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10 RACES TO WATCH OUR BRUTAL SAUDI ALLY

THE EDITORS JUAN COLE

NOVEMBER 12, 2018

NEW
GEORGIA
RISING?
If Stacey Abrams
can overcome
voter suppression
and apathy, she’ll
make history.
JOAN WALSH

THENATION.COM
The Nation. since 1865
UPFRONT
4 By the Numbers: We
the Youth; 6 Nation
News: A Zephyr of
Change; 8 Comix Nation:
Jen Sorensen; 10 Voter
Suppression: Blocking
the Native Ballot

3 10 (More) Races
to Watch

10 (More) Races to Watch

T
5 The Score
Mike Konczal

6 Our Brutal
Saudi Ally
Juan Cole
he Nation opened the 2018 election season with a list of
COLUMNS
10 candidates we were keeping our eyes on: politicians
10 The Liberal Media
who proposed “not just a change in party, but an end to Where the Power Lies
Eric Alterman
status-quo politics.” Eight of them eventually triumphed 11 Deadline Poet
in their primaries and will be on November ballots across the country, Donald ❤ Kim
Calvin Trillin
including gubernatorial contenders Stacey Abrams
in Georgia and Ben Jealous in Maryland, as well as prevails in this battleground state, he’ll provide a
Wisconsin lieutenant-governor candidate Mandela model for beating Trump in 2020. Features
Barnes. The same goes for Jocelyn Benson, a voting- § Janet Mills, candidate for governor of Maine: 12 New Georgia
rights activist running for secretary of state in Michi- The state’s Republican governor, Paul LePage, is Rising?
gan, and January Contreras, an advocate for victims one of the most Trump-like figures in the country. In Joan Walsh
of human trafficking, who is running for attorney 2016, he failed to respond to the state’s opioid crisis by Stacey Abrams could
general in Arizona. Two House candidates, Scott vetoing a bill making it easier to obtain the overdose become the state’s first black
and first female governor—
Wallace in Pennsylvania and Liz Watson in Indiana, drug Narcan. Rejecting science and common sense, but her path to victory is
also won their primaries and are now mounting races LePage claimed that reversing overdoses perpetuates hardly without obstacles.
vital to flipping control of Congress. So is a opioid abuse. That was too much for State
20 Destination,
progressive Senate candidate we identified Attorney General Janet Mills, a Dem-
EDITORIAL Lancaster
in April, Beto O’Rourke, who’s in a tight ocrat, who took the lawsuit-settlement Jimmy Tobias
battle against Ted Cruz in Texas. funds controlled by her office, bought the Can a road map to
We’re still enthusiastic about that list, lifesaving drugs, and distributed them to progressive power be made
as we are about the Democrats’ prospects first responders. “Making Narcan avail- in Pennsylvania? A group
of scrappy young organizers
of retaking Congress. But the urgent chal- able to police agencies is simply part of my believes the answer is yes.
lenges of the moment—ending austerity, responsibilities to law enforcement and is
addressing inequality, upending systemic in aid of their responsibility to save lives,”
racism, replacing militarism with diplo- she explained. Now Mills is running to
Books &
the Arts
macy, and saving the planet from climate replace LePage. If the woman who refused
change—demand more than changing R’s to D’s. So to file his amicus briefs supporting Trump’s immigra- 27 The Blob
here are 10 more vital races (eight candidates and two tion orders is elected, a reactionary governor will be David Klion
referendum fights) that we’re keeping our eyes on for replaced by one who “has made it her mission to stand 31 The Dual Defeat
signs of a progressive wave on November 6. up to those who have tried to exploit Maine people.” Michael Kazin
§ Andrew Gillum, candidate for governor of § David Zuckerman, candidate for Vermont 34 Keep Up
Florida: The 39-year-old Tallahassee mayor up- lieutenant governor: An incumbent backed by the Samantha Schuyler
ended conventional wisdom by running a progressive Vermont Progressive Party (of which he’s a long-
primary campaign that proposed criminal-justice time member) and the Democratic Party, in a state 36 The Reverend Elijah P.
Lovejoy, Editor of the
reform, adoption of gun-safety measures, state-based where votes on separate party lines can be combined, Alton Observer, Dies
Medicare for All health care, and a plan to create Zuckerman is an organic farmer who has a talent at the Hands of a Pro-
jobs and address climate change by making Florida for getting urban and rural voters together in sup- Slavery Mob, Alton,
the country’s “solar capital.” Polls said he didn’t have port of progressive initiatives: legalizing marijuana, Illinois (1837) (poem)
a chance, but with a big boost from Bernie Sanders, labeling genetically modified food, defending net Melissa Range
people of color, and young supporters, Gillum beat neutrality, raising wages, and welcoming refugees.
his better-funded primary rivals. Now he faces the Using the bully pulpit that comes with a statewide
VOLUME 307, NUMBER 12,
noxious, Trump-quoting Republican Ron DeSantis, office, Zuckerman has taken bold stands—and voters
November 12, 2018
who’s been criticized for mounting a racist campaign respect him for it. In 2016, when Democrats lost the
The digital version of this issue is
against the man who would be Florida’s first African- governorship, Zuckerman beat a Republican legisla- available to all subscribers October 18 at
American governor. If Gillum’s progressive project tor by more than 20,000 votes. This year, he faces TheNation.com.
4 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

BY THE the Republican minority leader of Vermont’s House in an addiction, Hayes says she was “cast aside.” Yet she worked
NUMBERS
intense race. But Zuckerman’s running as he always has: nights, attended community college, and earned an educa-
as an independent progressive who Bill McKibben says tion degree. Her remarkable ability to connect with stu-
exemplifies “what’s very best about citizen politics.” dents in her history classes earned her the 2016 National
§ Dana Nessel, candidate for Michigan attorney gen- Teacher of the Year Award. Nonetheless, when she an-
eral: “The AG’s job is to protect Michigan citizens against nounced her candidacy this year, Hayes recalls that “people
the individuals and corporations that would do them harm, told us we had no chance and no business trying to upset the
not the other way around,” says Nessel, who has mounted status quo.” On August 14, she proved them wrong, beating
an unapologetically progressive campaign to take charge a candidate backed by party leaders in the primary. Running
of one of the most powerful law-enforcement posts in the for an open seat in a district that leans Democratic, this
country. With experience as a prosecutor, civil-rights at- committed union activist and progressive advocate now
torney, and head of the LGBTQ-rights group Fair Michi- has a good chance of becoming the first African-American
94%
Percentage of
gan, Nessel promises to “aggressively prosecute hate congresswoman to represent a New England state. Hayes
crimes and all cases of discrimination, protect says she comes from a place “where people
young people women’s rights to access health care, and “People told are strong, but they aren’t supposed to run for
in China, ages defend immigrants from federal overreach.” Congress.” But she’s changing that calculus
12–15, who She’s ready to “demand justice for Flint” and us we had no because she knows that “if Congress starts to
are optimistic
about their
fight pipelines that threaten the Great Lakes; chance and look like us, no one can stop us.”
defend workers and labor unions; and “work § Kara Eastman, candidate for Nebraska’s
country’s future,
in concert with AGs around the country to
no business Second Congressional District: When Pro-
the highest of
the 15 nations push back against many of the worst policies trying to gressive Caucus co-chair Mark Pocan made an
recently sur-
veyed by Ipsos
from the Trump administration and their al- upset the Omaha stop on her behalf, Eastman told him,
lies in Congress.” “I can’t wait to join you in the Progressive Cau-
§ Ricardo Lara, candidate for Califor- status quo.”
50%
Percentage of
nia insurance commissioner: Big states like
cus.” While many candidates in swing districts
mount insipidly cautious campaigns, Eastman
California can lead the nation in developing single-payer is running as a true progressive. A social worker who has
young people in health-care models, just as Saskatchewan did in Canada. made Medicare for All central to her bid, she declares in
France who are State Senator Ricardo Lara knows this; he led the fight ads that “I won’t take a penny from insurance companies.”
optimistic about
their country’s for the Healthy California Act, one of the most innova- Eastman’s also ready to take on Trump. “Here’s the truth:
future, the low- tive single-payer proposals in the country. As insurance This Republican Congress and the Trump administra-
est in the survey commissioner, he’d be uniquely positioned to implement tion are united in cutting funding for Social Security and
desperately needed reforms—a fact the California Nurses Medicare,” she bluntly declares. “Democrats want to not
63%
Percentage of
Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee has just protect those benefits, but expand them. The rest is
emphasized in its advocacy for his bid. Lara’s also a de- just noise.”
young people fender of immigrants, an ally of unions, and a fighter for § North Dakota Measure 3, the Marijuana Legal-
in Saudi Arabia LGBTQ rights who would serve as a national champion ization and Automatic Expungement Initiative: Willie
who say their for economic, social, and racial justice. Nelson’s Texas has not legalized marijuana, and neither has
political leaders § Ammar Campa-Najjar, candidate for California’s Andrew Cuomo’s New York, but North Dakota might just
care about them,
the highest in 50th Congressional District: “Country Over Party” is the do so on November 6, when jurisdictions across the coun-
the survey central message of Campa-Najjar’s campaign, which offers try vote on legalization. The state voted by an almost 2–1
a progressive alternative to the low-road politics of Rep- margin to legalize medical marijuana in 2016, and now it’s
16%
Percentage of
resentative Duncan Hunter, one of Trump’s closest allies. entertaining a sweeping proposal that would permit people
Running in a San Diego–area district gerrymandered to 21 and older to possess, use, buy, sell, or grow marijuana for
favor Republicans, the Democrat is asking voters to turn recreational purposes. “If it’s marijuana, it’s legal,” explains
young people
in Brazil who out an incumbent who was recently indicted on charges of the advocacy group Legalize North Dakota. In addition,
say their politi- diverting a quarter-million dollars in campaign funds to the measure proposes a process to automatically expunge
cal leaders care cover personal expenses. Hunter’s running a vile campaign the records of North Dakotans with marijuana convictions.
about them— to save his seat, with ads claiming that Campa-Najjar, a That’s legalization and criminal-justice reform all at once.
tied with France
for the lowest 29-year-old Palestinian-Mexican American, is engaged § California Proposition 10, the Local Rent Control
in the survey in a “well-orchestrated plan” to “infiltrate Congress” and Initiative: Access to affordable housing has become a front-
poses a “security risk.” The ads fail to mention, of course, burner issue across the country. Candidates like Alexandria
49%
Percentage of
that Campa-Najjar served for four years in the Obama Ocasio-Cortez in New York and Ben Jealous in Maryland
White House and the Department of Labor. Campa- have made housing central to campaigns that address eco-
Najjar is rallying voters to reject “Hunter’s un-American, nomic and racial inequality. Yet even in supposedly liberal
young people
in the United racist attacks.” Democrats have targeted 10 GOP-held states, restrictions still prevent communities from using
States, ages seats in California in their effort to flip the House. By rent-control laws to help working families obtain afford-
12–17, who think electing Campa-Najjar, however, voters can do something able housing and remain in gentrifying neighborhoods.
REUTERS / JORGE SILVA

they can make a more: They can reject the foulest expression of Trumpism. Backed by the Coalition for Affordable Housing, unions,
difference in how
their country is § Jahana Hayes, candidate for Connecticut’s Fifth and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, Proposition 10
governed Congressional District: Raised in a public-housing project would overturn laws that preempt local authority, making
 —Chris Gelardi by her grandmother as her own mom struggled with drug it possible for cities to protect working-class tenants.
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 5

T H E S C O R E / B RY C E C OV E R T + MIKE KO N C Z A L

Banking on Unions

A
s President Trump and his fellow
but the Federal Reserve ignored it because most people in the sector, it’s a blue-collar job.
Republicans roll back banking policy-makers assumed that markets take There’s a level of dignity that should be
regulations, many reformers care of themselves. Unions, however, are self- associated with work. Workers shouldn’t face
are looking for other ways to reinforcing, since they’re guided by workers. injury or death, sexual harassment, or poverty.
build a safer and more account- The second problem is that a top-down And they also shouldn’t be forced to commit
able financial sector. Progressive politicians approach is bad at catching corporate malfea- fraud. Workers should be organized for the
still call for breaking up the biggest banks sance. Even in the wake of the financial crisis, sake of their own agency. But it’s an added
and for similar top-down structural changes. there have been numerous scandals in high- bonus that unionizing the finance industry
But there’s another mechanism for account- end finance, from money laundering to the would also help stabilize the sector itself.
ability that needs to be more widely discussed: manipulation of interest rates. Yet the criminal  Mike Konczal
improving the working conditions of low-level prosecution of corporate offenders has lagged
employees. Why not unionize the financial sec- under both Republican and Democratic admin- Why Unionize
tor as part of a reform agenda? This idea of
“regulation from below”—a strategy coined by
istrations. Though unions wouldn’t necessarily
affect the behavior of executives further up
Bank Workers?
labor activists Stephen Lerner, Rita Berlofa, and the chain, they would provide a safer environ-
1
Molly McGrath—would be an important fix. ment for whistle-blowers and those who want
You can see how bad working conditions to hold their own firms accountable. Even if The financial industry has
lead to bad behavior by looking at what went a new Democratic president appoints regula- a massive number of workers:
wrong at Wells Fargo. The bosses there insisted
that workers meet punishing sales goals. They
tors who take these issues seriously, there’s
only so much they can cover in an industry
8.6 million
That’s 5.7% of all US employment.
demanded that their employees sell custom- this vast. Putting workers into play on the side
ers additional products they didn’t need, like of accountability helps accomplish this goal.
And because the finan-
cial system is so massive,
Workers shouldn’t face injury, sexual unionizing would also 2
improve the lives of mil-
harassment, or poverty. And they also lions of employees. The six
The vast majority are
low-level bank workers who
shouldn’t be forced to commit fraud. largest banks alone have need higher pay:
over 700,000 workers in

car mortgages or home loans. This created an


the United States. That’s
about the same as the total number who work
$13.52 an hour is the median wage
for the 502,700
bank tellers in the US.
environment where workers felt compelled in the country’s mining and resource-extraction
to create fake and unauthorized accounts to industries. It’s also a workforce that isn’t going 3
reach these corporate benchmarks—the kind of anywhere and will only grow as the service
They could be a fraud solution:
abuse that could easily be checked if employees industries, including financial services, become
Organized, empowered workers could help
had a say in their own working conditions. a larger part of the economy. Organizing them regulate the industry from below.
Regulation from below is the perfect comple- will create a middle class for the future.
ment to “regulations from above”—the ones that
address the size of banks, their activities, and
Those at the top of the financial sector
make a lot of money and constitute a dispro-
$12 billion
Amount the Consumer Financial
their balance sheets to keep them from threat- portionate number of the 1 percent. Yet, as in Protection Bureau returned to
29 million defrauded customers
ening the entire economy. Such regulations are most industries, their high wages are built on between 2010 and 2017.
essential, but they present two major problems. the labor of people making far less. This was Wells Fargo
The first is that it’s easy for conservatives seen in 2016, when JPMorgan Chase raised its workers were
pressured into
to simply disregard regulations once they’re minimum wage from $10.15 to between $12 opening
in power. Republicans can look the other way and $16.50 an hour for 18,000 employees—in a 3.5 million
fake accounts.
and appoint regulators who aren’t interested year when the bank’s CEO, Jamie Dimon, made
in doing their jobs. The FBI and others were $28 million. There are half a million bank tellers
aware of the extensive fraud that existed in the country, and their median wage is only Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics; author’s calculations;
Financial Services Committee
in subprime mortgages in the early 2000s, $13.50 an hour. Finance isn’t all billionaires; for 2018 Infographic: Tracy Matsue Loeffelholz
6 The Nation.   November 12, 2018
NAT I O N N E W S

A Zephyr Our Brutal Saudi Ally tervene in US and Middle East diplomacy. Ac-
cording to one of his friends, quoted in Michael
of Change Bin Salman has unleashed his inner psychopath. Wolff’s book Fire and Fury, getting to know the

