Wednesday, February 19, 2020

3319. On Trump's Political Base: Audacity of Hate

By Thomas B. Edsall, The New York Times, February 19, 2020
Trump's political base is empowered by fear and hate

Karl Rove had a novel idea for how to organize President George W. Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign.

He and the chief campaign strategist, Matthew Dowd, decided on a “base strategy.” 

They reallocated the bulk of the campaign’s media budget to focus on social conservatives instead of on moderates — a decision predicated on the fact that the swing or persuadable, share of the electorate had shrunk from one in five voters to less than one in 10. The most effective use of campaign funds, the thinking ran, was to invest in turning out more of the millions of white right-wing voters who needed to be motivated to show up at the polls.

The result was a shift that year from a traditional centrist strategy to an emphasis on anger and fear, a shift that turned out to have profound long-term consequences.

Campaigns in the past had relied on activating resentment and hostility, of course, but the re-election drive for Bush in 2004 was the first to make this the centerpiece of a mainstream presidential effort.

American politics were irrevocably transformed, polarization strategies became institutionalized and the stage was set for the explicit racial and anti-immigrant themes dominating Donald Trump’s campaigns for election and re-election.

Three major events over the next 10 years bridged the gap between the White House campaign of George W. Bush and the White House campaign of Donald J. Trump.
The economic meltdown of 2007-9 devastated faith in the American economic system and in the nation’s elected leaders — especially the Republican establishment.

In the midst of stock market losses of $2 trillion — a 40 percent plunge in the value of the Dow Jones — the country was hit by a catastrophic mortgage crisis, with nearly 10 million Americans losing their homes to foreclosure sales, according to

"The effects of the subprime mortgage crisis are not only still being felt today, they have indelibly changed the way Americans view homeownership and the way we live."

In 2008, the country, reeling from economic chaos, elected Barack Obama — the brainy president of the Harvard Law Review and a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago — as America’s first black president.

A second response to intensifying fears, however, was the emergence of the Tea Party, which mobilized racially and financially apprehensive whites who felt abandoned by the Republican leadership.

Hostility to Wall Street, costly bailouts of banks, brokerages and the auto industry, played a role. But as the financial crisis played out, immigration and struggles over school integration compounded this unease.

Theda Skocpol, a professor of government and sociology at Harvard and a co-author of “The Tea Party and the Remaking of Republican Conservatism,” told Mother Jones:

"This was definitely a movement of people who are anxious about racial changes in the country, anxious about immigration, and were, in some cases, also Christian conservatives who felt very passionately about homosexuality and abortion and having laws against those."

Skocpol, who spent many hours talking with Tea Party members, added that veterans of the Tea Party movement “are the core of the most adamant of Trump’s supporters.”

The Tea Party changed what it was permissible to debate openly in contemporary politics. Within a few years, it enabled Trump to further erode the norms of political combat and more openly instigate partisan conflict based on racial and ethnic antagonism.

Under Trump, coded rhetoric like Reagan’s “welfare queen” and Nixon’s “silent majority,” was — and is — no longer coded.

Trump’s sudden emergence as a political player began in 2011 with his championing of the birther movement, promoting the false allegation that President Obama was born in Kenya.

In March 2011, as he contemplated a run for the presidencyTrump began to claim in television interviews that Obama

"doesn’t have a birth certificate, or if he does, there’s something on that certificate that is very bad for him. Now, somebody told me — and I have no idea if this is bad for him or not, but perhaps it would be — that where it says “religion,” it might have 'Muslim.' And if you’re a Muslim, you don’t change your religion, by the way."

Trump directly challenged the political calculations of Republican leaders who argued after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012 that the party needed to make inroads among Latino, Asian and African-American voters.

Sean Trende, an election analyst at RealClearPolitics, Vox reported, “offered a different diagnosis: Romney’s real problem was ‘missing’ white voters who didn’t show up to vote,” and Trende was proved right: As the 2016 primary battle progressed, “those voters” were “no longer missing.” Trump had found them.

