Active McFarland: Exercising Democracy

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Antitrust Law and the Regulation of Corporate Concentration

Ron Berger --

This article was initially published on Wise Guys, Jan. 8, 2020.

When I think about the myriad issues that are being raised during the current Democratic Party presidential primary, I am reminded of the advice given by James Carville, Bill Clinton’s political strategist, during the 1992 presidential campaign: “The economy, stupid.” It is often the case, however, that when people think about the economy they are thinking about elements such as un/employment, economic inequality, wages, the stock market, economic growth, and the like. What they tend not to be thinking about is antitrust law. To some, antitrust law seems like an esoteric topic. But it should not be. In fact, it should be at the forefront of policies that are being discussed by the presidential candidates and that need to be pursued by the next Democratic president. Among the candidates, to their credit, Senators Amy Klobuchar (MN), Bernie Sanders (VT), and Elizabeth Warren (MA) are the only ones who have spoken about and offered plans to make antitrust law enforcement a priority for their administrations, with Warren offering the most far-reaching and detailed plans overall.

The initial framework for antitrust law in the United States was…

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Deconstructing the Center of American Politics: A Conversation

Ron Berger, Jeff Berger, Charles Cottle, and Dave Gillespie --

This discussion was initially published on Wise Guys, Sept. 17, 2019

Eric Levitz is a journalist, opinion writer, and associate editor of the “Daily Intelligencer” blog of New York Magazine. In July 2017, six months after the inauguration of Donald Trump, he published an article titled “Democrats Can Abandon the Center—Because the Center Doesn’t Exist.” In it he reviews contemporary polling data, political science research, and the historical record to argue that some of the conventional assumptions made by political pundits about the nature of American politics are wrong.


I was recently made aware of Levitz’s article by my friend Ann Manheimer in the context of ongoing Facebook discussions and sharing of articles pertaining to the 2020 presidential campaign. I was attracted to Levitz’s thesis because he seemed to be thinking “outside of the box” of conventional understandings of contemporary American politics, and I thought it would be informative to initiate a Wise Guys conversation about his thought-provoking ideas. I will begin here with a synopsis of Levitz’s thesis.

Levitz argues that the conventional view of American poli…

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Is Donald Trump a Fascist?

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Jan. 4, 2019.

Last November I was one of two speakers at a forum on “Fascism and the Holocaust in Historical and Contemporary Perspective” that was part of the Baeumler-Kaplan Holocaust Memorial Lecture Series at the University of Minnesota Duluth. I was there to talk about classical European fascism and the Holocaust; and Stas Vysotksy, my colleague in the sociology department at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, was there to talk about contemporary white-supremacist and neo-Nazi groups.

Stas and I spoke for about an hour, after which we entertained questions for about 45 minutes. It was not until the very last question that a young man asked the question that was on a lot of people’s minds (though they were too polite to ask): “Is Donald Trump a fascist?”

This was, to be sure, an unsurprising question, for it has been asked by others since the days of the 2015 Republican presidential primary. In a December 2015 issue of The Week magazine, for example, seven contemporaneous articles were cited from news sites—including The Atlantic, Commentary, Salon, and Slate—that mentioned the “F-word.” Even two of Trump’s rival Republican candidates, …

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The Politics of Identity: Insights from Francis Fukuyama

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Oct. 27, 2018.

In his slim but useful book, Identity: The Demand for Dignity and the Politics of Resentment (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2018), Francis Fukuyama offers insights into one of the most perplexing questions of our times, the issue of identity and identity politics. In doing so, Fukuyama takes us on a tour of the globe, though his emphasis is on Europe and the United States. He also roots his interpretation in the tradition of Western philosophy and intellectual thought that goes back to the Greeks and runs through such European notables as Luther, Rousseau, Kant, and Hegel. The contemporary context of Fukuyama’s concerns is the rise of autocratic leaders, including Donald Trump, and the receding or backward slide of democratic traditions around the world.

Fukuyama believes that a “great deal of what we conventionally take to be economic motivation driven by material needs or desires is in fact a … desire for recognition of one’s dignity or status.” This is why people on the political left, among others, do not understand that what they believe to be economic self-interest is not the psychological element that most governs voters’ choices. The oft-as…

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Let's All Move to Norway

Jeff Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Feb. 23, 2018.

Last January Donald Trump tweeted that immigrants to America should not be allowed to come from “shithole countries” like Haiti and nations in Africa. Instead, he said, he preferred people from countries like Norway. People on Twitter, including some who are actually from Norway, were quick to remark that, for many Norwegians, America may seem to be the shithole. Of course, Donald Trump doesn’t know the first thing about Norway. He probably doesn’t even know its reputation for being a socialist country or the fact that it is part of NATO. To help me better understand Norway myself, I read George Lakey’s Viking Economics: How the Scandinavians Got It Right-and How We Can, Too (2016).