T
crown prince was like “meeting someone nice at

A
cademic and activist he alleged gruesome murder and your first day of boarding school.”
Zephyr Teachout has dismemberment of dissident jour- The Saudi arms-buying commitments, however,
joined The Nation’s nalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi turned out mainly to consist of relatively mean-
editorial board to advise on is- consulate in Istanbul has thrown a ingless letters of intent signed with major arms
sues close to her work combating huge wrench into the Trump ad- corporations, rather than firm contracts. The Saudi
corruption and crony capitalism. ministration’s Middle East policy. Already, major interest in arms was not, on the other hand, feigned.
Together with her fellow ed- corporate players like JPMorgan Chase, the Black- Some 10 percent of annual US arms exports have
board members (see the mast- stone Group, and Ford have pulled out of a Saudi gone to the kingdom in recent years. The Saudis
head on page 26), she will help economic summit planned for late October, and are fighting a mostly aerial campaign in their di-
advance our mission of providing members of Congress on both sides of the aisle sastrous war against neighboring Yemen, and their
a deeper understanding of the have begun speaking of placing sanctions on the technological edge via purchases of sophisticated
world as it is—and as it could be. Saudi officials they suspect of complicity in the US weaponry is one of the few hopes they have of
“It is an honor to join The Na- murder, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin extricating themselves from a quagmire.
tion’s esteemed editorial board,” Salman. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in Kushner and Trump were not the only ones
Teachout said. “The integrity of
crafting a Saudi-Israeli-US axis against Iran, had taken in by the modernizing rhetoric of the crown
our democratic system is under
persuaded the president to put most of his eggs prince. David Ignatius of The Washington Post has
attack by forces that would un-
in the Saudi basket. The judgment of a long history of coddling Saudi “re-
dermine the rule of law and the
both men, long doubted in many quar- formers,” Mohammed bin Salman in-
sanctity of truth. The Nation’s
ters, has now been thrown into even
Trump and cluded, and New York Times columnist
role trumpeting an equitable and
just society and government is
sharper question. Kushner were Thomas Friedman helped announce
more vital now than ever, and
Turkish authorities say they have not the only the crown prince to the world in a
bone-chilling audio of the killing of fawning interview for which Fried-
I look forward to bringing my
the journalist. Turkish police have also ones taken in man was widely criticized, in that he
robust experience as an activ-
ist and advocate to help advise insisted that the murder was carefully by the crown neglected to mention Saudi Arabia’s
the important work they do.” prepared, saying they have evidence prince’s legions of political prisoners, its flog-
For nearly two decades, that 15 Saudi operatives flew into Is- ging of dissidents, or its war crimes
Teachout has been at the fore- tanbul and then back out on the day rhetoric. in Yemen. Friedman responded to his
front of progressive reform. She Khashoggi disappeared—and that one critics at a Brookings Institution event
literally wrote the book on cor- of those specialists was a medical examiner with by saying that the Middle East is in flames, “and
ruption in America. In the past experience in cutting up bodies. After initially de- so when I see someone who is having the balls to
few years, Teachout has also nying any role in Khashoggi’s murder and insisting take on the religious component of that, to take
injected much-needed debate he had left the consulate—an assertion disproved on the economic component, to take on the politi-
into several New York elections by Turkish surveillance video—Saudi au- cal, with all of his flaws…I wanna stick my head
COMMENT

by giving voice to the progres- thorities may be changing their story, with up and say, ‘God, I hope you succeed.’ And when
sive populist sentiment rumbling sources at press time indicating they may you do that the holy hell comes down on you.
across the state and throughout claim the death was the result of an interro- Well, ‘Fuck that’ is my view, O.K.?” One suspects
the country. (The Nation endorsed gation gone bad. Trump has begun speaking that Friedman might have worn less deeply rose-
Teachout’s campaigns for gover- of “rogue killers,” suggesting that he will colored glasses had bin Salman not signaled a
nor of New York in 2014 and for grasp the lifeline that the crown prince’s willingness to ally with Israel against Iran.
state attorney general in 2018.) aging father, King Salman, is throwing him so as Bin Salman likes to portray himself as a genial
She is also a key architect of two to salvage the administration’s Middle East policy. reformer palling around with Silicon Valley lumi-
ongoing cases against President In his initial reaction to the news of Khashog- naries, but his inner psychopath may have once
Trump for violating the US Con- gi’s alleged murder, Trump underlined that the again revealed itself, as it did when he arbitrarily
stitution’s emoluments clause. business deals he had conducted with Saudi Ara- imprisoned dozens of Saudi princes last year and
bia would take precedence over human-rights extorted their wealth; or when he kidnapped the
concerns. Trump had gone to Riyadh with his sitting prime minister of Lebanon; or when, in
entourage in May 2017, right before bin Salman 2015, he abruptly ordered a massive bombing
sidelined the last of his rivals to become crown campaign on Yemen that continues to this day, with
prince and the power behind his father’s throne. the Saudi-led coalition responsible for most of the
As Kushner worked the phones with Lockheed civilian casualties in that country’s civil war, accord-
Martin, Trump announced $110 billion in new ing to the United Nations.
Saudi commitments to US arms purchases and, US sanctions on Saudi Arabia and a cooling of
beyond that, billions of dollars of investment in relations between the two countries would derail
AP/ SETH WENIG

the United States. Kushner is alleged to have the attempt by the neoconservatives around Trump
gushed over bin Salman, after having received to solidify an odd-couple alliance against Iran be-
a chilly reception in his earlier attempts to in- tween Israel and the kingdom. Saudi Arabia has
8 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

already failed to gain key allies among the Gulf Coopera- late the War Powers Resolution. Neither the Obama nor
tion Council states in this drive against Iran, with Kuwait, the Trump administration sought congressional approval
Oman, and Qatar having made it clear that they are not on for going to war in Yemen alongside regional partners.
board. A Saudi Arabia under US sanctions would have even If, as seems likely, Crown Prince Mohammed bin
Troubled about less credibility in marshaling its partners for the effort. Salman ordered Khashoggi’s death, he has raised the
A bipartisan group of 11 Republican and 11 Demo- specter of a new Moammar El-Gadhafi in the Middle
Khashoggi’s
cratic senators, including most members of the Sen- East—brutal, without conscience, unpredictable, and
disappearance, ate Foreign Relations Committee, sent Trump a letter reckless. Only this time, the strongman psychopath isn’t
Congress is also urging the administration to consider imposing Global the shunned leader of a small state, but one who presides
increasingly Magnitsky Act sanctions on Saudi officials in response over a country of some 28 million, among them millions
impatient with to Khashoggi’s murder. That may not be likely in a of guest workers, with an annual gross domestic product
US backing for GOP-controlled Congress, but if the Democrats take of $684 billion. Trump seems eager to sweep this menace
the House in November, they might be in a position to under the carpet in order to keep intact his campaign talk-
Saudi Arabia’s lead a charge against Trump’s Saudi alliance, and if they ing points about attracting lucrative Saudi investments.
war on Yemen. could get enough buy-in from Republicans dismayed at Congress, notoriously skittish about getting involved in
the Saudis’ behavior, they might even be able to overrule foreign affairs, may be the only institution willing and
a presidential veto. able to take a stand against a US partner who seems more
Congress is also increasingly impatient with US back- serial killer than modernizer.  JUAN COLE
ing for the Saudi war on Yemen. California Democrat Ro
Khanna put forward a resolution in late September call- Juan Cole, the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History
ing for an end to US logistical support for the Gulf states at the University of Michigan, is the author, most recently, of
attacking Yemen, on the grounds that these activities vio- Muhammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires.

COMIX NATION JEN SORENSEN


10 The Nation.   November 12, 2018
VOT E R S U P P R E S S I O N

Blocking the Eric Alterman


Native Ballot

T Where the Power Lies


he Supreme Court
upheld a law on Octo-
ber 9 that effectively
disenfranchises thousands of Why do the media keep parroting Trump’s falsehoods?
Native American voters in North

T
Dakota. With less than a month
before the midterms, Democratic he Toronto Star’s Daniel Dale has procedure almost everywhere in the mainstream
Senator Heidi Heitkamp is fac-
been tracking Donald Trump’s lies media. Here is a tweet that appeared the same day
ing a tight contest in her run for
reelection, and the Court’s deci-
since Inauguration Day, and in the as the NBC News story from CNN’s Jake Tap-
sion could easily cost her and first week of October, the number per, who retweeted a clip of his colleague Chris-
the Democrats a Senate seat. of falsehoods reached the second- tiane Amanpour and her interview with Hillary
In North Dakota, many Native highest point of his presidency, with 129. But Clinton (“Exclusive: @HillaryClinton says “you
American reservations do not use Dale’s cut-off date meant that he didn’t include cannot be civil with a political party that wants to
street addresses, with residents the October 10 op-ed signed by Trump attack- destroy what you stand for, what you care about”)
typically relying on a post-office ing Democratic proposals for Medicare for all, and highlighted the reaction from top Trump aide
box to receive mail. But after which USA Today, incredibly, agreed to run. The Kellyanne Conway: “@KellyannePolls responds
Heitkamp won a Senate race in Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler, who has also been on Fox: ‘I think her [Hillary Clinton’s] discourse
2012 by fewer than 3,000 votes, tabulating Trump’s lies, concluded that “almost now is dangerous. I don’t like the implications
North Dakota Republicans passed every sentence contained a misleading statement or here…. I don’t like that kind of talk and i avoid it.
a law requiring voters to present a falsehood.” As if he were purposely My boss has called for civility. He says
identification with a residential
trolling the fact-checkers, Trump ac- he represents all Americans.’”
address at the polls—blocking
tually linked to one of Kessler’s items Such nonsense is almost always fol-
many Native Americans, whose
tribal IDs list only the number
that had previously debunked a false lowed up by the minions at Fox News,
for a PO box, from exercis- claim he was now making again. whose job description is apparently to
ing their democratic rights. At first, USA Today’s editors ap- try to flesh out Trump’s lies and come
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, peared pleased with themselves, up with reasons that might make them
joined by Justice Elena Kagan, defending the op-ed’s lies with the true. After Trump said in Topeka,
noted in her dissent that “70,000 argument that they allow “authors Kansas, that “in their quest for power,
North Dakota residents—almost wide leeway to express their opin- the radical Democrats have turned into
20% of the turnout in a regular ions.” Two days later, however, they an angry mob,” conservative commen-
quadrennial election—lack a made a mockery of their own excuse by publishing tator Tomi Lahren appeared on Fox & Friends
qualifying ID.” The American Civil Factcheck.org’s assessment, which systematically to explain that “anyone who sits right of center,
Liberties Union, the Native Ameri- demolished every substantive claim that Trump anyone who’s a Trump
can Rights Fund, and the Stand- made. These were not “opinions”; they were supporter, we’re all
ing Rock Sioux Tribe have all
falsehoods. And as is the case so frequently with targets” of public ha-
denounced the Court’s decision.
Trump, if he was not aware that he was lying, then rassment from the left.
The publishing
Standing Rock Sioux tribal
chairman Mike Faith said the law
he should be immediately removed from office for Sebastian Gorka, an of obvious,
is clearly discriminatory: “Na- being bonkers. apparent fascist sympa- destructive lies
tive Americans can live on the Thing is, Trump may indeed be nuts; but his thizer who was shown
reservation without an address. constant lying is perhaps the least nutty thing the door at the White by Trump and
They’re living in accordance with about him. His relentless dishonesty works. Yes, House, added on the his courtiers is
the law and treaties, but now all the Post and the Star track his “falsehoods.” (So far, same segment that
of a sudden they can’t vote…. Our Kessler has called only one of them a “lie.”) The Democrats have “nor- standard operating
voices should be heard and they New York Times uses the word “lie” every once in a malized violence in procedure almost
should be heard fairly at the polls while. And, of course, Twitter fulminates. But the America.” Fox’s Tuck-
TOP RIGHT: ANDY FRIEDMAN; LEFT: REUTERS / STEPHANIE KEITH

just like all other Americans.” mainstream media almost always pass along his lies er Carlson took this everywhere.
 —Maia Hibbett without prejudice. The same day as the USA Today claim all the way into
op-ed, NBC News ran a story with the headline KKK territory when he warned his viewers during
“Trump accuses Hillary Clinton of colluding with the Kavanaugh hearings that liberals were bent on
Russia as crowd chants ‘lock her up.’” Once again, “genocide” of white men. Remember, these people
everyone working at NBC News must have real- are speaking in the service of a president who called
ized this accusation was a lie. But Trump clearly the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people”
understands what he can get away with and—as and offered to pay the legal costs of supporters who
ridiculous as this “I’m rubber, you’re glue” con- beat up protesters at his rallies.
tention is—what works. And again, the day after it allowed Trump to
The publishing of obvious, destructive lies by lie on its op-ed page, USA Today happily passed
Trump and his courtiers is standard operating along another Trump whopper. This one ended
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 11

up in the headline—“‘I’ve lost billions of dollars’ since Holocaust survivor. True, except for Fox, these outlets can
becoming president, Trump says”—and was lifted from usually point to a place in their stories where they question
a Fox & Friends transcript, thereby completing the circle some of the more outlandish claims by Trump or one of his
of lies that begins with Trump, continues through Fox lackeys. But thanks to social media and aggregating sites,
News, and ends up in the mainstream media, with little or most people encounter only the headlines. Cable-news Newsweek is
no pushback. chyrons likely work the same way, as who can stand to helping Giuliani
Meanwhile, Trump and company are so devoted to listen to all that prattle with the sound on? and the rest of
peace and civility that the president’s lawyer and frequent Any representative or supporter of Trump who ap-
spokesman, Rudy Giuliani, is purposefully trafficking in pears on television is almost certainly lying. After all, a the Trump team
anti-Semitic tropes—of the kind that have traditionally president who can somehow rattle off 125 “false or mis- spread a
inspired murderous pogroms—in order to attack George leading statements” in about 120 minutes (according to Hitler-style
Soros. I know this because the same day I saw the USA Kessler’s count of one of Trump’s particularly prodigious “big lie” about
Today headline, I also saw this headline in Newsweek: “Rudy days in September) can only be defended with more lies. a Holocaust
Giuliani Spreads Message That ‘Anti-Christ’ George Can democracy survive this? We shall see. Just don’t
survivor.
Soros Is Behind Kavanaugh Protests.” expect the men and women of the media to save us. Their
Here, again, Newsweek is helping Giuliani and the rest job, as they define it, is to be lied to and then to repeat
of the Trump team spread a Hitler-style “big lie” about a those lies in quotation marks.  n

Deadline Poet DONALD ❤ KIM


Calvin Trillin

SNAPSHOT / JON NAZCA


Trump now says he’s in love with Kim Jong-un.
Uncertain Fate In that seduction, Kim Jong-un was speedy.
Migrants wait to disembark from the Caliope rescue boat
at the port of Málaga in southern Spain on October 12, Some ego-stroking letters did the trick.
after their vessel was intercepted in the Mediterranean
Sea. Spain now receives twice as many migrants as It’s really simple when a man’s that needy.
Greece and six times as many as Italy.
REUTERS
The Nation.
The Nation.   November 12, 2018

NEW
GEORGIA
RISING?
If Stacey Abrams
can overcome
voter suppression
and apathy, she’ll
make history.
JOAN WALSH
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 13