Trump didn’t just find the missing white voters. He found the voters who most strongly objected to immigration, responding positively to such survey questions as:

“Immigrants today are a burden on our country because they take our jobs, housing and health care” and “It bothers me when I come into contact with immigrants who speak little or no English.”

More than any of his competitors for the nomination, Trump understood the underbelly of the white Republican electorate. Not only did he understand it, he was ready and willing to go where no other presidential candidate would venture.

More than anything, Trump intuitively understood how polarization, and with it, the intense hatred among legions of Republican voters of liberal elites and of the so-called meritocracy could be a powerful tool to win elections.

Thomas Mann, a senior fellow at Brookings and the author, with Norman Ornstein, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, of the book “It’s Even Worse Than It Looks: How the American Constitutional System Collided With the New Politics of Extremism,” was blunt in his assessment of the broad contemporary political environment.

"Partisan polarization has become hard-wired in the American political system and is likely to be with us for the foreseeable future. Our constitutional system is not well matched with our current party system. Partisan asymmetry makes it even worse. The GOP has radicalized into an anti-system party that does not accept the legitimacy of its opposition and enables a slide toward autocracy. Very dangerous times for American democracy."
It is an environment in which negative campaigning, on TV and on social media, has become the instrument of choice, not a tool, but the beating heart of political partisanship.

Two political scientists, Gaurav Sood and Shanto Iyengar, describe this shift to antagonistic campaigning in “Coming to Dislike Your Opponents: The Polarizing Impact of Political Campaigns

"Negative ads are especially effective in increasing partisan affect. A strong negativity bias influences information processing, making people more likely to attend to negative rather than positive appeals."
The rise in hostile views of the opposition candidate, the two authors argue, “is not primarily due to learning about real ideological positions of the candidates and the parties.” Instead, they write, the more likely explanation is that the effectiveness of these campaigns is in reminding “partisans about the negative traits of the out-party candidate, and positive traits of her own party.”

Sood and Iyengar see the use of divisive campaign tactics increasing in the future:

"It is likely that as a consequence of the data revolution, and burgeoning social scientific research, campaigns will learn to target individuals better, and will be able to deliver more “potent” messages to them."

In this climate, penalties for intraparty dissent are quick and brutal. Take a look at what happened to Justin Amash, of Michigan, once a Republican in good standing, one of the founders of the conservative Freedom Caucus, who was sent to political purgatory (and eventually exile from the party) after he suggested that Trump had committed impeachable offenses as president.

“I don’t think we’ve seen the worst of it,” Douglas Ahler, a political scientist at Florida State University, emailed in response to my inquiry, adding:

"When you take today’s urban-rural divide, couple it with the most engaged citizens’ tendency to live in echo chambers, and add accelerants in the forms of identity politics and misinformation campaigns, you have a house waiting to go up in flames.
“We identify three possible negative outcomes for democracy,” the political scientists Jennifer McCoy and Tahmina Rahman of Georgia State and Murat Somer of KoƧ University Istanbul, wrote in their 2018 paper, “Polarization and the Global Crisis of Democracy.”

The three negative outcomes, according to the authors, are gridlock; democratic erosion or collapse under new elites and dominant groups; and democratic erosion or collapse under old elites and dominant groups.

With few exceptions, political scientists are pessimistic about both the short- and long-term prospects for the amelioration of hostile partisan division. It is probably best not to take comfort in experiments that reveal that, under certain circumstances, it is possible to lessen polarization.

Ethan Porter, a professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, for example, wrote me that his work with Thomas J. Wood, a political scientist at Ohio State, shows that

when factual misinformation is corrected, people tend, on average, to be made more accurate. People are hardly invulnerable to factual corrections; on the contrary, whether Republicans or Democrats are exposed to corrections of their partisan leaders, they generally respond by becoming more accurate.

In practice, however, the rise of newspaper fact-checking would appear to at least partially achieve the goal of correcting misinformation, even as the rise of mutual hatred between Democrats and Republicans has accelerated.

