people that arrived here last week via a bus ticket given to them by a pastor, social worker or police officer from another state, then of course, we’ll pay for and provide the permanent housing…no matter how despicable they are.”

Okay, I made those last six words up. But they don’t seem out of place, do they?

One of the statistics from this year’s point-in-time count that Murakami should know by heart is that 87 percent of homeless people here have previously had housing in King County. That’s seven of every eight, and it tracks with the same types of numbers in other cities with exorbitant rents. Further, of the people who do arrive here from elsewhere, it’s usually for opportunities – a promised job, or an environment more welcoming to sexual or other minorities, or access to needed physical or mental health services.

The number of homeless that “come here to get free stuff” or who get handed a ticket out of their home towns is vanishingly small. It’s a bizarre and cruel myth, based on fear and popularized by hatemongers like KIRO-FM’s Dori Monson. The only people who believe that this scenario happens with any kind if regularity are simply looking for a way to rationalize their bigotry. They’re horrible human beings. Promoting such stereotypes on the campaign trail isn’t just appalling – it’s also dangerous in itself, because it panders to and legitimizes such bigotry in others – and that’s already, sadly, a significant problem in our city.

It’s even worse in this case, because it’s hard to tell from her words whether Murakami’s “nuanced” approach stems from benevolence or bitterness. Either way, it’s bad. You can’t help people who bear almost no resemblance to your stereotypes of them, because you’ll never understand what does and does not help.

And this wasn’t ten, five, or even one year ago. It was last week. When such sentiments come, unprompted, will ballots already mailed, from a candidate for city-wide office who has had every chance to know better – and who, failing that, also lacks the wisdom to simply STFU – they’re instantly disqualifying. I will not be voting for Pat Murakami.

Or for Lorena Gonzalez, who still has the same problems. Or for official civic menace David Preston, for that matter.

One other candidate I should mention, who is being promoted by union friends I respect, is WFSE Local 304 President Ty Pethe. I’d like to take a chance on him. But his campaign has underwhelmed, and his voters’ guide statement is frankly embarrassing – we learn that he’s a union guy, that he loves his union, that he likes humble bragging about his honesty, that he’s a union guy, and…that’s it. I have no idea what he’d do on council.

I’ll definitely be revisiting this vexing race in October. But for now, as I often recommend when I don’t feel comfortable supporting any of the candidates for a position, I’m going to… skip it.

UPDDATE: Murakami is still going in this thread. She’s not helping herself.