A s she campaigns across all of georgia’s 159 counties—from fulton to brantley, gwinnett to chatham, glynn
to DeKalb—Democrat Stacey Abrams’s pitch comes down to this: I’m one of you. “I’m not running to be governor of
Atlanta; I’m running to be governor of Georgia” is one way she often puts it.
If elected, Abrams would become the state’s first black and first female governor, so it’s understandable that her
political gamble has a personal edge to it. Can she take the details of her impressive biography—devoted daughter of
two ministers who were “genteel poor”; loving sister of five siblings; doting auntie; graduate of Spelman College, the
University of Texas, and Yale Law School; small-business owner; tax attorney; the first woman leader in either house of
the State Legislature; award-winning romance novelist (yes, you read that right)—and find something in it, at every stop, to reach a differ-
ent group of voters? And will this be enough to bridge Georgia’s deep fissures of race, gender, and culture?
“Well, she’s gonna have a tough time, being black,” a white suburban retiree tells me flatly as we sit down for lunch at Savannah’s historic
Olde Pink House restaurant. His candor about race, which I appreciate, isn’t the only thing that surprises me. David (a pseudonym) is a
lifelong conservative and Trump voter who nonetheless plans to vote for Abrams. He thinks her Republican opponent, Georgia Secretary of
State Brian Kemp, is “an idiot.” Trump’s administration has turned out “worse than I even imagined,” he confesses. And in an age when we
suffer at least 10 school shootings a year, “I’m sick of the NRA,” he tells me, even though he’s a gun owner and former member.
“I’m an angry Republican, and I’m trying to give my
party a kick,” he declares. Even though David doesn’t it’s malpractice.” Abrams has since renewed her call for
want me to use his real name, he says he’s extremely vocal Kemp to step down as secretary of state, a demand he has
about his plans to vote for Abrams when talking to fel- repeatedly rebuffed.
low Republicans in his affluent white retiree community.
“I’m an But in a race in which the polls have the two candi-
“And, honestly, I don’t get a lot of pushback,” he adds. angry dates essentially tied, Abrams also needs to pick up some
Years before she decided to run for governor, Abrams Republican, “white persuadables,” by and large suburban indepen-
had famously banked on an unprecedented surge of black dents turned off by Trump and Republican extremism.
voters, along with other nonwhite voters and progressive
and I’m Drawing the far-right Kemp as her opponent—he fin-
whites, to win state elections. In 2013, she began the New trying to ished second in the GOP primary to Lieutenant Gover-
Georgia Project, a voter-registration-and-mobilization give my nor Casey Cagle, but triumphed in a runoff after Trump
group focused on Georgians of color. Her overwhelm- endorsed him—has given Abrams an opening, especially
ing victory in the Democratic primary this past May—she party a with the business community, which had enthusiastically
won 76 percent of the vote, including the majority of the kick.” backed Cagle. “The state Chamber [of Commerce] is
white vote, against a formidable white opponent, turn- —“David,” freaking out,” one campaign official told me midsum-
ing out 200,000 more Democrats than had voted in the a conservative white mer, with some glee.
2014 primary and 43 percent more black voters than had Georgian who is now The bad news is there may not be that many white per-
backing Abrams
voted in the 2010 primary—was a powerful demonstra- suadables left. Only 6 percent of the electorate is undecid-
tion of this strategy. Now, in campaign speak, she needs to ed, according to the most recent polling, and Trump won
mobilize “low-propensity” black voters, who sometimes 75 percent of the state’s white voters in 2016. The good
vote for president but rarely turn out for the midterms. Avictory:commanding
Abrams won
news is that a white retiree like David, who by no means
Campaign officials are cautiously optimistic: According 76 percent of the vote fits the definition of a “white persuadable,” is against all
to GeorgiaVotes.com, 42 percent of the early voting has in the Democratic odds in Abrams’s corner. He’s a bonus vote, and if she gets
been done by African-American voters, who make up 30 primary in May. a lot of bonus votes, Abrams will be the next governor.
percent of registered voters, a surge that Georgia hasn’t
seen since Barack Obama’s election in 2008.
Unfortunately, Abrams’s opponent is, as secretary of
state, also the man in charge of overseeing the mechan-
ics of voting. A recent investigation by the Associated
Press found that Kemp has held up 53,000 new voter-
registration forms. Seventy percent of the registrants in-
volved are black, but Kemp—who has long tangled with
the New Georgia Project—says that this racial disparity
is the group’s fault for submitting inaccurate or incom-
plete paperwork. The New Georgia Project rejects this
RIGHT: AP PHOTO / JOHN BAZEMORE

assertion, and lawyers are trying to force Kemp to pro-


cess the forms. “As he has done for years, Brian Kemp
is maliciously wielding the power of his office to sup-
press the vote for political gain and silence the voices
of thousands of eligible voters—the majority of them
people of color,” says Abigail Collazo, spokeswoman
for the Abrams campaign. “This isn’t incompetence;
14 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

G
eorgia democrats have a 200,000-vote problem. that’s rough- they did elsewhere in the country, while women of color
ly the margin by which the party’s statewide standard-bearers have were the party’s solid-blue wall. Abrams and her campaign
lost recent elections, whether they were scions of old-time native pols, aren’t necessarily expecting to change that dynamic in one
like Michelle Nunn or Jason Carter in 2014, or presidential nomi- election cycle, but like Democrats nationwide, they are
nees like Hillary Clinton in 2016. Over 550,000 people voted in the hoping to ride a wave of women activists and first-time
Democratic primary in May, just shy of the 608,000 who voted in the six-way candidates who have been galvanized by Trump’s election.
GOP primary, so making up that margin is not impossible. “We have over 15 The confirmation of accused sexual assaulter Brett Ka-
field offices and 150 staffers” in both red and blue counties, says state party chair vanaugh to the Supreme Court only adds fuel to this fire.
DuBose Porter, including in places where nobody’s laid eyes on a Democratic During the nomination fight, Lucy McBath, a candidate
staffer in years. “It’s the biggest field operation the party has ever seen.” for Congress in Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District,
The Abrams campaign has also been bolstered by visits from high-profile told me on the trail, “That’s the reason more women
Democrats, a rarity in a state long written off as solidly red. Former vice president have to run. We’re not just numbers and statistics—we’ve
Joe Biden and Senators Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Cory Booker have lived these experiences.” But the effort to mobilize the
all showed up to campaign for her; one writer dubbed this parade of potential state’s women voters long predates the Kavanaugh fight.
presidential candidates “the Stacey Abrams primary.” For better or worse, this “Georgia women have been organizing for a while,” for-
is a nationalized race, much like the gubernatorial contest in Florida, where An- mer Savannah mayor Otis Johnson tells me. “During my
drew Gillum could become the state’s first black governor if campaigns, the people who I could always depend on were
he defeats the Trump-worshipping Ron DeSantis. (Gillum women. The difference this year is that they’re running.”
currently has a small lead.) Meanwhile, in Maryland, anoth- And boy, are they running! As I travel with Abrams
er African-American candidate for governor, Ben Jealous, from rural Nahunta to metro Atlanta and places in be-
trails far behind GOP incumbent Larry Hogan. The news is tween, I meet astonishing women, many of them black,
better in the race for a US Senate seat in Mississippi, where who have moved from being organizers to candidates
the black Democratic candidate, Mike Espy, is given a good “It was themselves. “Yes, ma’am, I plan to be the first,” Nahunta
chance of making it into a late-November runoff. part of my mayoral candidate Barbara Mayfield tells me. “First black,
Abrams and her campaign strongly dislike the no- first female!” a friend adds, making sure I get it. “After the
tion that her race is somehow a rematch of Clinton ver-
mission to Women’s March, we were telling women to step up, and I
sus Trump. And they positively hate the idea, peddled by build the said, ‘OK, I gotta step up!’” says Julie Jordan, a registrar
The New York Times in July, that the two parties’ extremist capacity of in suburban Brunswick who’s running for the Georgia
wings are squaring off in the Peach State. The Abrams- House of Representatives. In suburban Marietta, north
Kemp battle, the Times wrote, “has come to mirror the
new voices of Atlanta, I followed Essence Johnson, who was an In-
disorienting polarization of the Trump era and expose the to enter the divisible activist when she knocked on doors for Jon Os-
consequences of a primary system that increasingly re- political soff in 2017. He narrowly lost that special congressional
wards those who appeal to the fringes.” election. But now Johnson is knocking doors for her own
That equivalency, of course, would require Abrams arena.” campaign, also for a State House seat. Abrams is counting
—  Stacey Abrams
to be as far to the left as Kemp is to the right, which on these women to lift her, and they’re counting on her to
is patently absurd. She supports the expansion of Med- lift them. If they succeed, the future will finally overtake
icaid, which is backed by 73 percent of Georgians (in- the past here in Georgia on November 6.

B
cluding a majority of Republicans); he favors a wildly
unpopular religious-freedom restoration act that would ut abrams is not merely the lucky benefi-
allow discrimination against LGBTQ citizens. She has ciary of this unprecedented surge in women’s
worked successfully with Republican Governor Nathan Jobs for Georgia: political participation. In Georgia, she’s one of
Deal on criminal-justice reform, education, and tax bills; Abrams campaigning
in Hinesville in July
its original and prime sponsors. “She’s been at
Kemp, who calls himself a “politically incorrect conser- on a green-jobs the center of it for a long time,” Johnson tells me.
vative,” has slavishly embraced Trump and promised to agenda. When Abrams became Democratic leader of the State
“round up criminal illegals” in Legislature in 2010, Republicans
his pickup truck. held all statewide offices and were
And yet at least part of the on the verge of attaining a legis-
media narrative fits. Like the lative supermajority that would
2016 election, the Georgia con- prevent any checks on their
test is being played out against plans to curtail women’s rights,
the backdrop of racial transfor- labor rights, or voting rights. So
mation and white backlash. In Abrams began working around
1990, the state was over 70 per- the state to groom a new genera-
cent white, but today only 54 tion of Democrats, many of them
percent of registered voters iden- black women. “It was part of my
AP PHOTO / STEPHEN B. MORTON

tify as white, and within less than mission to build the capacity of
a generation, the state is pro- new voices to enter the political
jected to be majority-minority. arena,” she tells me. “I had a very
And then there’s the live wire of intentional focus on women and
gender. White women in Geor- people of color.” This behind-
gia backed Trump in 2016, as the-scenes recruitment, many
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 15

Democratic activists believe, was


part of the reason she enjoyed that
lopsided primary victory, despite op-
position from some white Democrats
who didn’t believe that Georgia was
ready for a black, female governor.
“They had no idea of the reach and
the groundwork Stacey had put in,”
DuBose Porter says.
Sitting down with Abrams in
her bare campaign office, her desk
adorned with a Post-it note remind-
ing her to eat, I am struck by her ap-
parent calm in the eye of the storm.
She is warm, greeting me with a hug.
We met four years ago, when Em-
ily’s List named her a “rising star,”
but she’s nonetheless cautious, speaking slowly and in full A mother of the But Stacey didn’t seek our endorsement, and we didn’t en-
paragraphs. movement: Lucy dorse her. If she was a socialist,” he adds, “we’d endorse
Abrams takes nothing for granted, believing the race is McBath, who became her. But she’s not.” Even so, Prescott and Corkill describe
a gun-control activist
essentially tied despite internal polling showing her ahead. after her son was themselves as hard-core Abrams supporters.
When I tell her that I’m surprised to have met white killed in 2012, is Later, when I ask Abrams about Kemp’s red-baiting,
suburban ladies and Republican men who support her, running for Congress. she takes it in stride, while welcoming voters to her left.
Abrams replies that she isn’t. “Part of my approach to “They support me; so do labor unions. So do some mod-
this campaign is to build on the work I’ve done the last erate Republicans. People of all stripes stand with me.
decade, and I’m constantly engaging with communities The common trope to beating a candidate with my back-
that are not seen as natural supporters of mine…. It’s why ground is to try to vilify her. If you look at my record, I’m
I won so many counties in the primary; I won every major absolutely a progressive, but I’m a pragmatist who is able
demographic,” she reminds me with pride. to get things done.”
What about my white progressive sisters, I ask: Are This corner of the Sixth District, in DeKalb County,
they finally starting to see the light and get behind the is diverse and heavily Democratic. In the opposite corner,
campaigns of black women? Abrams smiles and says, Essence Johnson, the black Indivisible activist now cam-
“There are anecdotal moments where women tell me they paigning for a seat in the Georgia House, is walking the
are surprised they’re supporting me. But I’m not surprised. “We’re all rolling hills and steep driveways of Eastern Cobb County.
The scenario for me for victory has always been multiple It’s a much less diverse area (75 percent white and only
communities to engage and step up. And they are.” out here 10 percent black), so Johnson likes to team up and knock
Indeed, in the epicenter of white-lady wokeness— trying to on doors with white State Senate candidate Christine
Georgia’s Sixth Congressional District in suburban At- Triebsch, most of whose district she shares.
lanta—the energy is behind African-American gun-sense
help each At every door, the two women leave their own litera-
activist Lucy McBath. The Moms Demand Action orga- other. That’s ture, as well as a Democratic-candidate card with Abrams
nizer is one of the Mothers of the Movement, a coalition how women at the top of the ticket. (“Vote down ballot!” it reads.)
of black women who have lost children to police or gun And while they’re hoping to run and win on Abrams’s
violence, many of whom traveled with Clinton in 2016.
do it.” coattails, their hard work in this wealthy suburban district
—  Christine Triebsch,
McBath is challenging freshman GOP Representative Georgia State Senate
also helps Abrams, raising the possibility of a “reverse-
Karen Handel, who beat Jon Ossoff by only four points in candidate coattails” effect in which an unprecedented number of
2017, and the same multiracial, women-led coalition that female candidates, at all levels of the ballot, lifts Abrams
backed Ossoff is supporting her bid. to victory. “We’re all out here trying to help each other,”
One veteran of the Ossoff campaign, Tracy Prescott, Triebsch says. “That’s how women do it.”

I
volunteered to host a canvassing launch for McBath, and
she’s stunned by the turnout: 50 people on a hot Satur- t’s not surprising to find such passion for
day afternoon have shown up to walk the precincts for Abrams among the activists in suburban Atlanta—
McBath and the full slate of Democrats. “I’m just blown but to win the state, she’s got to get votes beyond
away,” Prescott tells me. She and her husband, Jeff Cork- the metro area. In mid-September, I watched
ill, are active in their local Democratic Socialists of Ameri- her address the Georgia Economic Developers
ca chapter—Prescott wears a big red DSA button—as well Association convention in Savannah and saw how she put
AP PHOTO / JAIME HENRY-WHITE

as the Bernie Sanders–inspired Our Revolution, which another aspect of her variegated biography to work. For
endorsed Abrams. In a naked attempt to red-bait his op- a statewide, business-oriented gathering, it was a fairly
ponent, Kemp has claimed that Abrams was also endorsed diverse group. Whether they’re county staffers or local
by the Metro Atlanta DSA chapter. But Corkill tells me businessmen, these folks tend to be the do-gooders in
plainly that that’s not true. “We endorse socialists,” he their communities—but they are not necessarily liberals.
says. “We did encourage our members to participate…. Here Abrams promotes herself as not just the daugh-
16 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

ter of ministers or a pioneering state legislator, but also ised to sign it. One member of the association says that
as a small-business owner—one business failed, another is an overwhelming majority of the group opposes such an
thriving—and a tax attorney. She immediately dives deep act, so Abrams is not taking a particularly brave stand
into the weeds of so-called tax-allocation districts, which here, but she makes the most of the moment. “I’m the
funnel local tax revenue into economic development, and daughter of two ministers. Protecting my faith by dis-
describes one widely hailed project that she worked on in criminating against others is against my faith,” she tells
the Atlanta mayor’s office back when she was deputy city the crowd. She mentions a recent trip to California—
attorney. And in case they worry that she’ll look out only state Republicans had chastised her for this visit to Blue
for Atlanta, Abrams talks about her time in the State Leg- America—and says, “Yes, I met with studio heads. They
islature working with rural colleagues on similar issues, will pull their films [over this]. The mere conversation is
asking: “Why can’t Valdosta get the same tax flexibility toxic.” Later, Kemp would play down his support for the
Atlanta does?” Representatives of rural counties in the act, promising to sign a state bill that simply mirrors the
crowd nod in agreement. “I do not language of the federal version.
Abrams also wows the group with her trademark com- After Abrams’s address, one economic-development
mand of Georgia facts. For example, the state has 64 coun-
remember professional (speaking off the record because his agency
ties without a pediatrician, and almost half of its counties meeting the works closely with the state) says that he was impressed.
have no licensed psychiatrist. There are 5,000 4-year-olds governor. “Abrams was clear and had a plan,” he tells me. “She
on a waiting list for pre-kindergarten, and 140,000 people wasn’t afraid to mention her failures in business as well as
living with Alzheimer’s. Georgia is second only to Florida
I just her successes. The consensus from my group of peers is
in the number of retirees, and second to California in film remember a that Abrams outperformed Kemp.”
production. Abrams also tells virtually every crowd that a man telling From Savannah, I follow Abrams and her campaign to
main provider of mental-health services in Georgia is the Nahunta, in rural, red Brantley County, where members
prison system. She knows this because that’s where her me I don’t of the Little Rock Baptist Church and others in the com-
brother Walter, whom she describes as “brilliant” and a belong.” munity are waiting for her. It will prove to be a milestone
heroin addict, had his bipolar condition diagnosed. —  Stacey Abrams of sorts: As of this afternoon, Abrams will have officially
As she does at every stop, Abrams promises that her visited all 159 of Georgia’s counties. We take the Clar-
top priority will be expanding Medicaid. “Georgia loses ence Thomas Interchange out of Savannah (the Supreme
$8 million a day in federal Medicaid funding,” she tells Court justice was born in nearby Pin Point) and pass a
the room. Someone in the crowd gasps; another whistles Confederate-soldiers park and a towering Confederate
in amazement. The state provides $1.7 billion in uncom- flag near Waynesville. As we approach Nahunta, a smaller
pensated care annually, Abrams adds, usually through Confederate flag waves at us, right next to a Kemp for
emergency-room visits. Her pitch is bipartisan: Demo- Governor sign. A little white church awaited, with about
cratic California Governor Jerry Brown expanded Med- 30 people, mostly older black women, inside. Abrams has
icaid, but so did Vice President Mike Pence in his days as traveled from a crowd of nearly 700 to a smaller gathering
Indiana’s Republican governor. “If Jerry Brown and Mike of 30 because she knows that rural black women, so of-
Pence can agree on anything in politics, then it’s the right Dirty tricks: Brian ten ignored, were a cornerstone of Senator Doug Jones’s
thing to do,” she says to laughs and applause. Kemp (right), seen victory in Alabama last year. Mayoral candidate Barbara
But Abrams’s best moment comes when she’s asked here with Vice Mayfield introduces her as “a child of God,” and Abrams
whether she would veto a state religious-freedom res- President Mike tells the group that her parents sometimes pastored mul-
Pence, has refused to
toration act, which would allow discrimination against process thousands of
tiple small congregations at a time. “So I’m very familiar
LGBTQ people. Governor Deal vetoed it, reacting to new voter-registration with churches like this,” she adds. “You need a governor
outrage from the business community; Kemp has prom- forms. who sees everybody!”
As Abrams drives away to her next event, the church
ladies mill about in the yard outside, looking at the pho-
tos on their phones and savoring the moment. One older
woman grumbles about Abrams arriving a few minutes
late; a younger church member—an avid Abrams volun-
teer—quickly comes over to tell me that her neighbor
doesn’t understand how campaigns work, because “we
don’t get too many candidates coming to see us.”
AP / ATLANTA JOURNAL-CONSTITUTION / STEVE SCHAEFER