Similarly, Joshua Kalla and David Broockman, political scientists at Yale and Berkeley, argued in their January 2020 paper “Reducing exclusionary attitudes through interpersonal conversation,” that “exclusionary attitudes — prejudice toward outgroups and opposition to policies that promote their well-being — are presenting challenges to democratic societies worldwide,” but, what they describe as “non-judgmentally exchanging narratives in interpersonal conversations can facilitate durable reductions in exclusionary attitudes.”

But, it is difficult, if not impossible, to conceive of circumstances under which Chuck Schumer and Mitch McConnell, or Nancy Pelosi and Donald Trump, would “non-judgmentally” exchange “narratives in interpersonal conversations.”

Nate Persily, a professor of law and political science at Stanford, wrote me that the most significant damage resulting from negative partisanship and polarization is 

"that the normal methods of accountability in a democratic society cease to apply. It used to be that people, regardless of party, believed government statistics about the employment rate and other metrics of progress and national well-being. Now, our interpretation of the basic facts of whether we are going in the right or wrong direction is dominated by whether expressing such an opinion is consistent with that which would advantage our tribe."

This extends to the legitimacy of elections, Persily continued, adding that

"trust in the electoral process is now contingent on who wins. That is, losers will cry ‘fraud’ and consider the president illegitimate, even if the election is well-run. This is the kind of dynamic we see in the developing world and unstable democracies. It is a recipe for disaster."

Alex Theodoridis, a political scientist at the University of California-Merced, argued that instead of being an aberration, polarization may now be the norm, the default political environment:

"Many look back fondly on the middle part of the last century when a political party, ideology, and a host of social categories were not strongly aligned the way they are today and, thus, partisan polarization was far less pronounced."

But, he continued,

it is more likely that that bygone era was the aberration and today’s hyperpolarization is what we should expect in equilibrium. In other words, we probably ought to accept the current state of affairs as the new normal. The mutual dislike and distrust between Democrats and Republicans is likely to persist without a dramatic party realignment.

In fact, nothing would make Trump happier than to have Theodoridis’s belief that polarization is the new normal or to see Persily’s warnings of lost legitimacy proven true. Trump thrives when the climate is chaotic and disruptive and he is the prime example of lost legitimacy in American politics.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

3318. For Thousands of Years, Egypt Controlled the Nile. A New Dam Threatens That

By Declan Walsh and Somini Sengupta, The Bew York Times, February 9, 2020
The Nile

The Egyptian farmer stood in his dust-blown field, lamenting his fortune. A few years ago, wheat and tomato-filled greenhouses carpeted the land. Now the desert was creeping in.
“Look,” he said, gesturing at the sandy soil and abandoned greenhouses. “Barren.”

The farmer, Hamed Jarallah, attributed his woes to dwindling irrigation from the overtaxed Nile, the fabled river at the heart of Egypt’s very identity. Already, the Nile is under assault from pollution, climate change and Egypt’s growing population, which officially hits 100 million people this month.

And now, Mr. Jarallah added, a fresh calamity loomed.

A colossal hydroelectric dam being built on the Nile 2,000 miles upriver, in the lowlands of Ethiopia, threatens to further constrict Egypt’s water supply — and is scheduled to start filling this summer.

“We’re worried,” he said. “Egypt wouldn’t exist without the Nile. Our livelihood is being destroyed, God help us.”

The dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the $4.5 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam — Africa’s largest, with a reservoir about the size of London — has become a national preoccupation in both countries, stoking patriotism, deep-seated fears and even murmurs of war.

To Ethiopians, the dam is a cherished symbol of their ambitions — a megaproject with the potential to light up millions of homes, earn billions from electricity sales to neighboring countries and confirm Ethiopia’s place as a rising African power.

After years of bumpy progress, including corruption scandals and the mysterious death of its chief engineer, the first two turbines are being installed. Officials say the dam will start filling in July.

