Ruth Bader Ginsburg and the Limits of Anti-Democratic Liberalism

Yesterday evening, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who was nominated to the Supreme Court in 1993 by President Clinton, died at the age of 87 after a long battle with pancreatic cancer. Whether or not Donald Trump gets to nominate his third Supreme Court Justice, or if the Democrats are able to convince Mitt Romney, Lisa Murkowski, and Susan Collins to help them block his nominee in the Senate, remains to be seen. Nevertheless, it should be clear to everybody that the long-running liberal strategy of bypassing the popular will to use the legal system to enact progressive social change is as played out as Ginsburg’s ancient, fragile body.

For as long as I’ve been alive, indeed at least a decade longer, the American political landscape has been divided between two groups. One one hand, you have the Republicans, savvy right-wing populists who have built an almost indestructible alliance between the ruling class and socially conservative, middle-class fundamentalist Christians. On the other hand, you have the inner circle of the Democratic Party, socially radical yet economically conservative Ivy League professionals who reject the idea of class war and economic populism in favor of social engineering through elite institutions like the Supreme Court.

Only six months after Barack Obama engineered the destruction of Bernie Sanders, who wanted to expand the Democratic Party’s voter base through a revival of the New Deal, elite liberals, who are still almost certain to recapture the White House this November, now find themselves face to face with the emptiness of their political agenda. Vice President Biden, only a few years younger than Ginsburg, is unlikely to serve two terms as President. Whether or not Kamala Harris can defeat whoever the Republicans put up in 2024 is by no means guaranteed, or even likely. The the Democratic Party elite, so gleeful after the suppression of democracy in their own Democratic Party, are now looking at 4 years of holding the bag for the Covid-19 Depression, and another, almost certainly young, right-wing-extremist on the Supreme Court.

The hollowness of anti-democratic liberalism, an ideology that depended on an 87-year-old woman suffering from one of the most aggressive forms of cancer for its very survival, couldn’t be more clear. Not only are universal healthcare and free, federally subsidized higher-education off the table for the foreseeable future, the most regressive, most fundamentalist wing of American society is at long last about to realize its dream of repealing gay marriage, Roe vs. Wade, and even Griswold vs. Connecticut. By rejecting radical democracy and economic populism, the liberal Democratic Party elite has also doomed the very social and sexual liberalism and anti-racism they so loudly claim to represent. Any college history major could have told you that except for a brief period in the 1950s and 1960s, the Supreme Court has always been a bastion of anti-democratic reaction. Somehow the smartest people in the room have never been able to figure it out.

Forced Sterilization at Immigrant Detention Centers?

A story has come out that doctors at immigration detention centers have performed hysterectomies on detainees without their explicit consent. ICE is denying the charges and Trump supporters are (of course) labeling it “fake news.” Right now there’s not enough evidence to make a conclusion either way, but if the story is eventually proven true it won’t be the first time in American history that it has happened.

Back in 2015 I wrote a review of Stanley Kramer’s 1961 film Judgement at Nuremberg. Natural hipster that I am I was calling Trump a Nazi before it was cool. At the time I was being deliberately provocative. I don’t think I really believed what I was saying. I was simply using the film, and Trump, as an excuse to express just how much I disliked my fellow Americans.

In Donald Trump, I fear, we may have found our Hitler. I know how Germans like Thomas Mann must have felt when the Nazis used Goethe and Beethoven, Mozart, and Luther to justify the mass extermination of “inferior races” in the name of Aryan supremacy. The front runner for the Presidential nomination of the Republican Party, the party of Lincoln, Grant, Frederick Douglass, Charles Sumner and Thaddeus Stevens, is now a man who calls for the ethnic cleansing of 11 million Mexicans from the United States, and who stands by and says nothing when a supporter calls for the extermination of American Muslims. In and of himself, Donald Trump is nothing. Anybody paying attention has long known he was a racist clown, at least since he called for the execution of 5 innocent black teenagers during the Central Park jogger hysteria back in 1989. What’s troubling is the way Americans now seem ready to anoint him as their leader.

Probably the best scene in Judgement at Nuremberg involves an exchange between a mentally handicapped man played by Montgomery Clift and a brilliant defense attorney played by Maximilian Schell.

It’s a masterclass in acting. A man with an IQ of 150 or 160 goes up against a man with an IQ of 85 or 90, and loses. It made me think about the kind of American, usually a “conservative” who likes to argue that human beings can be “legal” or “illegal.” Schell’s character wins the legal argument. He proves that while his client did order the forced sterilization of a mentally handicapped man he doesn’t deserve to go to jail. He was simply carrying out the established laws of his country. But when Cliff’s character holds up a photo of his mother and pleads that even though she was only a simple working class woman her life did have value, he wins the moral argument. In every society, there are always slick, well-educated monsters who can twist words into elaborate logical pretzels to justify treating society’s most vulnerable people with contempt. There are also plenty of lower-class men and women whose lives are actually worth more than their elite tormentors, people who Montgomery Cliff, a genuine artist who gives voice to the voiceless, speaks for so very well.