In Brunswick, about 45 minutes away, Glynn County


Democratic Party chair Audrey Gibbons knows exactly
how that feels. Democratic candidates rarely visited her
district in the past, but with four days’ notice, Gibbons got
about 250 folks to come out in the 90-degree heat on a
Friday afternoon to hear Abrams and a slate of local can-
didates. Gibbons is ecstatic: “We hit a home run today!”
Women are powering the Democratic revival in Glynn
County, Gibbons continues. The local Women’s Voices
group “started out with six ladies, and now we have 400,”
all of them working on issues of education, criminal jus-
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 17

tice, climate change—and yes, a lot of local campaigns. Many wom- live and work, even though state law already prohibited them from
en in the crowd wear the group’s lavender T-shirts, along with cam- being within 1,000 feet of schools and other places where children
paign buttons for one (or all) of the local Democratic candidates. gather. But I saw the ad a dozen times in my two days in Atlanta.
“When I took over in 2012, we had no more than two Democrats Other campaign materials hit Abrams hard for owing $50,000 in
on the local ballot for five years,” Gibbons tells me. This year, eight back taxes and $170,000 in student-loan and credit-card debt. But
of nine Glynn County ballots have a Democratic challenger, and five Abrams has turned the issue around, explaining that she ran into
of the eight are women. tough financial times taking care of her parents, while making com-
When Abrams comes to the stage, the crowd chants her name, mon cause with the many Georgians who also carry such a burden.
waving blue cardboard fans adorned a picture of with her smiling “Paying the bills for two households has taken its toll,” she wrote in
face. Here, she draws on another tale from her biography: the story an op-ed for Fortune. “Nearly twenty years after graduating, I am
of when she became her high school’s valedictorian. Invited to a re- still paying down student loans, and am on a payment plan to settle
ception at the governor’s mansion in Atlanta, Abrams and her parents my debt to the IRS. I have made money mistakes, but I have never
arrived on a city bus, she recalls softly, only to have a guard at the gate ignored my responsibilities…. I suspect my situation will sound fa-
tell them it was “a private event.” After much haggling, the guard miliar to others who are the first in their families to earn real money.”
found Abrams’s name on his list and let them in. “I do not remember The Kemp campaign has also skirted the edges of race-baiting.
meeting the governor or my fellow valedictorians,” she recalls. “I just A Republican Governors Association ad about Abrams’s tax issues
remember a man telling me I don’t belong. On November 6, I’m featured a giant-size Abrams clutching the State Capitol dome,
gonna open those gates wide so everyone knows they belong.” reminding some of King Kong wrapped around the Empire State

I
Building. When white supremacists who identified as Kemp sup-
n his run against this potentially historic candidate, porters disrupted an Abrams event for female military veterans in
Brian Kemp isn’t trying to wow Georgians with either his Augusta, the Republican refused to explicitly denounce them. Un-
résumé or his big ideas. Instead, he’s trying hard to counter der pressure, Kemp released a bland statement decrying “hatred,
Abrams’s pitch that “I’m one of you.” The tagline for his violence, and bigotry” but made no mention of the incident.
campaign commercials is dire: “Stacey Abrams: Too Extreme In the end, Abrams and her campaign know that her real oppo-
for Georgia.” nent isn’t Kemp—it’s the isolation and alienation of many Georgia
Kemp is also playing dirty, running a scurrilous ad claiming that voters, especially the low-income voters of color she’s bet the race
Abrams supported legislation to let convicted sex offenders live near on. While she’s doing an extraordinary job, it’s still an uphill climb.
schools and even “take pictures of our children.” Local fact-checkers At a campaign office that Abrams visits in Savannah, the mostly
have called it bunk: Abrams voted no on a 2008 bill to create a new black women who turn out to volunteer there are on fire, many put-
set of punitive restrictions on where convicted sex offenders could ting in seven days a week. One of them, Tammy Lawrence, has just

Singular Journeys for Progressives

V IE T NA M : RENAISSANCE AND US CIVIL RIGHTS: ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM


RECONC I LIATION May 5 –12, 2019
November 2–14, 2018
SOUTH KOREA: CULTURE AND POLITICS OF
CUB A: HAVANA T O TR I N I DA D THE PENINSULA
with Peter Kornbluh May 13–24, 2019
November 3–10, 2018
GREECE: ANCIENT WORLD AND CURRENT
I NDI A: E X P LOR I NG T HE WOR L D ’S CHALLENGES
L ARGE ST DE MO CR ACY June 8–16, 2019
February 16 –March 2, 2019
THE CHANGING FACES OF RUSSIA
CUB A: SANTIAGO TO HAVANA September 7–18, 2019
February 23–March 4, 2019
BALKANS MOSAIC: CROATIA, BOSNIA,
COLOMBI A: A COUNTRY ON THE RISE AND MONTENEGRO
March 21–April 1, 2019 September 2019

IRA N: CROSSROADS AND COMPLEXITIES “I loved the bright, endearing presence of kindred
April 4 –16, 2019 spirits to share the experience with! The trip was
amazing in every way!”
CONTEMPORARY AND IMPERIAL MOROCCO
April 2 4 –May 5, 2 01 9 —Mary, Phoenix, AZ (Cuba)

For more information on these and other destinations, go to TheNation.com/TRAVELS,


e-mail travels@thenation.com , or call 212-209-5401.
18 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

returned from registering voters at her grandson’s high-school football game. some of the women (and men) who have been partners
“We’re gonna make her the next governor,” Lawrence says proudly. in Abrams’s project of turning red Georgia blue. In 1990,
But a couple of women admit to me that their day working the phones has Gwinnett County was almost 90 percent white. By 2010, it
drained them. “I made calls today and talked to so many people who tell me had become majority-minority, and today it’s only 39 per-
they don’t vote at all, they’ve never voted—they don’t think it matters,” says cent white. In 2010, a little over 17,000 Democrats voted
Olivia Ray, a retired social worker. “Even with a black woman running, it’s not in the primary—just a quarter of the total vote. This year,
really making a difference to them.” Another female volunteer jumps in. “If more than 40,500 voted—53 percent of the county total—
they’re not woke now, what will wake them?” for the largest Democratic increase in the entire state.
Abrams believes she can do this, despite the obstacles of race, class, gender, Among the people in attendance at the party dinner is
and a pervasive voter alienation that’s part fatalism, part deliberate disenfran- Donna McLeod, who ran for a State House seat in 2016,
chisement. In addition to the 53,000 voters whose registration forms he’s so far lost by 200 votes, and decided to run again in 2018. She
failed to process, Kemp is also being sued for purging almost 700,000 voters, was just endorsed by Barack Obama. “Stacey’s gonna do
many of them minorities, from the rolls in the past two years without notifying this, I promise you,” she tells me. Local congressional
them. Activists are trying to make the list of purged voters candidate Carolyn Bourdeaux, an academic, comes over
public so people can see if they’re on it. The Abrams cam- to talk about the tax bills she worked on with Abrams in
paign is also spearheading an effort to help people make the State Legislature. “She is just the smartest,” Bour-
sure that they’re registered and to get them to vote early deaux kvells. I also meet “two white Stacey stalkers,” as
or use absentee ballots, which provide more security than Susan Clymer, chair of the Gwinnett County Democratic
the state’s traditional paper-free voting system. There’s no “I made Party, describes herself and her close friend Sharon Wood,
doubt that Democrats are concerned about ensuring that an Abrams volunteer. State party chair DuBose Porter is
every vote is counted.
calls today there as well. The former Georgia House leader tells me
Then there’s the ineffable fact that Kemp is a white man and talked that he retired after Republicans took over his state—“I
running in a state that has always been governed by white to so many didn’t switch parties when so many others did, because I
men. At the Savannah economic-development conference, actually believed in my values”—but returned to politics
one attendee told me, “It seemed a little like he was lay- people who when Abrams recruited him to be party chair, “to help get
ing on the Southern accent to prove his conservative street tell me this place back to how it should be.”
cred. I’ve met him a few times, and this thick accent seems they don’t When Abrams walks into the dinner, she’s quickly
new to me, almost like he is trying to ‘out-Bubba’ anyone.” mobbed. She normally wears tailored dresses in solid
There’s always the chance that some of the white men and vote at all, colors, but here she’s wearing a flowing, black-and-white
women who disdain Kemp now will go home to the Re- they’ve dress with wavy lines and bell sleeves. Her demeanor is
publican Party in November, as they did overwhelmingly less buttoned-down, too. She hugs her way up to the po-
for Trump in 2016.
never dium and begins with a story about her parents losing their

A
voted.” Mississippi church during Hurricane Katrina. Expecting
brams knows what she’s up against, but she —  Olivia Ray, to rescue them, she and her sister made a beeline home,
campaign volunteer
trusts her campaign and its plan for victory. only to find them coordinating relief efforts and rescuing
Watching her in large crowds, in small groups, neighbors. They’d lost nearly everything, but they still had
and with her staff, I can see how this quiet something to give.
confidence might strike some as aloofness. “I’m For Abrams, it’s a parable about the condition that she
naturally an introvert,” Abrams confesses. Her whole The Abrams way: found the Democratic Party in at the start of her career:
approach in this campaign—excavating her biography The candidate, flattened by a political hurricane. “We could have cow-
to make the case that “I’m one of you”—doesn’t come at speaking here at a ered in the corner. It could have been the beginning of the
Young Democrats
all naturally, she says. “But being governor is one of the meeting in 2017,
end of the party,” she tells the crowd, to applause. Instead,
most personal jobs you can have. Because, done right, the has long worked to they built the party back up, starting in places like Gwin-
governor of a state helps guide the future of your family: expand the electorate. nett County, which “now looks like America.” People
your access to education, to a job, to talk about a blue wave, she contin-
health care, to housing—all of these ues, but “waves don’t just come up.
things. People should trust who that We’ve been building for that wave
person is.” for a long time. The blue wave is not
Abrams also had to come to grips coming,” she roars, as the crowd gets
with the fact that her leadership style to its feet. “The blue wave is here!”
is very different from that of many Susan Clymer is sobbing. “Sta-
other politicians—most of them cey makes me cry every time,” she
white men, it goes without saying. “I says unapologetically. “She is such
had to learn that my introversion had an authentic person. She’s raised up
to accommodate my job. We often a crop of women, and she’s bringing
REUTERS / CHRIS ALUKA BERRY

learn how to expand who we are in us all along with her.”


order to get good done.” “Don’t get me wrong—it’s gonna
But this introvert comes alive in be a very tight race,” DuBose Porter
a crowd of her people. At the Gwin- tells me later. “But Stacey has the
nett Democratic Party dinner in field operation and the broad appeal
suburban Duluth, I am able to meet to do this.”  n
20 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

DESTINATION, LANC
How a scrappy young group is creating a road map to progressive power in

I
n january 2016, after nearly a decade of traveled for days, and finally rejoined her family and
living in liberal cities on both coasts, Becca friends in so-called fly-over country.
Rast returned home. Intuition told the 28-year- Lancaster is the name of both the county in which Rast
old organizer that it was time to kick-start a and Smucker grew up and the city at its heart. The former
Jimmy Tobias is political renaissance in the small Pennsylvania is a collection of suburbs and agricultural settlements—
a contributor to
city where she grew up. most of them conservative and majority-white. The latter
The Nation,
where he writes “I felt increasingly annoyed at the sentiment is a municipality of 60,000 people, a diverse Democratic
for the “Cities that the place that I was from would always be conserva- hub whose population is nearly 40 percent Latino and 17
Rising” series and tive,” Rast says of Lancaster, her hometown. “I wanted to percent black. In the minds of pundits and pollsters, these
covers conserva- help redefine what politics looked like there.” two worlds are skew lines veering off in radically incom-
tion and environ- So along with her husband, Jonathan Smucker, the patible directions. But Rast and Smucker see kinship and
mental justice. progressive organizer and author, Rast packed her bags, commonality in these divergent spaces. Both have been
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 21

ASTER
n Pennsylvania Trump Country.
by JIMMY TOBIAS
a series

Trump. As Rast and Smucker were settling into their new


life, Trump’s right-wing movement swept through the
Pennsylvania heartland. He won Lancaster County in
both the primary and general election, helping him clinch
the Republican nomination and, later, the presidency.
For Rast and Smucker, the swift rise of Trump’s reac-
tionary politics in their corner of the world was a frighten-
ing but urgent opportunity. They sensed that they were
living in a “populist moment,” one in which a critical num-
ber of Americans no longer trusted key institutions, in-
cluding the federal government, the financial system, and
the mainstream media. Not unlike Trump, they under-
stood that the political establishment was suffering a crisis
of legitimacy, fueled by the lingering political effects of the
2008 recession, the Iraq War, the opioid epidemic, and
other elite-engineered catastrophes. But unlike Trump,
they wanted to use that crisis to organize their community
in the pursuit of egalitarian and progressive ends.
In the days following the election, Rast and Smuck-
er set to work. With a cohort of childhood friends and
neighbors, the pair called an emergency mass meeting in
Lancaster to prevent fear and hatred from taking root in
the community. More than 300 people showed up, eager
to shatter their shared sense of political impotence.
Eliza Booth, a longtime Lancastrian and passionate
Bernie Sanders supporter, was among them. Heartbroken
by Sanders’s loss—and worried for the well-being of her
young son, who was frightened by Trump’s victory—she
was itching to do something to push back against the
president-elect. “I saw a flyer about that first meeting and
was so thankful that there were other people in Lancaster
who felt the same way I did,” Booth says. She helped the
nascent group plan another meeting, and then many more
after that, and quickly became one of its leaders.
Soon enough, Rast, Smucker, Booth, and other
friends formalized their efforts by founding an indepen-
dent political organization called Lancaster Stands Up,
whose mission is to spread the gospel of civic engage-
ment and take back politics from entrenched politicians.
Led by a 12-person multiracial team of volunteers, LSU
started holding monthly mass gatherings in early 2017.
ill-served by the status quo. And while the city, with its “If you It organized rallies against the latest Trump outrages, in-
blue majority, makes for the more logical organizing cluding a 2,000-person demonstration against the presi-
ground, it is just a starting point for Rast and Smucker, a don’t show dent’s Muslim ban, the largest protest in Lancaster in
gateway to the rural America that liberals and leftists have up to decades. It trained its membership in the democratic arts
largely abandoned. organize, of door-knocking, bird-dogging, and story-based persua-
“I am from a working-class, rural, conservative back- sion. It spread a message of anti-elite populism, heavy on
ground, and people like me who get out of these commu- somebody immigrants’ rights, racial justice, anti-monopolism, and
nities tend to not go back,” says Smucker, a 40-year-old else will.” universal health care. And its numbers multiplied.
Mennonite who grew up outside Lancaster and is a veteran —  Jonathan Smucker Since then, Lancaster Stands Up has spawned a slew
of Occupy Wall Street and other social movements. “But if of spin-off groups and related political projects—some
you don’t show up to organize, somebody else will.” of its co-founders have left the LSU leadership team
In 2016, that somebody else was named Donald to run an insurgent congressional campaign that hopes
ILLUSTRATION BY BRETT AFFRUNTI
22 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

to topple local Republican Representative Lloyd Smucker and replace him ment tactics. It was an initial experiment in listening to
with a Sanders-style Democrat named Jess King. LSU members have also one’s neighbors in order to incite political change.
backed a slate of progressive statehouse and school-board candidates and Michelle Hines, an early LSU member and now a
helped infuse a new anti-establishment energy into their local Democratic staffer at the organization, was there that morning. As she
Party. Along the way, they have catalyzed the beginnings of a progressive went door-to-door in downtown Lancaster, she didn’t ask
resurgence in a region long dominated by conservatives. residents whether they were liberal or conservative, left
Their work comes at a time when scores of grassroots movements— or right. Instead, she asked simply: “What do you think
from the Democratic Socialists of America and the American Civil Liberties of the political establishment?”
Union’s People Power to smaller, sui generis efforts—are attempting to figure Almost invariably, the people that Hines approached
out the alchemy that can turn millions of disaffected, depoliticized Americans
were disdainful of the governing elite. “It sucks!” said a
into organizing gold. What sets Lancaster Stands Up apart, in some respects, woman named Judy, who had voted Republican in the
is its leaders’ deep-rootedness in their local community as well as its rigorous
past but sat out the 2016 election. “The rich keep getting
populist political analysis, which dispenses with the insularity and jargon of
richer, and the poor keep getting poorer.”
many left-leaning organizations in order to overcome the This exchange offers a concise glimpse into LSU’s
mythical divisions—urban and rural, right and left—that approach to political change. The group doesn’t focus
define our political landscape. Its organizers want to build solely on liberal voters—although they form the bulk of
real power, and they aren’t afraid to say it—but they know its base—and it doesn’t frame debates along a left/right
they can’t achieve that goal by preaching to the choir. LSU views spectrum, because it doesn’t see “centrism” as some mid-
“Our orientation is toward the people who are in the dle ground where reasonable people meet.
room for the first time,” Jonathan Smucker says. “Once
politics Instead, LSU views politics through a populist lens.
you have the experience of bringing everyday working through a Its organizers say they see the current political crisis as
people into the political process and seeing them realize populist a grand realignment in which ordinary Americans are
their own agency, it becomes the only thing that matters.” wrestling for control of their democracy with a 0.1 per-
Now the challenge is whether this homespun group—
lens. Its cent, whose names—Koch, DeVos, Bezos, Blankfein,
born out of the dreams and frustrations of a commit- organizers Trump—you almost certainly know. It believes that both
ted core of organizers, and stitched together with little see the national parties, Republicans and Democrats alike, have
beyond the bonds of local community—can become an betrayed working people in order to better serve Wall
enduring political force. current Street. It wants to draw Lancastrians into this political