Lakey is a Pennsylvania Quaker who studied in Oslo in 1960, where he married a Norwegian. Lakey taught for a time in both Norway and London. He is known for being an activist, especially as a pacifist dating back to the civil rights protests and anti-Vietnam War movement. Viking Economics is about Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Iceland—especially about his wife’s native country. (Finland is Nordic, but not Viking.) Norway ranks as the happiest nation on t…

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Divided We Fall: The Fractured Coalition of the Democratic Party

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Nov. 28, 2017.

Here we are, more than a year after the November 2016 presidential election, and Democrats are still fighting the last war. In her recently published campaign memoir, What Happened, Hillary Clinton admits to having made some mistakes, but places most of the blame for her loss to Donald Trump on factors external to her campaign: Russian interference, James Comey, slanted news coverage, sexism, voter suppression—and Bernie Sanders. While the first five items in this list merit concern, it is the criticism of Sanders that is most germane to this article.

Clinton thinks that Sanders’s emphasis during the primary on her ties to Wall Street and his attempt to move the Democratic Party to the left caused her lasting damage. Although what Sanders said about her Wall Street ties was arguably true, she apparently thinks he was wrong to have used it against her. Nonetheless, Clinton is correct in pointing out that the unwillingness of some Sanders supporters to vote for her, against Sanders’s own advice, did hurt her in the Electoral College.

One way this defection from the Democratic Party manifested itself—whether it was the defection of Sanders…

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What Went Wrong: One Pollster's View

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Oct. 23, 3017.

In the latest issue of The American Prospect, long-time Democratic Party pollster Stanley Greenberg weighs in on what he thinks went wrong with Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. Greenberg was the lead pollster for the 1992 and 2000 presidential campaigns and a consultant for the 2004 campaign. In his TAP article, he draws upon his experience as a consultant for the 2016 campaign, whose advice was not heeded, and the book, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign, by journalists Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes.

Greenberg is of course cognizant of the external factors that influenced the election results, such as Russian interference and James Comey’s announcements of the FBI investigations into Clinton’s emails. He is also aware that Clinton, in her campaign memoir What Happened, admits to some mistakes made by her campaign. Still, Greenberg thinks that Clinton soft-peddles what he calls the “malpractice” of the campaign, and he is particularly critical of campaign manager Robbie Mooks’s overreliance on “data analytics.” This methodology utilizes strategic models built from data on “the country’s 200 million voters, …

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Watergate: The Benchmark Political Scandal

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, May 2, 2017.

We are currently in the midst of a political scandal that has the potential to rival the infamous Watergate scandal of the early 1970s. A political consensus has emerged, based on available information from U.S. intelligence agencies, that Russia hacked email files of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign with the intent of damaging Clinton’s candidacy. Suspicions about something nefarious afoot have been fueled by Donald Trump’s positive comments about Vladimir Putin. And information about contacts between members of the Trump campaign and presidential administration and Russian officials and businessmen are under investigation. That the Trump administration has recently been critical of Russia’s support for the murderous Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad does not necessarily undermine these suspicions. In fact, Trump’s recent criticism of Russia may, in part, be intended to deflect this evolving scandal.

The noted journalist Carl Bernstein, whose work with Bob Woodward during the 1970s helped expose the Watergate scandal of the Richard Nixon administration, thinks we are in the early stages of a cover-up. He b…

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Reflections on Fake News

Jeff Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Apr. 17, 2017

Recently I read an article by Sharon Noguchi in my local newspaper, the San Jose Mercury, about teachers helping students to distinguish between fake news and real news. The article focused on teenagers who naively get their news from the internet. The key paragraph in the article reads: “Lessons on fake news fit right into the state’s Common Core State Standards, which encourage primary-source research, discussion and critical thinking—answering the why questions over the what. Social studies teachers hope the debate will prompt a resurgence in their subject, which has taken a back seat in an era focused on math and English test scores, said Rachel Reinhard, site director of the UC Berkeley History Social Science Project. ‘If there ever were a mandate for meaningful history instruction, we’re in it right now’, she said.”

Knowledge of history is crucial to all analysis of what we read in the news. Without this knowledge, there is virtually no way to determine why something is happening. Everything that happens today is a consequence of the past. And yet, teenagers have very little first hand-experience of the past; and most of t…

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Climate Change and Nonviolent Resistance

Ron Berger

This article was originally published on Wise Guys, Feb. 27, 2017

Last November Bill McKibben, a leading environmental activist, delivered the inaugural Jonathan Schell Lecture at the New School in New York City. The lecture, which was entitled “On the Fate of the Earth,” was co-sponsored by The Nation Institute and the Gould Family Foundation; and the text of the lecture was adapted for a December 2016 issue of The Nation magazine. McKibben is the author of many books, including The End of Nature (1989), the first book on global warming written for a general audience, and Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future (2007). He is also the founder of, an international environmental group that takes its name from research that indicates that 350 parts per million (the ratio of carbon dioxide molecules to all other molecules) is the maximum “safe level” of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. Currently we are around 400 ppm and counting. With the confirmation of Donald Trump’s nomination of Scott Pruitt to head the Environmental Protection Agency, McKibben’s message becomes even more important.

Jonathan Schell (1943-2014) was the author of numerous books on the environment, nucl…

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