So here we at, forced sterilizations, the endgame of the Trump Presidency. I have no confidence that very much will change under Joe Biden and Kamala Harris. In fact, once the embarrassing Trump Administration is gone, there will be plenty of brilliant, upper-middle-class liberals willing to argue, like Maximillian Schell in Judgement at Nuremberg, that there are some people in the world who’s lives simply have no value. 

Looking into My Crystal Ball

Consider history.

In the late 1780s, 25 years after the French crown lost the Seven Years War to the British and 13 years after it bankrupted itself supporting American independence, France experienced a series of harsh Winters and food shortages, ultimately leading to revolution.

In 1917, 12 years after the Romanovs lost a war with Japan and only 3 years after Czar Nicholas ordered his generals to flush millions of Russian lives into the industrial slaughterhouse that was the First World War, the Russian government collapsed, and the Bolsheviks took power, ultimately winning the civil war against the western backed royalist, “white” armies, and establishing the new communist order.

In 2020, twelve years after we Americans allowed our ruling class to loot the treasury with no consequences, and seventeen years after we allowed the Bush Administration to destroy Iraq, the United States is on the brink of collapse. California, the wealthiest state in the union, is facing environmental catastrophe. The ongoing Covid epidemic shows no signs of letting up. We are headed for a long, deep recession.

So will it mean revolution?


Revolution requires a revolutionary ideology. The American and French revolutionaries of 1776, 1789, and 1793 had the Enlightenment, not only French, but German, Scottish and American as well. The Bolsheviks had Marx, Engels, Rosa Luxemburg, Lenin, Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Darwin, James Connolly, August Bebel, Arthur Rimbaud, Tolstoy and Dostoevsky, the marriage of high modernism and the industrial revolution to the radical legacy of the French Revolution. In the United States of 2020, the overwhelming ideology on both the left and right (especially on the right) is identity politics, the idea that race, gender, sexual identity, and religion are more important than any universal, intellectual, artistic or revolutionary vision. That means Balkanization, not revolution, social collapse, not a radical new order.

We don’t have a Robespierre, a Voltaire, a George Washington, a Ben Franklin, a Marx, a Lenin or a Mao. What we do have are a few hundred thousand little would be petty dictators who spend all their time trying to cancel one another and calling everybody else Nazis (the secular term for the devil). We are not going to become France in 1789 or 1793, Russia in 1917, or China in 1948. We are going to become Iraq in 2004 after the United States military smashed the Iraqi state and the Iraqi infrastructure. At some point in the not so distant future, we Americans are going to spend most of our time waiting for the power to come on for an hour or two so we can check out our ruling class betters on social media while rival sectarian militias shoot it out in the streets below. We Americans are going to pay the Karmic price for what we allowed George W. Bush and Barack Obama to do to Iraq, Syria and Libya, and we will richly deserve it.

During the American occupation of Iraq, I used to follow an Iraqi blogger called “Riverbend.” Nobody ever found out her name, but she was obviously a western educated member of the Iraqi upper-middle-class appalled at what George W. Bush was doing to her country. In 2007, she stopped posting, not because she was killed, but simply because she got sick of screaming into the void. She returned once in 2013 with a brief update about her life since the American invasion. Every American should read the whole thing. It’s a brief glimpse of our future.

We are learning that corruption is the way to go. You want a passport issued? Pay someone. You want a document ratified? Pay someone. You want someone dead? Pay someone.

We learned that it’s not that difficult to make billions disappear.

We are learning that those amenities we took for granted before 2003, you know- the luxuries – electricity, clean water from faucets, walkable streets, safe schools – those are for deserving populations. Those are for people who don’t allow occupiers into their country.

We’re learning that the biggest fans of the occupation (you know who you are, you traitors) eventually leave abroad. And where do they go? The USA, most likely, with the UK a close second. If I were an American, I’d be outraged. After spending so much money and so many lives, I’d expect the minor Chalabis and Malikis and Hashimis of Iraq to, well, stay in Iraq. Invest in their country. I’d stand in passport control and ask them, “Weren’t you happy when we invaded your country? Weren’t you happy we liberated you? Go back. Go back to the country you’re so happy with because now, you’re free!”

We’re learning that militias aren’t particular about who they kill. The easiest thing in the world would be to say that Shia militias kill Sunnis and Sunni militias kill Shia, but that’s not the way it works. That’s too simple.

Sign of the Times

Cranford, NJ September 2020

The two major historical events of my lifetime, both atrocities, come together at a local monument. Not to get all 9/11 Truther or anything, but it appears that Bob Woodward, the “hero” of Watergate, knew back in January that Trump was withholding information about the pandemic but chose not to publish it until his book came out this fall. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it? If the corporate media held back information that led to the deaths of over 100,000 Americans, what are they hiding about the deaths of only 3000 Americans? My guess is involvement by the Saudi government and a coverup by the Bush Administration, but don’t quote me on that.

A Very Brief Thought On the Shooting in Wisconsin

So a 17-year old wannabe cop from Illinois named Kyle Rittenhouse crosses the state line into Wisconsin, and opens fire at a crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, killing two people and seriously injuring a third.