I
political struggle by meeting them where they are.
n the spring of 2017, when the nation first crisis as Much of this vision can be found in Hegemony How-To:
reported on the rise of Lancaster Stands Up, the A Roadmap for Radicals, Jonathan Smucker’s 2017 primer
group had just launched its inaugural canvass, that a grand on how the American left can break free from its clubby in-
mainstay campaign practice of going door-to-door realign- sularity and appeal to a broad popular base. “Our struggle
to talk with people. It was a warm Sunday in April, ahead,” he writes, “is a contest over popular morality and
a morning of rest for many in this region known above all
ment. it is also a contest of political power. For the first part, we
for its Amish farms and Anabaptist churches. LSU volun- have to tell a compelling story; to articulate a broad and in-
teers, however, weren’t taking the day off. They were out clusive we with which many different kinds of people feel a
on the streets and knocking on doors to better understand sense of belonging. For the second part we need leadership
the concerns of their community and hone their recruit- and organization, and the intentional cultivation of both.”
Smucker insists that his book is not a
District by District “field guide” for LSU, but I couldn’t help
hearing echoes of these ideas when I re-
Lancaster County’s 2016 presidential-election results (red and blue) turned to Lancaster for a follow-up visit
this September. During a weekend packed
with door-knocking drives, Smucker and
his organizing colleague Marisol Ocampo
gathered roughly 20 new LSU recruits
into a colorful Lancaster art space for
a two-hour training session they called
“Canvassing in the Populist Moment.”
“What is populism?” Smucker asked
the group, which included elderly white
women, young millennial men, and a
small troupe of organizers who had trav-
eled from Philadelphia.
“Fascism,” said one attendee.
“Opportunists,” said another.
“It’s about the people,” said yet another.
That last answer earned Smucker’s
NICK FIELD

praise. “In its most basic form, [populism]


is the people versus elites, the corrupt es-
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 23

tablishment,” he said. “Bernie did a ver-


sion of this, Trump did a version of this,
Occupy Wall Street did a version of this,
and the Tea Party did a version of this.”
Smucker argued to his audience that
Trump’s type of populism is “reaction-
ary”: It harvests anti-establishment dis-
content by pretending to punch up at a
corrupt elite—“the fake news media,”
“Hollywood liberals”—while actually
punching down at people of color, immi-
grants, Muslims, queer communities, and
other scapegoats. Meanwhile, he contin-
ued, Trump fails to take on the true pow-
er in American society: the ultra-wealthy,
with their yachts, lobbyists, and many
millions in dark-money donations.
LSU, on the other hand, seeks to cre-
ate an “inclusionary populism,” Smucker explained, one Organizing how- the office. A new LSU recruit from a conservative family,
that “punches up at the economic power at the very top to: Members of Gregg stood in the middle of the room getting coached
Lancaster Stands Up
and names the culprits,” including both the Democratic by his colleagues on how to bird-dog, the tactic whereby
gather for a training,
and Republican parties, while also calling out divide- October 2017. people confront their political opponents publicly to ask
and-conquer strategies that use racism, homophobia, tough questions or disrupt business as usual. As his co-
xenophobia, and misogyny as tools to weaken solidarity workers played the role of potentially hostile onlookers,
among ordinary people. For LSU, Smucker concluded, Gregg practiced infiltrating a GOP gathering and press-
“‘we the people’ includes all of us, regardless of race, eth- ing Congressman Smucker about his right-wing stance
nicity, sexual orientation, or country of origin.” on tax reform and poverty. The next day, along with two
An hour later, after the recruits had practiced a script other LSU members, Gregg would put his new skills into
promoting Medicare for All, Smucker and his colleagues action: He approached Smucker at a Republican barbecue
sent them back into the community as newly minted “This is our and interrogated him about his economic policies.
populist campaigners, armed with a compelling story that “I told him that the people in my town are struggling,
pits an expansive “we” against a corrupt and tiny elite.
challenge and their wages have stagnated, and the tax bill that you

A
in the years passed has given massive tax breaks to your donors—the
nd yet a good story only gets you so far. ahead: to Koch brothers—and they are trying to cut Social Security
Winning real political power, Smucker writes in and Medicare,” Gregg says of their encounter. “And that’s
his book, requires building new organizations activate the when he cut me off and said, ‘Ninety percent of people
and recruiting new leaders to fill the void cre- unusual got a tax break from this bill.’ And I said, ‘Well, nobody in
ated by “a decades-long decline in bottom-up suspects. New Holland is seeing it.’”
civic, labor and progressive political infrastructure.” For LSU staffer Hines, meanwhile, one of her proud-
“This,” he argues, “is our challenge in the years ahead: To do so, est moments over the last year of nonstop organizing was
to activate the unusual suspects. To do so, we have to de- we have the rapid-response campaign that she helped lead last
velop leaders. They will emerge through concrete political summer, which successfully blocked a bid by the private-
struggles and campaigns that show everyday people that an
to develop prison company GEO Group to take over a reentry-
organized collective force can win consequential battles.” leaders.” services program for former prison inmates in Lancaster
On the afternoon I arrived in Lancaster, LSU staff and —  Jonathan Smucker, County. “We were able to get the entire community of
Hegemony How-To
members were busy trying to put this philosophy into Lancaster Stands Up, faith communities, and so many
practice. The group’s downtown office buzzed with en- other people to pay attention,” she says. “The [county
ergy as its young leaders prepared for a weekend packed commission] ended up rejecting GEO’s bid. It worked.”

H
with organizing activity.
Julia Berkman-Hill, LSU’s 23-year- ines, gregg, and berk-
TOP: LANCASTER STANDS UP; BOTTOM: MICHELLE JOHNSEN

old field director, was there that day, Onward! Becca man-Hill, along with oth-
sitting at an overstuffed desk arrang- Rast speaks ers like them, have been
at Lancaster
ing canvassing scripts. On that week- the driving force behind
Stands Up’s first
end alone, she coordinated a voter- public meeting, LSU’s rapid growth. Since
registration drive and nine canvassing November 2016. its founding in 2016, the group’s mem-
shifts that hit more than 1,200 doors. bership has ballooned to at least 800
“I have learned more in a year work- people. It has nine full-time staffers,
ing here than I ever did in school,” she including Hines and founding mem-
said. “Don’t tell my parents.” ber Booth, and 11 paid canvassers. It
Zak Gregg, a former cabinetmaker runs multiple door-knocking drives
from nearby New Holland, was also in on a weekly basis to register voters
24 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

and persuade people to support progressive candidates in this election cycle. Mount Joy with King and a team of 15 volunteers. King
Some of its members and allies, including Booth and Rast, have recently was stomping past puddles in shin-high leather boots,
been elected to the Lancaster City Democratic Committee. And it has knocking on the doors of registered Republicans in an ef-
extended its reach far beyond city limits: LSU now has spin-off groups in fort to persuade them to vote for her. She talked about
eight small towns and suburbs around the region, including the Trump- universal health care, her refusal to take corporate PAC
voting communities of Ephrata, New Holland, and Lititz. money, and her desire to ensure debt-free higher educa-
And then there’s the big-ticket item, Jess King’s congressional campaign, tion, and she criticized her opponent for failing to hold
which LSU is backing through its canvassing and voter-registration drives. town-hall meetings with his constituents. But more than
A longtime Lancastrian and early LSU member, King is challenging Lloyd anything else, she was out in the rain, talking patiently
Smucker for his seat in the US House of Representatives, running on an ex- with people, asking them about the issues that mattered
plicitly progressive and populist platform against a man who is a favorite of most in their lives. She was showing up.
the National Rifle Association and has received support from Koch Industries. At one small suburban house, a 41-year-old Republi-
(Lloyd Smucker, as it happens, is also a distant cousin of Jonathan Smucker.) can named Andrew answered the door. King asked him
On a rainy September Sunday in the suburb of Lititz, I his thoughts on politics. He said he was “sick of career
met King in the home of one of her campaign volunteers. politicians.” She responded that she was born and raised
Over coffee and homemade cookies, she told me about in Lancaster, that this was her first run for office, that
the origins of her run for office. Like Smucker, Rast, and she wasn’t taking corporate money, that she would nev-
Booth, she got involved in Lancaster Stands Up during the
“I was er become a lobbyist, and that she wasn’t a millionaire,
uncertain days after Trump clinched the presidency. looking for unlike so many in Congress. Andrew was receptive; he
“After the election, I was really in this process of figur- ways to took her campaign literature, told her he’d share it with
ing out how to get louder in my leadership,” says King, his wife, and wished her luck.
who has had a long career as an executive in nonprofit eco- challenge At another door, a 51-year-old Republican woman
nomic development. “I was looking for ways to challenge the kind dressed in a bathrobe emerged from her home. She
the kind of policies getting passed by both Republican and of policies seemed reluctant to talk at first, but King mentioned a
Democratic politicians—these trickle-down economic pol- friend she knew at the local hospital, where the woman
icies that are about giving passes to the very wealthy at the getting worked, and they soon hit it off. They spoke about the
expense of workers and working families.” She was tired, passed need for more female representation in Congress; by
she says, of putting “Band-Aids on a broken system”—a by both the end of their chat, the woman clapped her hands and
phrase she often deploys in her stump speeches. thanked King for having the courage to run for Congress.
So King sat down with Rast as well as Nick Martin, Republican In both cases, King and her team walked away from the
another co-founder of LSU. She knew Rast and Martin and encounters feeling pretty confident that they’d earned the
from their high-school days, when the two were organiz- support of former GOP voters.
ing local students against the Iraq War and attending a
Democratic This approach—asking questions, listening to people
Mennonite church where King’s husband was a pastor. politicians.” who might disagree with you—seems obvious, but with
The three decided to team up and take the fight to Lloyd —  Jess King notable exceptions, it is not the norm in an era when
Smucker. It was a gutsy move; none of them had ever been congressional campaigns rely on fancy fund-raisers, con-
involved in a congressional campaign before. sultants, and support from die-hard partisans. “The heart
“It was like, ‘If not us, who? And if not now, when?’” of our campaign,” says Rast, who is now King’s campaign
King recalls. “I had these conversations with Nick and King vs. Lloyd: LSU manager, “is the people: What do they care about, why
Becca, and it just became clear that, if I decided to jump wades into the race are they not interested in participating in politics, what
in and do this, then they would have my back—and if for Congress. would make them interested in participating?”
they decided to get my back, I would jump The dynamic is much the same with
in and do this.” the campaign’s field program, a sprawl-
So in June 2017, the Jess King for Con- ing enterprise that Nick Martin oversees.
gress campaign was born. To comply with the A slender 29-year-old with a penchant
law, the campaign severed its ties with LSU. for camouflage caps, Martin skipped col-
Martin and Rast left their leadership roles, lege and instead spent his 20s honing his
and staffers with both organizations say they skills as an organizer in campaigns against
are strict about not coordinating or commu- fracking and mountaintop-removal mining
nicating with members of the other group. in Appalachia, where I first met him. He
Still, the two groups clearly share a popu- was also a local field campaigner for Bernie
list philosophy, as well as a commitment to Sanders’s 2016 primary run.
canvassing, leadership development, and When we meet at campaign headquar-
other grassroots strategies. And so, much ters, Martin tells me, with barely repressed
like LSU, King’s congressional bid has the exuberance, about the scope of the cam-
feel of a bona fide movement. It belongs paign’s fieldwork. From the beginning, he
alongside Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s sur- says, he had an ambitious vision, because
prising insurgency in New York City, or “the only way we can win is if we knock on a
Beto O’Rourke’s sweaty sprint across Texas. ton of doors and make a ton of phone calls.”
I felt this movement vibe as I marched And so King’s team recruited a massive
through the rainy streets of a suburb called network of more than 1,000 volunteers,
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 25

with 20 or more teams running regular canvasses across Running left: King spokesperson called a “baseless and cynical attempt
the district. It also trained 60 interns in the methods of King speaks at the to muddy the waters.”

U
field organizing, fund-raising, and voter persuasion. Alto- “America Is for All
of Us” rally, which
gether, these folks have made more than 400,000 phone also featured Senator ltimately, the civic revival taking place
calls, knocked on tens of thousands of doors, distributed Bernie Sanders, in south-central Pennsylvania is about much
as many as 6,000 yard signs, and organized more than 50 May 5, 2018. more than a single campaign. Even if King
town-hall meetings with the candidate. loses in November, the inclusionary populists
“I have seen campaigns that have a lot of hype online, of Lancaster County have seeded the ground
but when you dig into their ground game, it isn’t there,” with a new generation of smart local organizers who
Martin says. “One thing we were always careful to do understand that democracy is a practice that must be
was spend a lot of time training and supporting, doing pursued constantly and as part of a community.
leadership development and building political analysis “It was “It will take time to rebuild the emaciated progressive in-
among all the staff and all the volunteers. If you don’t this great frastructure we have inherited,” Jonathan Smucker writes in
spend the time, especially in a district like this…then you opportunity his book’s conclusion. “It will take time to build our political
can’t win.” analysis, leadership and on-the-ground skills. But so many
The question, though, is whether the volunteer enthu- for some- of us…are ready to resume the project of building a society
siasm, populist messaging, and robust field campaign will one who that is based on social justice; a society that is for all of us.”
be enough. The district where King is running was scored wanted You can count Ahmed Ahmed among the architects of
R+14, or 14 points more Republican than the national av- that new progressive infrastructure. A 24-year-old who
erage, by The Cook Political Report. Indeed, as of the latest to be an came to Lancaster with his family in the 1990s after po-
poll, published in September, Smucker leads King by nine organizer litical violence forced them to flee their home in Chad,
points, with 21 percent of respondents undecided.
“I think [the King campaign] is very good at organiz-
but thought Ahmed says he has always been interested in politics.
Indeed, he went to Howard University to study it. But
ing, and if a Democrat is going to be competitive in this the door Ahmed was forced to drop out of school for financial rea-
district, she is the one,” says Stephen Medvic, a professor was closed sons a few years ago, and he came back to Lancaster in a
of government at Franklin & Marshall College in Lan- depressed, apolitical state. “I got so disengaged from poli-
caster. “Still, if I had to bet, I would say that they will lose, on them.” tics because I thought I had failed,” he says. “I didn’t even
—  Ahmed Ahmed
because it is such an uphill climb.” vote in the last election.”
Lloyd Smucker isn’t taking his advantages for granted, Then, last summer, he was walking through a street
however. In recent weeks, perhaps sensing the energy be- fair in the city when a volunteer with LSU randomly ap-
hind King, he unveiled a new campaign ad attacking her as proached him, asked him his thoughts on the political
“royally out of touch.” And in a statement to The Nation, process, and invited him to go to the group’s next meeting.
a Smucker spokesperson amplified that critique, writing: “It was the first time a stranger had ever asked me how I felt about poli-
“Jess King moves around the district listening to her sup- tics,” Ahmed recalls. “It was this great opportunity for someone who want-
porters and being propped up by special interests while ed to be an organizer but thought the door was closed on them. I thought,
Congressman Smucker delivers results to those he serves.” like, you needed a PhD in public policy to have a say or be involved in the
The state GOP, meanwhile, has recently filed a pair political process.”
of campaign-finance complaints against both LSU and And so Ahmed started organizing with LSU, registering students to vote
the King campaign, using the close personal ties between and knocking on doors when he wasn’t working his day job at Lancaster’s Mar-
the two camps as fodder. The first complaint alleges that riott Hotel. A few weeks ago, he took a part-time gig as a canvasser with LSU,
LSU failed to report its independent expenditures on and on the afternoon we spoke, he was preparing to head out into the rain for
behalf of King. Shortly thereafter, LSU amended two an eight-hour shift. He does it, he says, because he wants to build lasting inde-
MICHELLE JOHNSEN

of its Federal Election Commission filings to more fully pendent political power in the place where he was raised. He does it because
detail its spending. The second complaint alleges that his neighbors deserve better than the parties and politicians currently in power.
LSU and the King campaign have engaged in “inten- “This is my way of repaying the place that took me and my family in as po-
tional coordination” with one another, a claim that a litical refugees,” he says. “I owe this city a lot, and now I can give back.”  n
26 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