That prospect induces dread in Egypt, where the dam is seen as the most fundamental of threats.

“The Nile is a question of life, a matter of existence to Egypt,” President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi said at the United Nations last September.

For eight years, officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan — which lies between the two countries — squabbled fruitlessly over the dam. Ninety-five percent of Egyptians live along the Nile or in its teeming delta, and the river provides nearly all of their water. They worry that, if the dam in Ethiopia is filled too quickly, it could drastically curtail their water supply. In November, in a last-ditch effort, the talks moved to Washington, where the White House has been mediating.

Mr. Trump, playing on his self-image as a deal maker, has suggested that his efforts might merit a Nobel Prize. The White House is pushing for an agreement by the end of February, but Egyptian and Ethiopian officials warn it will not be easy.

In an interview last month, Seleshi Bekele, Ethiopia’s water minister, called Egypt’s claims to the Nile “the most absurd thing you ever heard.”

For millenniums, Egyptians were the unchallenged masters of the Nile, drawing on the river to build ancient empires and modern republics.

The Pharaohs worshiped crocodiles and used the Nile to transport the giant granite blocks for the Great Pyramid of Giza. In 1970, Egypt’s towering post-independence leader, Gamal Abdel Nasser, oversaw the completion of the Aswan High Dam, taming the Nile’s seasonal flows and transforming Egyptian agriculture.

Egypt justified its dominance over the river by citing a colonial-era water treaty and a 1959 agreement with Sudan. But Ethiopia does not recognize them, and when its former leader, Mengistu Haile Mariam, proposed building a series of dams on the Nile in 1978, he met thinly veiled threats.

“We are not going to wait to die of thirst in Egypt,” said Egypt’s president at the time, Anwar Sadat. “We’ll go to Ethiopia and die there.”

The Renaissance Dam spans the Blue Nile, the river’s main tributary, which supplies most of Egypt’s water. Ethiopia’s young, modernizing leader, Abiy Ahmed, insists that Egyptian fears about its impact are overblown. After taking office as prime minister in 2018, Mr. Abiy flew to Cairo to offer his reassurances

“I swear, I swear, we will not hurt Egypt’s water supply,” he told reporters.

But by last fall, anxieties were rising again and Mr. Abiy offered an ominous warning.

“No force could prevent” Ethiopia from completing the dam, he told Ethiopian lawmakers in October, less than two weeks after winning the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving his country’s long conflict with Eritrea. If it came to it, Mr. Abiy added, he would get “millions readied” for war with Egypt.

While the two nations spar over the dam, hydrologists say the most pressing threat facing the Nile stems from population growth and climate change. Egypt’s population increases by one million people every six months — a soaring rate that the United Nations predicts will lead to water shortages by 2025.

Rising sea levels threaten to nibble at Egypt’s low-lying coast and help push saltwater inland, spoiling fertile land. Increasingly volatile weather is another risk.

A study published last August by researchers at Dartmouth College found that while rainfall is likely to increase in the Upper Nile basin over the coming century, the incidence of hot and dry years could increase by a factor of two or three — even if global warming is limited to 2 degrees Celsius.

Ethiopia argues that storing the water upstream will help, because it is less prone to evaporation than in Egypt, which is drier.

“The dry years will be more severe, in that they will be hotter and more frequent,” said Ethan D. Coffel, the paper’s lead writer. “Life is going to get much harder for farmers on the Nile.”

Mr. el-Sisi’s Egypt has made modest efforts to prepare. Officials have imposed restrictions on water-intensive crops like rice and bananas. On Fridays, clerics deliver government-dictated sermons stressing the virtues of conservation.

On Judgment Day, warned one such sermon, “God will not look favorably” on water wastrels.

But criticism of Egypt’s own stewardship of the Nile is risky. A famous pop singer, Sherine, was prosecuted in 2017 for mocking the Nile’s notoriously dirty water, telling fans to “Drink Evian instead.”