In my opinion, the key event that led to the election of Donald Trump as President was the Sandy Hook Massacre of 2012. The conspiracy theories that immediately followed were essentially a statement by conservatives that seizing power was more important than truth, that reality, even the gruesome reality of a maniac charging into a grade school and massacring innocent children, didn’t matter. Liberals, in turn, who if you remember controlled the White House in 2012, backed down from the obvious responsibility to dismantle the large stockpiles of weapons in the hands of right wing extremists. Now it’s too late, not only for sensible gun control but for truth itself. Even as right wing extremists murder Black Lives Matter protesters in the streets, the Democrats consider the idea that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris should stand for anything except not being Donald Trump as childish indulgence and irresponsible white privilege.

Some future history book will probably have a chapter titled:

“The Presidential Election of 2020: A Commitment to Lies Versus a Commitment to Nothing.”


The Elites Seem to Disagree

I have to admit that I had no idea where Mali was before I Googled it, so I’m hardly qualified to speak about the question of whether their government was overthrown by evil Russians or by good Americans in order to bring “freedom.”

But check back with me next week. I’m entirely sure I’ll have a very strong opinion on the issue and a good deal of confidence in my belief that whoever disagrees with me is the embodiment of evil.

RIP Linda Manz

Linda Manz, who is not well-known by the general public but who is a household name among cinephiles, has died at age 58.

Linda Manz, known for her performances in films like Days of Heaven and Out of the Blue has died. She was 58.

The actress died on Friday after a battle with lung cancer and pneumonia, her family said on a GoFundMe page established by her son Michael Guthrie.

I suppose she’s best known for her role in Terence Malick’s Days of Heaven but I’ll always associate her with Phillip Kaufman’s criminally neglected masterpiece The Wanderers, a movie I must have watched 100 times on HBO as a kid. She played “Pee Wee,” the President of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Bronx gang The Fordham Baldies (a gang these days that would probably have me as a member).

I can watch this scene over and over again and never stop laughing or admiring the way Kaufman deftly films a chase scene that walks the razors edge between comedy and the childhood fear of being pursued by a gang of bullies. Manz only has a few lines but the arrogant way she delivers them just defines how it feels to have the toughest guy on the block as your insurance policy. “You better watch your mouth kid.”

Congratulations Kamala Harris

If you sincerely campaign for the UBI bill you introduced last month with Bernie and Senator Markey I’ll gladly vote for you.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), and Ed Markey (D-MA) on Friday introduced the Monthly Economic Crisis Support Act, legislation that provides a monthly $2,000 check to those struggling to make ends meet during the COVID-19 pandemic. As rent comes due and bills continue to pile up, Americans desperately need assistance to financially survive this crisis.

The only way we’re going to bring Covid-19 under control is to make it possible for people to stay home and social distance. That means putting money in their pockets. I hope you follow up on your proposal when you actually have the power to make it happen.

NYPD Security Theater

Taking the lead from Trump’s federal officers in Portland, the NYPD targets an anti-police brutality march on 25th Street and Second Avenue. Without warning, six or seven plainclothes freaks on steroids grab an 18-year-old, homeless transwoman, throw her into an unmarked van, and drive off. The next day it goes viral on social media.

The police and the corporate media in NYC accuse the young woman of having spray painted the lenses of 6 police cameras. Is it true? I have no idea. But it’s clear what’s going on here.

This is NYPD security theater designed to make normal people (like me) afraid to go to a protest, any kind of protest. It’s designed to create the impression that anytime, anywhere, for any reason, a militarized big city police department (who have obviously been given tracking information on your cell phone by the big tech companies) can swoop out of the crowd and drag you off to a black hole somewhere in a gigantic city of 10 million people, where you might (after spending a few days in some Covid-19 infected cell) eventually get to see an NLG lawyer. They will then trump up some kind of bogus charge, which the media will dutifully repeat, and “conservatives” will believe without asking too many questions.

In short, the NYPD want you to see this. They’re flexing their muscles in public. They’re trying to show us who’s boss. “Fuck you civilians,” they’re saying. “You’re nothing. You have no rights. We can disappear you any time we want.” The astonishing thing about it is that it really isn’t working. In spite of the obvious collusion between Trump, big city police departments like the NYPD, and the corporate media, the protests go on. The American ruling class has been so delegitimized the propaganda is no longer working. Bill De Blasio, their front man in NYC, a 6’5″ moral and intellectual dwarf of a man, is an utter laughing stock. Even black propaganda designed to intimidate, not to convince, is starting to fall flat. A minority of far-right-wing Americans support Trump and the police. Most Americans are just standing by on the sidelines thinking “what the fuck is going on.” At some point, people are going to be so fed up with this rotten system, they’ll just kick down the door, and the whole thing will come crashing down.

He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

So here are some of Trump’s federal officers beating up a woman from the “Wall of Moms.”

In addition to my obvious shock and horror I’m also curious. Why are they carrying packs? Are they taking three days rations out into the field? They’re in downtown Portland, Oregon. They have Safeway and Whole Foods there. And what’s with the camouflage? Are they trying to disappear into the jungles of Vietnam while they train Ngo Dinh Diem’s army against the Vietcong?