The Nation.
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RTER
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economic, and civic needs of
22]: Barry Yeoman provides a ASSISTANT COPY EDITORS: Lisa Vandepaer, Haesun Kim
that time. Unfortunately, we
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poration and what’s at stake for Age. The social, economic, and Hibbett, Nawal Arjini, Sabine Formanek (Design), Emmeline Clein (Business)
small communities around the civic requirements of our citizens WASHINGTON EDITOR: George Zornick (on leave); ASSOCIATE EDITOR: Zoë Carpenter
globe. If big money is allowed are vastly different from those NATIONAL AFFAIRS CORRESPONDENTS: William Greider, John Nichols, Joan Walsh
to run roughshod over people of our great-grandparents. The INVESTIGATIVE EDITOR AT LARGE: Mark Hertsgaard
and the environment without state demands much more of us EDITORS AT LARGE: D.D. ­Guttenplan, Chris Hayes
ever taking responsibility for the and our time, as do employers, COLUMNISTS: Eric Alterman, Laila Lalami, Katha Pollitt, Patricia J. W
­ illiams, Kai Wright,
results of their actions, we will leaving us short-changed on the Gary Younge
all pay a high price as we watch amount of time available to raise DEPARTMENTS: Architecture, Michael Sorkin; Art, Barry Schwabsky; Civil Rights, Rev. Dr.
our environment and food sup- children, understand and address William J. Barber II, Defense, Michael T. Klare; Environment, Mark Hertsgaard; Films,
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world. Our leaders must act to Stephanie Burt, Carmen Giménez Smith; Sex, JoAnn Wypijewski; Sports, Dave Zirin;
and nation, get enough sleep,
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bridle the world finance system, and just enjoy life. CONTRIBUTING EDITORS: Robert L. Borosage, Stephen F. Cohen, Marc Cooper, Mike
which seems to operate without What is required is an ac- Davis, Slavenka Drakulic, Bob Dreyfuss, Susan Faludi, Thomas Ferguson, Melissa
legal, moral, or ethical con- knowledgment that the full-time Harris-Perry, Doug Henwood, Max Holland, Naomi Klein, Sarah Leonard, Michael
straints. What is happening to workweek needs to shrink. We Moore, Christian Parenti, Eyal Press, Joel Rogers, Karen Rothmyer, Robert Scheer,
this Indian community will one need a new labor law setting the Herman Schwartz, Bruce Shapiro, Edward Sorel, Jessica Valenti, Jon Wiener, Amy
day happen here if our courts full-time workweek at 30 hours, Wilentz, Art Winslow
do not rule for the welfare of all. with overtime after that, and re- CONTRIBUTING WRITERS: James Carden, Michelle Chen, Bryce Covert, Liza Featherstone,
Laura Flanders, Julianne Hing, Joshua Holland, Greg Kaufmann, Richard Kreitner,
 Dennis Hohman quiring employers to pay a living
Dani McClain, Collier Meyerson, Scott Sherman, Mychal Denzel Smith
wage based on this new frame-
A Radical Cure work.  Michael Piotrowski
LONDON BUREAU: Maria Margaronis
EDITORIAL BOARD: Deepak Bhargava, Kai Bird, Norman Birnbaum, Barbara Ehrenreich,
I agree wholeheartedly with Richard Falk, Frances FitzGerald, Eric Foner, Greg Grandin, Philip Green, Lani
Time for Amazonian Outrage
Bryce Covert’s conclusion in Guinier, Tony Kushner, Elinor Langer, Malia Lazu, Richard Lingeman, Deborah W.
“All Work and No Play” [Oct. It is evident that deforestation Meier, Toni ­Morrison, Walter Mosley, Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Victor Navasky,
is an issue that is already hav- Pedro Antonio Noguera, Richard Parker, Michael Pertschuk, ­Elizabeth Pochoda, Andrea
22] that Americans work way
Batista Schlesinger, Rinku Sen, Zephyr Teachout, Dorian T. Warren, David Weir
too much. But I disagree with ing an effect on Brazil—and
ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER, SPECIAL PROJECTS: Peter Rothberg
Covert’s resistance to allowing the globe [“A Climate Tipping
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employers to drop health insur- Point in the Amazon,” Sept. 24/ DIGITAL COMMUNICATIONS MANAGER: Sarah Arnold
ance from their compensation Oct. 1]. Radical change can be ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER, CONSUMER MARKETING: Katelyn Belyus
packages. Employers should complicated, but when it’s some- CIRCULATION FULFILLMENT COORDINATOR: Vivian Gómez
be encouraged to drop health thing worth fighting for, it over- ASSOCIATE PUBLISHER, DEVELOPMENT: Sarah Burke

insurance for all workers, full- rides the possibility of financial DEVELOPMENT ASSISTANT: Yubei Tang

and part-time. This would force and procedural difficulty. I chal- ADVERTISING ASSISTANT: Kit Gross

everyone into the open market lenge The Nation’s readers to take DIGITAL PRODUCTS MANAGER: Joshua Leeman

and under the auspices of the a stand against big corporations IT/PRODUCTION MANAGER: John Myers
PRODUCTION COORDINATOR: Mel Gray
Affordable Care Act. At that like Cargill and say “Enough is
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point, one of two things would enough,” to show that we care
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happen: Either the ACA would about the land as much as the HUMAN RESOURCES ADMINISTRATOR: Lana Gilbert
be amended and become more people of Brazil do. It’s time to BUSINESS ADVISER: Teresa Stack
efficient, or—my preference— make a difference. PUBLISHER EMERITUS: Victor Navasky
 Michele G. Borsari
the Medicare for All movement minneapolis
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Books & the Arts.

THE BLOB
Ben Rhodes and the crisis of liberal foreign policy
by DAVID KLION

T
he left, as a rule, has been sharply with an appalling body count. Every The World as It Is
critical of US foreign policy. Ask US president since at least the Second A Memoir of the Obama White House
anyone who supports free univer- World War has been complicit in this By Ben Rhodes
sal health care and abolishing ICE project, and the next one will be, too. Random House. 480 pp. $30
about America’s role in the world, And yet, if that president is a Demo-
and they’ll probably recite a long list crat, she or he will have pledged to enact of millennials who have never served
of coups (Iran, Chile), wars (Vietnam, a substantial part of the left’s policy in government before—and whatever
Iraq), and trade policies (NAFTA, TPP) demands. This will require the left to their feelings about the American em-
that amount to a global imperial project formulate not only a domestic agenda, pire, they will suddenly be charged with
around which there is an emerging pro- managing and shaping it, with surpris-
David Klion is a writer in Brooklyn whose gressive consensus, but a foreign policy ingly few checks on their ability to do
work has appeared in The New York Times, as well. The next Democratic adminis- so. They may question their right as
The Guardian, and other publications. tration will also likely include a cohort Americans to wield such power or seek
ILLUSTRATION BY JOE CIARDIELLO
28 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

to mitigate its effects. But, nonetheless, responsible for the messaging debacle that shit” maxim—both of which distinguished
they will have to wield it. allowed the attacks on the US embassy in him from many of his peers.
The last young idealist to gain so much Benghazi to be turned into a right-wing The Samuels profile was also where
influence so quickly over international af- conspiracy theory; Rhodes who was called Rhodes introduced the term “the Blob”
fairs was Ben Rhodes, who joined Barack upon to defend drone strikes to the public; to describe the permanent DC foreign-
Obama’s first presidential campaign as a Rhodes who championed the pro-democ- policy establishment that he and Obama
speechwriter at age 29 and closely ad- racy protesters of the Arab Spring and saw themselves as challenging, which was
vised the 44th president throughout his two then watched helplessly as the popularly largely committed to perpetuating its own
terms in office, serving as deputy national- elected president of Egypt was overthrown power and reinforcing the status quo. It
security adviser and playing a key role in the in a military coup backed by US allies; and was a memorable and apt phrase: If people
crafting of Obama’s foreign policy. Before Rhodes who was the frequent implied tar- like former CIA director and defense sec-
that, Rhodes’s foreign-policy experience get of derisive, typically anonymous media retary Robert Gates and Senator John
had been limited to writing speeches and leaks chastising the Obama administration McCain were complaining about Rhodes
reports for former longtime congressman for an incoherent and naive approach to to their many friends in the press, and if
Lee Hamilton, the director of the Woodrow foreign policy. Samuels was attempting to warn pro-Israel
Wilson International Center for Scholars, a The criticism directed toward him was in hawks not to trust him, then—again, at
Washington think tank; before that, Rhodes part the result of Rhodes’s own tendency to least to some of us—that spoke well of
had published one piece of fiction and had put himself forward as the avatar of Obama’s Rhodes. While many on the left would
just completed an MFA in creative writing foreign policy. Perhaps the most infamous have preferred a more radical vision for US
at New York University. example was when he granted extensive foreign policy, what could be more aspira-
If you have a liberal-arts education and access to the journalist David Samuels, an tional than going from writing fiction in
have spent any time in DC, you’re familiar editor at Tablet and an outspoken critic of Brooklyn to personally helping to reopen
with this guy, and maybe you even identify the Iran deal, who then wrote a profile of relations with Castro’s Cuba and pissing off
with him. If so, Rhodes’s story, recounted in Rhodes for The New York Times Magazine in the Blob along the way?
his new memoir, The World as It Is, will lead 2016. Samuels portrayed the youthful aide,

O
you to consider what you might do if you sud- with a mixture of admiration and contempt, ne surprising thing about Rhodes’s
denly had the opportunity to help remake the as a Holden Caulfield–esque prep-school book, however, is that Rhodes himself
world every day for eight years. What long- brat and a dark mastermind manipulating is much more representative of the
suppressed progressive foreign-policy goals the press into appeasing Tehran and allow- Blob than Samuels’s profile had im-
would you try to advance? What imperial ing Syrians to be slaughtered. plied. Samuels wrote that, for Rhodes,
wars would you try to prevent or end? Where “The aftermath of the Samuels piece “the Iraq war was proof, in black and white,
might you succeed and where might you fail, was basically a two-year information cam- not of the complexity of international affairs
and how would it weigh on you? paign against me,” Rhodes told me in or the many perils attendant on political
a phone interview, adding: “And yeah, I decision-making but of the fact that the de-

A
nyone who has followed internation- do think Samuels intended that.” Rhodes cision-makers were morons.” He neglected
al news over the past decade is famil- regretted his cooperation, and most in to mention, however, that Rhodes had origi-
iar with Rhodes’s work. His unique the Beltway agreed that Samuels did not nally supported the war. Samuels did note, in
position as speechwriter and adviser make him look good. In Foreign Policy, for a memorable opening paragraph referenc-
allowed him to function as a kind example, Thomas Ricks wrote a piece head- ing Don DeLillo’s Underworld, that Rhodes’s
of translator between the president, the lined “A stunning profile of Ben Rhodes, life was changed the day he watched the
foreign-policy establishment, the the asshole who is the president’s Twin Towers fall from the Williamsburg
media, and the public at home foreign policy guru.” waterfront, but he skipped over the part
and abroad. When Obama, However, at least to where Rhodes briefly considered enlisting
in Cairo, announced some of us on the left, in the military. Likewise, Samuels asserted
a new era of engage- Rhodes didn’t come off that Rhodes wanted to “create the space for
ment with the Muslim so bad. “The Aspiring America to disentangle itself from its estab-
world, it was Rhodes Novelist Who Became lished system of alliances with countries like
who drafted the Obama’s Foreign-Poli- Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Israel and Turkey,” but
speech. When Obama cy Guru”—the title of did not mention that Rhodes had once been
opted not to launch air the Times piece—sound- a member of AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel
strikes against the Assad ed like a pretty cool gig. lobbying group.
regime in Syria, Rhodes In a capital defined by Samuels, in other words, made Rhodes
was his most vocal defender blinkered groupthink and sound a lot edgier in his Times piece than
against an enraged chorus of reflexive military intervention- Rhodes makes himself sound in his memoir.
Beltway hacks. Rhodes was also ism, Rhodes seemed refreshingly In fairness, the world has changed a lot in
instrumental in selling Obama’s nuclear independent and thoughtful. He wasn’t a the past two years, and Rhodes is no longer
deal with Iran to Congress, led the secret leftist, and he didn’t categorically object to in the White House personally advising
negotiations to restore US-Cuba relations, the use of American power abroad, but he the president. Instead, he’s yet another
and played a significant role in normalizing appeared to genuinely want to work toward a former Obama staffer reduced to rhetori-
relations with Burma. more peaceful world, and he also seemed to cally defending the liberal order as Donald
It was also Rhodes who was primarily have internalized Obama’s “Don’t do stupid Trump casually annihilates it. Two years
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 29

ago, Rhodes derided the Blob, but today san policies that had preceded it. “We Didn’t Start the Fire.” No one presi-
he doesn’t totally dispute that he was—and According to The World as It Is, Rhodes’s dent, much less an adviser, can single-hand-
is—a part of it. close relationship with Obama was cemented edly right the course of this ocean liner,
“You know what that New York by his own criticisms of the Belt- and this president and this adviser certainly
Times story got wrong?” Obama way worldview. The two met didn’t. It’s both an accurate statement and
told Rhodes after the Samu- in May 2007, when then- something of a dodge: While it’s true that
els profile appeared. “The Senator Obama had an- Obama and Rhodes faced resistance at every
notion that there’s some- nounced his presidential stage, it’s not necessarily true that they did
thing wrong with story- campaign but had yet everything they could have done under the
telling—I mean, that’s to catch fire. Holding circumstances.
our job. To tell a really a debate-prep meet- Rhodes implies something similar in a
good story about who ing in Washington, more mournful passage in the book’s final
we are.” Obama solicited opin- pages, as he confronts the infuriating reality
Rhodes, like Obama, ions from a group of that Obama is being replaced by Trump.
always wanted to be experts as to whether he
I closed my eyes. Somewhere out
a storyteller, and The should vote for additional
there, in the vast expanse of darkness,
World as It Is is not a typical funds for US troops in Iraq;
was the story of the last eight years, the
Washington memoir. For one Rhodes was the only person
world as it is. Markets once crippled by
thing, it’s good: Rhodes really is a who urged him to vote no. Obama
crisis teemed with optimistic forecasts
gifted writer, equally talented at capturing followed this advice, and thus began a long
on computer screens. Iranian centri-
mundane late nights in his windowless West partnership in which Rhodes’s consistent
fuges sat idle in a storage warehouse
Wing office, chaotic mass demonstrations purpose was to hold Obama to the high ide-
with electronic seals. Yazidi women
around the world, and tense meetings with als he had campaigned on.
and children who had escaped from
international power brokers. He makes sharp