She was eventually acquitted, perhaps partly because her jab hit home: Egyptians abuse the Nile as much as they revere it.

Sewage flows into its waters and garbage clogs irrigation canals. Successive Egyptian leaders have indulged in grandiose schemes that suckle from the river, including Mr. el-Sisi, who is building a sprawling new administrative capital in the desert outside Cairo that experts say will deplete the Nile further.

The dam has become the focus of Egypt’s water anxieties. The main sticking point with Ethiopia is how quickly it should be filled. Ethiopia says as few as four years, but Egypt, fearing a dro

Beyond the technical arguments, the dispute is driven by politics. Mr. el-Sisi, a military strongman, is acutely sensitive to suggestions that he is soft on Egypt’s security.

Mr. Abiy, who faces elections this year, is under pressure from ordinary Ethiopians, who helped finance the dam by buying government-issued bonds. More broadly, he needs to deliver on a prestigious project in a country that considers itself an emerging power.

Ethiopia has one of the world’s fastest growing economies. The dam offers it a chance to become Africa’s biggest power exporter. And, just as in Egypt, the Nile is central to the country’s sense of itself.

“For how long will the river flow down taking everything with it, even the branch of a tree?” goes one song taught to Ethiopian schoolchildren.

During an interview with The New York Times at the dam in 2018, Semegnew Bekele, the project manager, said the undertaking would “eradicate our common enemy — poverty.”

He cited the Hoover Dam in the United States as inspiration.

“It makes America America,” he said, adding that he hoped Ethiopia’s dam would do the same for his country.

Soon after, he was found slumped behind the wheel of his Toyota Land Cruiser, a gunshot wound to the head. The police ruled it a suicide. A few weeks later, Mr. Abiy fired the dam’s main contractor over accusations of widespread corruption.

Despite the setbacks, the Ethiopians say they are close to finishing the dam. They started building it in 2011 at the height of the Arab Spring, when Cairo was still in turmoil, and hostilities have dogged the project from the start.

In 2013, a television broadcast showed Egypt’s leaders — including the president at the time, Mohamed Morsi — discussing covert tactics to scupper the dam, including a bomb attack. The tough talk came to nothing, but soon Egyptians were accusing their rivals of slow-rolling the technical talks while they continued to build.

The Ethiopians, in turn, say the Egyptians treat them with a highhandedness that stretches back to a failed Egyptian invasion of Ethiopia in the 1870s. In October, one Ethiopian negotiator accused Egypt of seeking to turn his country into a “hydrological colony.”

Mr. el-Sisi insists he wants a peaceful resolution, embarking on a diplomatic offensive to win support from Ethiopia’s neighbors. The Nile Museum, which opened in Aswan in 2016 emphasizes Egypt’s ties with its “African brothers.” Inside, a three-story waterfall symbolizes the Nile wending through 10 African countries before arriving in Egypt.

Yet Mr. el-Sisi has also sent a message that he is ready to resist in other ways. Egypt has fostered ties with Ethiopia’s adversaries, shipping weapons to the government of South Sudan, according to United Nations investigators. Inside Ethiopia, officials have accused Egypt of sponsoring anti-government protests and armed rebellions, accusations Cairo denies.

In the talks, Mr. el-Sisi is at a marked disadvantage — the longer negotiations take, the closer Ethiopia moves toward finishing the dam.

Mr. Abiy’s hand is also strengthened by Ethiopia’s growing geostrategic muscle. In recent years, many countries — including the United Arab Emirates, China and the United States — have vied for influence in the Horn of Africa, where many analysts have proclaimed a new “Great Game.” Ethiopia, the region’s most populous country with more than 100 million people, is central to those calculations.

It scored a major diplomatic victory in the negotiations over the dam when it persuaded Sudan, which had traditionally sided with Egypt, to take its side in the dispute.

The White House and World Bank-brokered negotiations haven’t gone as Egypt had hoped, Western diplomats say. Despite the close ties between Mr. Trump and Mr. el-Sisi — who Mr. Trump once called “my favorite dictator” — Egypt has had to concede key demands over the Nile.