T
Mount Sinjar awaited a new life in
observations about other government offi- his proved to be far more difficult than
Turkish refugee camps. A team of
cials, especially the president himself. Few, if either Obama or Rhodes had antici-
women in Laos scoured the rough
any, White House staffers had a closer per- pated. From deploying more troops
grass for unexploded bombs. Syrian
sonal relationship with Obama, one that was in Afghanistan to failing to close the
prisons were filled with human beings
commonly described as a “mind meld.” prison camp at Guantánamo, at al-
suffering untold horror. A refugee
Obama emerges as a nuanced character most every turn Obama and Rhodes would
went looking for a job in Berlin. An
here, not an object of blind worship, even find themselves submitting to the Blob’s
aging survivor of the atomic bomb in
though Rhodes clearly has a deep love and ad- consensus. Often, though not always, they
Hiroshima went about her day in a
miration for his boss. As captured by Rhodes, would be persuaded that the consensus was
tidy apartment. Vladimir Putin pre-
Obama is frequently more candid about the correct.
sided over a revanchist and rotting
role that race played in shaping his political One telling passage in particular opens
Russian regime. Angela Merkel pre-
circumstances than he ever permitted himself an early chapter of the book. “What is
pared her run for another term as Ger-
to be in public. He is prone to flashes of ir- American foreign policy?” Rhodes asks.
man chancellor. NATO patrolled the
ritation, both at Rhodes and at his various
Day in and day out, it’s a trillion-dollar skies over Estonia. Mohamed Morsi
political opponents, and he is sometimes
annual enterprise that plows forward sat in an Egyptian prison cell….
stubbornly committed to a course of action
like an ocean liner, shaping the lives
that Rhodes, at least in hindsight, questions. Rhodes goes on like that for another
of people in its wake whether they
But he shares with Rhodes a constant appre- handful of sentences, concluding with “My
know it or not. The embassy in New
ciation for his role in history, for the vastness own daughters lay sleeping in my small
Delhi tries to help U.S. businesses get
of the power at his command, and for the apartment, unaware of the convulsions in
into the Indian market. The USAID
unique opportunities the presidency affords the world around them.” I cite these lengthy
mission in Nairobi meets with the
him to make a meaningful impact. passages, which resemble cinematic mon-
Kenyan Ministry of Health to help the
Alone among the serious Democratic tages, because they capture something es-
fight against HIV/AIDS. A scholar-
candidates for president in 2008, Obama sential about Rhodes’s, and Obama’s, world-
ship student from Indonesia boards a
had opposed the Iraq War from the outset, view after eight years in the White House.
plane bound for an American univer-
which likely played a critical role in his Obama and Rhodes were always con-
sity. The U.S. military conducts a joint
narrow victory over Hillary Clinton. In his scious of the fact that they were making
exercise with the South Koreans to
debates with Clinton, Obama was critical of history, but they also often seemed to view
deter North Korea. Our intelligence
Washington’s hawkish foreign-policy con- themselves as passive observers, detaching
community shares information about
sensus, most notably stating that he would their own agency from the world they were
a terrorist plot with Europeans. A Spe-
be willing to meet with the leaders of Iran, observing. They wielded unmatched global
cial Operator leaves a Baghdad trailer
Cuba, Syria, Venezuela, and North Korea. might, but they understood that they had
at dawn to capture or kill a terrorist. A
For progressives, especially in the then- only a finite ability to shape how it was em-
taxpayer-funded F-16 fighter aircraft
robust anti-war movement, Obama seemed ployed. “The world is what it is,” as the late
is delivered to the Egyptian military.
to offer an opportunity to reverse not only V.S. Naipaul wrote; there is, in Rhodes’s
the Bush administration’s aggressive milita- What Rhodes is really saying with this view, little that he or Obama could have
rism, but also the decades of failed biparti- panorama can be stated more succinctly: done to fundamentally change it.
30 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

Part of the problem here is that, for conservatives, who preferred the go-it-alone United States carried out an extrajudicial,
all their perspicuity and self-awareness, approach to American empire exemplified by legally dubious campaign of assassinations
their view of American power was missing the Iraq War; and the realists, who urged re- against terror suspects in multiple countries.
a critical component. Although it’s not a straint in the use of force but also valued sta- Both had sincere doubts about exercising
term that either Rhodes or Obama would ble relationships with often illiberal regimes. American power, but they proved to be no
typically use, their vision of a more peace- Like his colleague Samantha Power, Rhodes match for the relentless pressure from the
ful world order was constantly stymied was initially more concerned with the Blob to exercise it anyway.
by the contradictions of Ameri- world as it ought to be and sympa-

W
can empire. They had been thetic to the liberal interven- ith the rise of a more left-wing and
granted all this power tionism that had prevailed egalitarian domestic politics, it is
that, they believed, among many Democrat- becoming clear that we need an
they could use to do ic foreign-policy elites. alternative approach to the liberal-
good, yet it rarely But over the course internationalist, realist, and neo-
occurred to them to of his time in office, conservative thinking that has long domi-
ask whether they or Rhodes moved closer nated the Blob. This alternative approach,
any other American and closer to the re- while it may exist in embryonic form in the
had any right to that alist camp and came ideals of some in Washington, has never
power, and whether to take a much more found a name, much less the institutions
it could be exercised instrumentalist view of that would support and nurture it. Where
in a way that was not an American power abroad. do those of us whose instincts are progres-
expression of American One reason was that, sive and humanitarian, anti-war and anti-
domination. as Rhodes grew closer to empire, find a home? Could such viewpoints
While Rhodes and Obama Obama, he began to embrace ever flourish in a capital where seemingly
were fully cognizant of the many the president’s more skeptical view everyone pledges fealty to the American
atrocities and strategic mistakes commit- of American power. Contemplating a mis- “national interest”? What, in short, would it
ted by the United States, especially in Iraq, sile strike against Syria that he ultimately mean to be a leftist in foreign policy?
they still saw America as a necessary coun- rejected, Obama told Rhodes: “It is too easy In Rhodes’s memoir, we see occasional
terweight to rival powers like China and for a president to go to war.” Not long after, glimmers of what a left approach to foreign
Russia, and they believed that far greater Obama challenged the conventional wisdom policy might look like. He describes in great
evils would result from an American retreat. that the United States should have inter- detail the personal relationship that he devel-
By maintaining American supremacy, they vened to stop the 1994 Rwandan genocide. oped with Alejandro Castro Espín (the son of
also, in the end, were compelled to turn the “You can’t stop people from killing each Raúl and nephew of Fidel) while negotiating
empire over to people who clearly should other like that,” the president explained. to restore relations with Cuba, offering a
not hold any power at all. Yet while Obama and Rhodes both heartening glimpse of what US foreign policy
grasped the failure of neoconservatism from might look like if it were entirely predicated

L
ike many other Obama staffers, Rhodes their first days in the White House and came on good-faith efforts to create a more peace-
probably imagined that he would write to recognize the dangers of the kind of inter- ful, just, and open world. And everywhere
a very different memoir, one that con- ventionism espoused by figures like Power, Rhodes goes, he makes sure the president
fronted the administration’s failures the Obama administration re- meets with people from all walks of
and disappointments but ultimately peatedly intervened anyway, life. He also tries to make
had a triumphant narrative. Instead, the deploying military force amends for past US crimes;
book’s prologue conveys his profound disil- in ad hoc ways that for instance, inspired by
lusionment. Rhodes begins by describing in themselves were an episode of the late
his final world tour with Obama, in the troubling. Obama Anthony Bourdain’s
weeks after Trump’s victory but before the toppled Gadhafi in Parts Unknown, he
inauguration, during which the outgoing Libya and called convinces Obama to
president reflects on his own suddenly en- for Assad to step pledge $100 million
dangered legacy. “Maybe we pushed too down in Syria, in to cleaning up un­
far,” Obama muses to Rhodes in Lima. both cases with- exploded ordnance
“Maybe people just want to fall back into out any real plans in Laos.
their tribe.” When Rhodes tries to reassure for how to establish But it’s impossible
him, Obama pushes back: “Sometimes I stable regimes after to read The World as It
wonder whether I was ten or twenty years the ouster of these dicta- Is without thinking about
too early.” tors. He surged US troops how everything that Obama
The memoir’s title, The World as It Is, in Afghanistan even as he and and Rhodes worked to achieve is
captures Rhodes’s growing pessimism. When Rhodes openly questioned the wisdom now in mortal jeopardy. The mere fact
he entered the White House, the Blob es- of doing so, withdrew them from Iraq, and of Trump’s presidency undermines what-
sentially comprised three schools of thought: then resumed military operations there after ever claim the American empire might have
the liberal internationalists, who championed the rise of ISIS. Obama and Rhodes insisted made to moral authority, and while Rhodes
humanitarian intervention as long as it was on the legitimacy of international law and understands this, he has yet to absorb the
backed by multilateral institutions; the neo- institutions, and yet, under their tenure, the full implications. Rhodes’s own post–White
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 31

House efforts feel like a stopgap. In Febru-


ary, he and his friend Jake Sullivan, who
served as Hillary Clinton’s chief policy ad-
viser, launched National Security Action, a
group intended to revitalize liberal foreign
policy in the age of Trump. Putting aside
its unfortunate initials, the new group’s ad-
visory board is a who’s who of liberal inter-
nationalists. According to its website, it is
primarily “dedicated to advancing American
global leadership and opposing the reckless
policies of the Trump administration that
endanger our national security and under-
mine U.S. strength in the world.”
While National Security Action has
some new and potentially laudable ideas for
addressing issues ranging from the global
refugee crisis to government corruption,
there is little reason to think that it will
stray far from the Beltway’s conventional
wisdom. In our phone interview, Rhodes
acknowledged that much of what NSA is
doing can offer only a short-term remedy.
The group, he admitted, “has an emergency
function and is not trying to be a long-term
solution.” Its main purpose is to brief and
prep Democratic candidates to respond to
the immediate crisis posed by Trump.
Looking ahead, however, the left will
need to think beyond both the old and
new NSAs. The American public will need
to develop a better understanding of the
costs of American empire. We need more
politicians, backed by an army of pundits
and experts whose voices echo through the
mainstream news outlets, who can unambig-
uously denounce the US alliances with Saudi
Arabia and Israel, the atrocities in Yemen
and Palestine, the damaging environmental

THE DUAL DEFEAT


and labor effects of our trade deals, and the
virulent spread of corruption and kleptoc-
racy around the world, much of which has
been facilitated by America’s promotion of
neoliberal economic policies abroad.
Rhodes himself seems to recognize this.
Hubert Humphrey and the unmaking of Cold War liberalism
HUBERT HUMPHREY AT THE 1964 DEMOCRATIC NATIONAL CONVENTION (AP)

“The left is good at holding people like me


and my feet to the fire,” he noted in our
interview. But to do that effectively, the left by MICHAEL KAZIN
needs a more detailed and durable agenda

I
for changing Washington’s approach to the used to hate Hubert Humphrey. Fifty Hubert Humphrey
world and challenging the basic premise of years ago, the only part of this once- The Conscience of the Country
US hegemony. The next Democratic ad- renowned liberal’s career that mattered By Arnold A. Offner
ministration will have an easier time resist- to me was his unflinching support for Yale University Press. 512 pp. $35
ing the Blob if more legislators, bureaucrats, the despicable war in Vietnam. In late
pundits, policy wonks, and voters demand August of 1968, I traveled to the Demo- nomination for president. That fall, with
that it do so. It is urgently necessary to in- cratic Convention in Chicago to protest his other radicals, I organized a demonstration
stitutionalize the left’s demands and to make urging everyone to boycott the election.
all of these disparate voices an acknowledged Michael Kazin is a professor of history at Georgetown “Vote with your feet, vote in the streets!”
part of our foreign-policy debates, before University and the co-editor of Dissent. His latest we shouted as we marched up to the State
the next Ben Rhodes is given a chance to book is War Against War: The American Fight House in Boston.
advise the next president.  n for Peace, 1914–1918. In my small, disruptive fashion, I prob-
32 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

ably helped elect a president who made classes imbued with the Social Gospel and medium of television, made him an idol to
American politics a whole lot worse. Under to serve as mayor of his hamlet and then all those Americans who wanted to “march
Richard Nixon, the nation began to as a member of the State Assembly. down the high road of progressive democ-
move rightward, a shift from Raised as a Republican, the politi- racy” with him. That fall, Humphrey swept
which we are still struggling cal home of most Midwestern into the US Senate, following a campaign in
to recover. And Mr. Wa- Protestants since the Civil which he gave some 700 speeches and had the
tergate took four years War, Humphrey’s father strong backing of organized labor.
to withdraw our troops bolted for the opposi-

H
from Vietnam, after tion party after hearing umphrey’s second act began in Wash-
another 20,000 US a Bryan speech, and he ington and lacked the heroism of the
soldiers and hundreds never looked back. first. He first served in the Senate for
of thousands of Viet- Unlike his father, 16 years, maneuvering consistently,
namese, Cambodians, Hubert Jr. had no in- if not effectively, to enhance his own
and Laotians had died. tention of dividing his presidential prospects. Often, both his am-
So I struggle with the time between politics and bition and his principles led him to take
question of whether left- pharmaceuticals. After ex- positions that backed up his 1957 statement
ists like myself, and anti- celling in classes and debate that he was “a liberal without apology.”
war liberals as well, should have at the University of Minnesota, Humphrey tried to scrap the prevailing
stopped chanting “Dump the Hump” he considered becoming an academic. immigration law that discriminated against
and did what we could to defeat that greater But during World War II, he leapt into that anyone not from Western Europe. In 1954,
evil and perhaps manage to preserve the state’s New Deal politics and began a climb he initiated what became the Food for Peace
New Deal order for at least a few more years. to a leadership role in the Democratic Party. program and kept fighting for civil-rights
Arnold Offner’s new biography, Hubert In 1944, Minnesota’s Democratic Party legislation throughout that decade. Outside
Humphrey: The Conscience of the Country, helps merged with its left-wing Farmer-Labor the South, most Democratic activists were
to clarify why that question remains a devil- Party, which had run the state during part hungry for candidates who could bring
ishly challenging one. The author, whose of the 1930s and whose leaders wanted to back the kinds of passion and programs
previous books concerned diplomatic history, transcend corporate capitalism. The alliance that had energized the New Deal, and the
supplies all the evidence one could want to was an uneasy one at first, but Humphrey senator from Minnesota was eager to lead
prove that Humphrey played a major role managed to please both sides enough to get the revival.
in leading his party—and, to a degree, his elected mayor of Minneapolis in 1945, at the But when it came to the Cold War, Hum-
country—to reject Jim Crow and embrace age of just 34. In City Hall, his aggressive phrey took pains to show that he could
a number of social-democratic policies. Yet efforts to build housing for war veterans, be as unbending in his belligerence as any
Humphrey’s decision to become the most negotiate fair settlements in local labor dis- right-wing Republican. In 1954, adding a
prominent Democratic cheerleader for the putes, and root out corruption in the police red-hunter line to his résumé, he sponsored a
US atrocity in Indochina also turned his life department made him a favorite for nasty piece of legislation that outlawed
of liberal achievement into a tragedy. Not higher office. membership in the Communist
everything he did in politics before the 1960s Most Americans outside Party. Civil libertarians con-
was virtuous. But when Humphrey devoted of Minnesota first heard of demned it, as did many lib-
himself to selling President Lyndon John- Humphrey in 1948. At eral lawmakers in both
son’s war, he suffered a dual defeat: He failed that year’s Democratic parties. “We do not have
to convince the public, and he sabotaged his Convention, he played to abdicate the Consti-
chance to become president—the ambition a major role in writing tution to catch Com-
that had, for the most part, spurred his hawk- a section of the plat- munists,” remarked
ishness in the first place. Far more significant, form that committed Estes Kefauver, an
however, was what his defeat represented: the the party, for the first influential Democratic
end of an era when liberal Democrats were time in its history, to senator from Tennessee.
the dominant force in US politics. enacting a federal civil- The act passed that year
rights bill. On the last day but was rarely invoked or

T
he Humphrey tragedy can be divided of the convention, the young tested in court. Ominously,
into four acts. The first begins with mayor stood at the podium and that same year, Humphrey also
his birth in 1911 and ends with the declared, “The time has arrived in denounced the State Department for
nationally broadcast speech in 1948 America for the Democratic Party to get out giving away “half of Vietnam” to the com-
that made him a liberal hero. of the shadow of states’ rights and walk forth- munists after Ho Chi Minh’s forces defeated
Humphrey grew up in the upper Midwest, rightly into the bright sunshine of human the French.
the fertile seedbed for such progressive stal- rights. People—human beings—this is the His well-publicized record as a Cold War
warts as Jane Addams, Robert La Follette, issue of the 20th century.” liberal was not enough to win him the presi-
Eugene Debs, and William Jennings Bryan. Delegates from two Southern states dential nomination in 1960. Humphrey’s race
His father, Hubert Sr., owned a drugstore in walked out in protest and began to organize against John F. Kennedy, who had money to
Doland, South Dakota—a town so small that the States’ Rights (or “Dixiecrat”) party. But burn and glamour to spare, was like a sturdy
it contained only a dozen businesses. Hubert Humphrey’s eloquent stand, heard by mil- plow horse attempting to best a thorough-
Sr. also found time to teach Sunday-school lions on the radio and by others on the new bred in the Kentucky Derby. That May, JFK
November 12, 2018  The Nation. 33

won a crushing victory in the West Virginia winning 61 percent of the vote in 1964, John- to nutritious food. Early in 1976, Gallup
primary—where pundits thought his Cathol- son nearly lost the New Hampshire primary reported that most Democrats again wanted
icism would work against him—and the nag four years later and decided to pull out of the the Minnesota senator to be their nominee
from the Plains immediately withdrew from presidential race. for president. But after agonizing for
the race. Humphrey returned to the Senate, During his own run for the months, Humphrey decided that
where he took the lead in making the Peace White House in 1968, Hum- he had neither the funds nor
Corps permanent and ratifying the treaty to phrey worried that a break the passion to go through
ban nuclear testing in the atmosphere. with Johnson would de- the ordeal again. He told
stroy his chances, al- New York Times colum-

I
n 1964, after Kennedy’s assassination, though LBJ did little to nist James Reston that
Humphrey took a different path to the help his campaign and he would look “ridicu-
White House, and the third, climactic act may even have hoped lous” if he ran a fourth
of his life began. He reasoned, writes Off- that Nixon would win. campaign that man-
ner, that “as a poor man from a small state The vice president de- aged only to divide his
and without rich friends,” he would first have layed issuing his own party and hand the elec-
to be elected vice president. So, throughout peace plan until it was tion to the incumbent,
that spring and summer, Humphrey worked too late to have an effect on Gerald Ford.
relentlessly to gain Johnson’s favor. the race. “You know,” Hum- Diagnosed with cancer
Together with GOP Senate leader Everett phrey confessed to an aide, “I’ve midway through 1977, Hum-
Dirksen, he led the effort to kill a Southern eaten so much of Johnson’s shit in this phrey died early the next year. By
filibuster against LBJ’s landmark Civil Rights job that I’ve grown to like the taste of it.” His order of President Jimmy Carter, his body
Act, which passed in July 1964. To prove nearly four years of unprincipled groveling lay in state under the dome of the Capi-
his fealty to Johnson, who feared losing the at the most critical time of his career almost tol, where thousands came to view it on a
entire South, Humphrey then squelched an made me wonder whether Offner meant the frigid winter day. The postmortem plaudits
attempt by the biracial Mississippi Freedom subtitle of his book—“The Conscience of the from his colleagues were lavish and sincere.
Democratic Party to be seated at that year’s Country”—as a joke. “He was never elected president,” remarked
national convention instead of the racists

I
Senator Edward Muskie, his running mate in
who made up the state’s official delegation. n his fourth and final act, Humphrey 1968, “but now he’s being honored like one.
Fannie Lou Hamer, the charismatic MFDP attempted to rebuild the progressive He’d like that.” As much as any reform he’d
activist, scolded Humphrey for worrying reputation he had squandered as LBJ’s advocated or won, Humphrey’s unrequited
about his own future instead of the rights of lackey and as a Cold War hawk. After desire to grab the brass ring of state defined
black Americans. “I’m going to pray to Jesus being reelected to the Senate in 1970, he him to the end.
for you,” she told him. introduced a bill to extend health insurance

H
By thwarting the MFDP’s challenge, to every citizen. He also co-wrote, with Au- umphrey’s personal tragedy was also
Humphrey managed to get his own prayers gustus Hawkins, a black congressman from a key episode in the very public trag-
answered: LBJ chose him as his running Los Angeles, an act that guaranteed a job edy of American liberalism. Liberals
mate. Privately, Johnson let it be known that at a decent wage to every American able to could not have avoided engaging in
any man he picked for the job would have to work. The health bill failed to pass, and the the Cold War. Stalin and his suc-
abandon the last shred of independence—or, Humphrey-Hawkins Act got watered down cessors were enemies of democracy and
in his vivid vernacular, “I want his pecker to into a promise with no plan or resources to individual freedom, and they also posed a
be in my pocket.” By the time Humphrey carry it out. But it did mark Humphrey’s threat to American interests abroad, com-
took the oath of office, he had performed the return to his earlier passion for social and peting for the allegiance of peoples and
metaphorical excision required. economic change. governments around the world. But in cre-
Offner’s lengthy account of his subject’s In 1972, the erstwhile hero, having turned ating a vast empire of American bases and
years as vice president will make many read- against the war, ran for president again. How- allies that spanned the globe, liberals like
ers cringe. Although Humphrey first doubted ever, most liberal Democrats understandably Humphrey didn’t help matters, falling prey
the wisdom of LBJ’s escalation of the war, he preferred George McGovern, the South Da- to their own delusions about American
soon became its most ardent promoter. The kota senator who had once been Humphrey’s beneficence. They also came to believe that
vice president, according to a cabinet mem- protégé yet had strongly opposed the war in any inhabitant of a poor, exploited land who
ber and close friend, was determined to be “a Vietnam when the vice president was defend- fought for “national liberation,” whether
good boy at all times.” He praised Johnson ing it. With labor support, Humphrey battled they were inspired by Marxism-Leninism
for offering the Vietnamese enemy “an Asian for the party’s nomination all the way to the or not, was somehow part of a conspiracy
New Deal” and compared the US commit- convention, but McGovern won on the first
hatched by the Kremlin, Mao, or Castro.
ment to the Saigon government with that ballot. After this defeat, Humphrey spent the
As Carl Oglesby, a leader of Students for
of Franklin Roosevelt to Churchill’s Britain rest of his life in the Senate, returning to the
a Democratic Society, explained in 1965,
during the Second World War. In The New domestic liberalism that had made him both
Cold War liberalism
York Times, columnist Tom Wicker quipped famous and popular.
that the vice president’s relentless flacking Besides the Humphrey-Hawkins bill, he depicts our presence in other lands
had earned him “a place at the White House crusaded for full employment and a higher not as a coercion, but a protection. It
table, just above the salt.” minimum wage and introduced a bill to allows us even to say that the napalm
The war undid LBJ’s administration. After guarantee every American child the right in Vietnam is only another aspect
34 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

of our humanitarian love—like those


exorcisms in the Middle Ages that so
often killed the patient. So we say to
the Vietnamese peasant, the Cuban in-
tellectual, the Peruvian worker: “You
are better dead than Red. If it hurts or
if you don’t understand why—sorry
about that.”
As a result, the war in Vietnam became
a liberal one—led by liberals, justified by
liberal rhetoric, and caused by liberal mis-
understandings of national liberation strug-
gles—and it was liberals who rightly got the
blame when it ended in ignominy and defeat.
By the 1980s, that debacle, together with
the failure of Democrats in the White House
and Congress to address stagflation and the
energy crisis, helped turn a majority of Amer-
icans against candidates like Walter Mondale
and Michael Dukakis. During the presidency
of Ronald Reagan, whom Humphrey had
once scorned as “George Wallace sprinkled
with eau de cologne,” voters rejected the
vision of a larger and more generous wel-
fare state that Humphrey advocated and
worked for, even if such achievements as the
Civil Rights Act, Medicare, and federal aid
to schools and colleges remained popular.
The platform that Humphrey had run on
in 1968 included grand promises to make
the income tax more progressive, to secure
health care and housing as a right of every
citizen, to strengthen labor unions, and to

KEEP UP
extend the anti-poverty program. But those
worthy ideas were preceded by a vow to keep
fighting in Vietnam so that the “aggression
and subversion” of communists would not
“succeed.” Not surprisingly, the Democratic
campaign could not draw the media’s atten-
tion to any other issue.
Noname’s verbal and vocal acrobatics
Half a century later, I do regret that I
could not see Humphrey as anything but a by SAMANTHA SCHUYLER

T
stooge for a policy that I abhor, in retrospect,
just as much as I did then. But in its sobriety, ry to keep up with Noname’s voice: though you’d caught her talking to herself,
The 27-year-old rapper, born Fati- just under her breath.
a historical perspective can also minimize or
mah Warner, can make it do vocal This agility—one twitch of her voice,
ignore the importance of the moral resolve
gymnastics. She can tighten it to a and she’s gone from a verbal eye-roll to a
to shout “there is some shit I will not eat,”
conspiratorial whisper, bend it into dreamy, far-off stare—points to Noname’s
as E.E. Cummings famously wrote in a singsong irony, soften it until it’s a cush- background as a slam poet. (At 18, she
poem about a conscientious objector dur- ion. For her newest album, Room 25, she placed third in the largest youth slam in
ing World War I. It’s a shame of substantial stretches it into a rhetorical taunt (“And the world, Louder Than a Bomb.) Her
consequence that, as vice president and the y’all still thought a bitch couldn’t rap, sharp delivery and breezy syncopations are
Democratic presidential nominee in 1968, huh?”), then snaps it back to attention all reminiscent of spoken word. Her dense
NONAME (CHANTAL ANDERSON)

Humphrey was unwilling to tell the truth (“Maybe this your answer for that”) in the and roving lyrics also flash her literary
about Vietnam. He might have become, at same breath. All this is held at the same prowess, her lines nimbly jumping from
that decisive moment, the true conscience volume, a controlled stage murmur—as character to character, capturing compet-
of his country—a badge of political courage ing perspectives almost as quickly as they
that might have vaulted him into the White Samantha Schuyler is a writer and editor living move among different tones and registers.
House after all.  n in the American South. In “Prayer Song,” she whirls through sev-
36 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

eral points of view in a dioramic sweep of And while the result is a survey of Noname’s most striking tracks, Noname explores the
a city, until she settles on a police officer at interior world, we’re also left with a better image of a black woman through the eyes
the scene of a shooting: “I seen a cell phone understanding of the world that acts upon of gentrifiers—“Your mammy stay on the
on the dash, could’ve sworn it’s a gun / I her—the one she must navigate. South Side / She paid to clean your house,
ain’t seen a toddler in the back after firing power of Pine-Sol, baby / She the scrub tub

N
seven shots / A demon ’bout to get me, he oname’s albums are best read as nar- lady / She that naked bitch in videos, that
watching me kill his mom.” ratives of self-discovery. In Telefone, drunk club lady / Immortalized all ’80s and
This perspectival approach to songwrit- we came to know Chicago’s South then she real, real nasty.”
ing was a technique that Noname used fre- Side—or at least her experience and But she can just as quickly examine her
quently in her 2016 debut, Telefone, where memories of it—through cinematic own mixed feelings about having moved
she ventriloquized everyone from a woman shifts in perspective in which she would from Chicago to Los Angeles, having pre-
getting an abortion to a group of children in zoom in on a character or memory, then viously recorded Telefone there in rooms
a Chicago playground. She could cunningly zoom out to capture its context. Room 25 rented through the notorious gentrifying
draw her listeners away from herself by a uses this same technique, although this machine Airbnb to do so. “Traded hoodie
sheer command of language and, through it, time in the service of better understanding for hipster,” she raps on “Blaxploitation.”
observation: The personas she adopted were Noname. It’s a rewarding shift: She’s a com-

N
so absorbing, and her sketches and memories plicated and engrossing subject, and her oname tracks her own evolution
so compelling, that we almost forget how lit- understanding of herself and the world she with self-deprecating scrutiny, but
tle we actually learn about Noname—which, occupies constantly flips, then doubles back. she also helps bring to the surface
of course, is part of the point. In Room 25, Noname can first examine a problem as the bleak gaze of others. The effect
however, Noname turns inward, exploring laden with political ambiguities and then is not just an open condemnation of
everything from a stormy romance to the ex- excavate its emotional core; she can mine the racist tropes imposed on her and other
perience of black womanhood, to the guilt of her own personal experiences, then reveal black women, but an exploration of how
leaving her family behind when she moves to what they mean for the world around it feels to constantly confront the insult
a new city, to the problems of gentrification. her. In “Blaxploitation,” one of Room 25’s of these presumptions. “Everybody think
they know me,” she sings in “Window,”
letting her voice trail off. “Don’t nobody
really know me.”
Room 25’s standout track, “Don’t Forget
About Me,” weaves her various themes
together: In it, Noname explores the worry
The Reverend Elijah P. Lovejoy, editor of a mother or father has for their black child
living in America, and the pain that any
the Alton Observer, Dies at the Hands of black child feels about their parents’ wor-
a Pro-Slavery Mob, Alton, Illinois (1837) rying about them. “I know everybody goes
someday,” she sings. “I know my body’s
fragile, I know it’s made from clay.” Then
Christ’s editor becomes Christ’s martyr: she confronts her own experience, which is
band the newspaper columns black more acute and specific, zeroing in on the
for Elijah P. Lovejoy, who fired back. pain she worries she has caused her mother
They threw his first three presses into the river. to feel as a result of her moving away from
home. “Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty,
They came with guns, stones, hatchets, hammers;
changed my city….” she raps. “All I am is
they came with whiskey and a mind to attack everything and nothing at all.”
something as they felt attacked, to break True to an album that asserts her multi-
Lovejoy’s words before they got to paper. plicity, Noname never stays in one place—
No one was arrested; it wasn’t a riot. she can’t. This is as true for her vocally
as it is for her lyrically: She swings ver-
At the wharf, the smashed-up pieces of his fourth
tiginously between registers and tones. For
press. Although he signed his letters till death Noname, this movement is both a freedom
or victory, the movement hadn’t thought and a burden, illuminating and exhausting.
it could happen to a journalist. In the opening lines of “Self,” she wor-
Somebody had to be the first. ries that her album could mean too many
things: “Maybe this is the album you listen
to in your car / When you driving home
MELISSA RANGE late at night / Really questioning every
god, religion, Kanye, bitches. / Maybe this
your wifey just wanting a clean divorce /
The baby ain’t really yours.” But then she
pauses and moves on. “Nah, actually, this
is for me.”  n
38 The Nation.   November 12, 2018

Puzzle No. 3480


JOSHUA KOSMAN AND HENRI PICCIOTTO

DOWN
1`2`3`4`5`6`~~~
 1 Time to capture the Italian fleet (5)
`~`~`~`~`~`~7~8
 2 Contents of park-rental contracts (7)
9````~0````````
 3 Inhibiting writhing vipers, some having reproduced (10)
`~`~`~`~`~`~`~`
-````````~~=```  4 Redesigned gadget and made it? (6)

~~`~`~`~`~q~`~`  5 Stop signs, perhaps, blocked a gonzo cargo, we hear (8)


w`````~e```````  6 Look here—a border (4)
`~~~`~r~`~`~~~`  7 Get on the couch ahead of a trio of commercials for a TV
t`y`````~u``i`` staple (6)

`~`~`~`~o~`~`~~  8 Thinking a lot of oneself where many Arabs live—in,


say, Iowa (8)
p```~~[```````]
13 This could take your breath away: Radical pope let in
`~`~\~`~`~`~`~` refugees (4,6)
a````````~s````
14 Dismissed rising stench in England between Wednesday
`~`~`~`~`~`~`~` and Friday (5,3)
~~~d``````````` 16 Twangy instrument from Janáček’s first work in F? (4,4)
ACROSS 18 Date’s exotic corset (6)
 1 Ambitious to be like π (like 3.14) (12) 20 Locate box office? That might have an effect (7)
 9 They say I have my dinner get very cold (3,2) 21 Says, “Yes, Grease rocks” (6)
10 Party in Georgia: a Wagnerian plot element (9) 24 Put up notice at gym for sporting equipment (5)
11 Wild 23 that may be hunted in spring (6,3)
25 Raise drink, welcoming one environmentalist (4)
12 Refuse to include 100 in total (4)
14 Most sage is found in the Occident (6) SOLUTION TO PUZZLE NO. 3479
15 Shared salary falls short with 60 percent of cash (2,6)
ACROSS  1 O + MARK + HAY + YAM ~~OMARKHAYYAM~~
17 Digest donut with zest, eating one at beginning of 7 DES(K)TOP (posted anag.) ~~N~S~E~C~E~E~~
8 C(ON + T)AIN  10 S(C)OUR DESKTOP~CONTAIN
week (8) 11 TAGALO(N)G  13 O(PENS)E + SAME I~H~E~I~L~T~D~I
14 L-[as/SA]-T  16 CO + ME  18 FRANC +
SCOUR~~TAGALONG
19 After mid-January, renovated patio is the perfect spot (6) I + SCAN  20 RESOL (rev.) + UTE
C~R~I~E~I~~~W~H
22 TIB(I)A (rev.)  24 SHARP-[ie/EI]
OPENSESAME~LSAT
22 A pop made from fruit that’s initially cut (4) 25 I + SO + TOPE
N~~~K~C~I~V~~~I
26 GOP + HER + STATE
COME~FRANCISCAN
23 Divide 11 bananas (9) DOWN  1 ON + SHORE (anag.)
E~U~~~I~G~C~A~G
2 ASTE (anag.) + RISK  3 hidden
26 Lucky talent involves fish (9) 4 A(CC)L + AIMING  5 YE(NT)A RESOLUTE~~TIBIA
6 anag.  7 DISCO + N + CERTS T~T~A~O~M~R~O~L
27 A musical composition (“Serenity”) heard… (5) 9 NIGH + TIN + GALE  12 hidden SHARPEI~ISOTOPE
15 VI(CT + R)OLA  17 MU(STAN)G ~~N~U~R~S~L~S~~
28 …before and after god of love gets up? That’s absurd (12) 19 CA(BOO)SE  21 LA PUP  23 M IS S ~~GOPHERSTATE~~

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