On Feb. 1, a day after the latest talks ended, Mr. Abiy sounded an upbeat note on Twitter, boasting that Ethiopia was drawing ever closer to “our continental power generation victory day.”

But Ethiopian ministers acknowledge that Mr. Trump is pressing them to do a deal, too.
“Of course, pressure is everywhere,” Mr. Bekele, the water minister, told reporters.

An Egyptian government spokesman did not respond to questions. The two sides are scheduled to reconvene in Washington on Feb. 13.

The Nile ends its winding 4,000-mile journey through Africa in Ras el-Bar, a seaside town on Egypt’s north coast, where the river slips quietly into the Mediterranean. One morning, Ahmed el-Alfi, 16, stood on the rocks on its bank, fishing for shrimp.

The young fisherman didn’t know much about the talks with Ethiopia, but he could see the river’s problems himself.

“The sea is clear but the Nile is dirty,” he said Mr. el-Alfi. “It’s full of rubbish.”
And yet, he added, Egypt had no option but to fight for it.

“Without the Nile,” he said, “there is no Egypt.”

Saturday, February 8, 2020

3317. Eric Blanc’s Ersatz Socialism

By Louis Proyect, The Unrepentant Marxist, February 8, 2020
Eric Blanc
For those trying to keep track of the ongoing attempt to seduce American radicals into Democratic Party politics, Eric Blanc’s articles are essential. Unlike most of the people who write for the Jacobin, Blanc got some intensive training in Marxism starting with his membership in Socialist Organizer, a tiny sect affiliated with the U.S. fraternal section of the Organizing Committee for the Re-constitution of the Fourth International. His next stop was the ISO, where he was likely in the vanguard of the group’s mass exodus into the DSA. Now, comfortably ensconced there, he is a member of the Bread and Roses caucus that takes pride in itself as the Marxist redoubt of the group hoping to Re-constitute social democracy in the USA.

On top of all this, he has been something of a disciple of Lars Lih who has written millions of words extolling Lenin while at the same time making it clear that he is not a socialist. This deep immersion in Marxist culture has seen Blanc come up with some very fresh ideas, especially on the role of borderland socialists and the evolution of Bolshevism on national liberation. More recently, and unfortunately, his erudition has mostly been used to promote voting for Democratic Party candidates as a tactical “dirty break”. Unlike the crude “lesser evil”, “stop the fascist threat” analysis perfected by the Communist Party, Blanc frames his arguments in neo-Kautskyist terms, even though, as his critics make clear, Kautsky was adamantly opposed to voting for liberals.

Blanc’s latest foray into DP apologetics is available in an article titled “From Meyer London to Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez”. In analogizing the two politicians, he is once again using an ersatz version of American history in the same manner as his “dirty break” article that made the case for socialists using the ballot line of the two capitalist parties around the same time as SP leader Meyer London was elected to the House of Representatives.

London never used this dubious tactic since at the time the SP had massive support. In Eugene V. Debs’s run for president in 1906, he got an astounding 6 percent of the vote. As for Meyer London, he was one of the only two SP’ers who were ever elected to Congress. The other was Victor Berger, who, like London, was a “sewer socialist” with politics akin to Eduard Bernstein. Why in this day and age of deep capitalist crisis with fascism on the march all over the planet would anybody look to someone like Meyer London as some kind of positive example? Beats me.

Blanc believes we should study London’s career because he proposed New Deal type reforms in Congress long before the New Deal. Good gosh. In Blanc’s words, he had “only a light commitment to Marxism…, believed in an evolutionary transition to socialism and wavered in his opposition to the First World War.”

Notwithstanding these political flaws, Meyer London was more dedicated to the working class movement than any Democrat. He was a strong ally of the garment workers in New York City and pushed for “comprehensive social insurance for all in the form of national health care, unemployment and disability insurance, and public works jobs programs.”
Of course, there is a yawning gulf between London and A. O-C, who is obviously intent on serving as a Democrat despite her lip-service to socialism. In the second half of his article, Blanc explains why this decision was forced on her.

There are no easy answers or simple formulas for how to proceed in today’s novel context. Given the relative weakness of the socialist movement, and the well-known obstacles to electing third-party candidates in the US, it made tactical sense for Ocasio-Cortez, like Sanders before her, to run on the Democratic Party ballot line. At the same time, elected socialists will ultimately need full political independence from the party establishment in order to advance their class-struggle agendas. We’ll eventually need a party of our own. Playing by the rules of the game has led all too many honest politicians to cover for, and bend to, a corporate-funded Democratic machine whose built-to-fail centrism led to our current Trump nightmare.

It was only after reading this subtle exercise in Marxoid casuistry a second time that it dawned on me what he was carefully eliding. Meyer London was a member of a party. He had to operate within its political guidelines in order to get its financial and organizational support in his election campaigns. In other words, his relationship to the SP was like that of the European Second International parties. With all proportions guarded, he and Berger operated as parliamentarians that were expected to carry forward their party’s program in the same way that they did in Kautsky’s SPD. In fact, the term “democratic centralism” did not originate in Russia.

As Paul LeBlanc explains in “Lenin and the Revolutionary Party”, the term predates Lenin by many years and was first used in 1865 by J.B. Schweitzer, a Lassallean. Furthermore, in Russia it was first used by the Mensheviks at a November 1905 conference. In a resolution “On the Organization of the Party” adopted there, they agree that “The RSDLP must be organized according to the principle of democratic centralism.” A month later the Bolsheviks embraced the term at their own conference. A resolution titled “On Party Organization” states: “Recognizing as indisputable the principle of democratic centralism, the Conference considers the broad implementation of the elective principle necessary; and, while granting elected centers full powers in matters of ideological and practical leadership, they are at the same time subject to recall, their actions are given broad publicity, and they are to be strictly accountable for these activities.”

So, what in the hell does this have to do with today’s “democratic socialist” movement? Not only is Bernie Sanders not a member of the DSA; he doesn’t even encourage people to join. Basically, they and Jacobin operate as his fan club. He is free to say whatever he wants and when he says or does something clearly problematic, they are free to say “tut-tut” or rationalize it, as was the case with the Joe Rogan endorsement.

While they are not in the same kind of exalted position as Sanders, A. O-C and the “squad” pretty much have the same kind of latitude even if they are members (Ilhan Omar is not). They rely on the DSA to do the grunt work and once they are elected they use their own judgement when they vote or say something dumb. In a Left Voice article titled “Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Represent the Politics of the DSA?”, we see how far she can stray from democratic socialism, a program that would likely exclude support for Israeli war crimes:

Ocasio-Cortez’s statements about replacing ICE with a more humane INS have already garnered criticism from her left supporters. But a major source of concern for DSAers was Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks on the occupation of Palestine. Pushed a bit by Margaret Hoover on Firing Line about a tweet in which she denounced the Land Day Massacre, Ocasio-Cortez said not only that she “believes absolutely in Israel’s right to exist,” but also that she “just looked at that incident [as] just an incident.” When asked about her use of the term “occupation,” she replied, “I’m a firm believer in finding a two-state solution on this issue, and I’m happy to sit down with leaders on both of these.”

Although my politics are much more aligned with Rosa Luxemburg than Karl Kautsky, I would be a lot more sympathetic to the DSA if it was aspiring toward Kautsky’s model. Instead, it is much more reminiscent of the Young Democrats I used to run into during the Vietnam antiwar movement. They came to meetings wearing Eugene McCarthy or George McGovern buttons, politicians they saw as being capable of returning the Democratic Party to its New Deal traditions. In exchange for passing out campaign literature, the young activists might be rewarded with an early end to the Vietnam War just as DSA’ers hope that the USA will be transformed into Sweden if Sanders is elected.