I used to love elections. More than almost anything in the world. Make fun of me all you want to, but for almost a decade, that wondrous msnbc RESULTS! theme would send surges of dopamine to my politically-addled brain. I loved the constant conflict, the ups and downs of the horserace, the rush of belonging to a team and passionately cheering their victory – and, being totally honest, there was even something I loved about the heartbreak of defeat.
And even though I’ve considered myself some kind of Marxist (for the most part, off and on) for the last twelve years, I was able for much of that time to suppress such deviant urges in favor of cheering on the democrats and their presumed moral superiority and entrenched role as the lesser evil.
No more, friends, no more. No más.
It’s Obama’s fault, of course. (Thanks, Obama!) Yep, I was one of the ones who got fooled by the guy. Again, make fun of me if you want to. I’m every bit as ashamed as you want me to be. Bottom line, however, his performance over time demonstrated him to be no better than the cartoonish arch villain Bush, and that did it for me. That was the end. No more democrats for me. I can’t vote, or root for, the barely lesser evil. I actually care about, like, what happens.
In fairness, I can’t pin it all on Barama. Time, age, experience, and, most of all, learning things and facts, hammered home the point that any justice whatsoever, not to mention survival itself, depends upon the abolishment of capitalism.
No democrat or republican, no matter how hip and cool and progressive, no matter how much they are down with the gays getting married and throwing shade at Wall Street, supports abolishing capitalism. None of them. Not even Bernie Sanders. And if you come to believe, as I have, that every single objective of importance, whether political or personal, depends fundamentally upon abolishing capitalism, battles between two teams that both enthusiastically agree to never do that one thing stop being fun.
I wish it weren’t so – the next thirteen months would otherwise be an unmitigated blast. Instead, I find myself utterly fatigued with all this shit already, wishing with all my heart we could at least do as the marginally more civilized Canadians do and limit elections to like eight weeks. It’d add years to my life, I promise you.
All that aside, I’ve avoided writing on this topic for months now, and now it’s almost November and my spirit lacks the fight required to avoid it any longer.
A Race in Disarray
I like to consider myself a political consultant-in-waiting (waiting for someone to pay me, of course), and as such I am extremely hesitant to admit this, but the best piece of writing I’ve seen on the state of the 2016 campaign ran in the Huffington Post a week ago, titled “It’s Time to Admit: Nobody Knows Anything About the 2016 Campaign.” I’d argue with the premise, but I’ve been insisting for months that Joe Biden would run if for no other reason than the fact that enough establishment democrats were dissatisfied with Hillary’s performance and her numbers. Even if she were still to ultimately win, I reasoned, they would want a good horserace, and they’d want the other horse to not be Bernie Sanders.
My expert prognostications grew only louder as September numbers came out showing that Biden might well be a contender for frontrunner immediately upon entering the race. When he didn’t jump in a month ago, I started to doubt the whole idea, though I wouldn’t admit it until after the first debate October 13. I refused to watch it live, but the next day’s coverage made me wonder if the cards played on the stage left any easy room for another player. What would his role be? Loosely speaking, ground had been claimed. Hillary was the Center, Bernie was the Left of Center, Martin O’Malley was Tommy Carcetti, Jim Webb was The One Who Killed a Guy, and Lincoln Chafee was That Confused Dude. Biden’s best hope always lay in seizing the mantle of Center-But-More-Hip, and it seemed like the moment to seize that mantle had already passed.
Then, of course, when the rumors started flying a week ago that he was definitely totally absolutely running and everyone had an “anonymous source,” I jumped all over that, claiming victory. I always know what’s up, amirite? Except I wasn’t right, nobody was, and he announced he was definitely totally absolutely not running.
It’s worse than that, though. Shit, I was convinced – publicly so – that Scott Walker would be the republican nominee, and that dude is gonezo. And to be sure, like many other observers, professional and amateur, I’ve been predicting a spectacular Trump implosion any day now since June and I assumed Bernie’s shine was going to wear off by the beginning of October at the latest. By all reasonable standards and measurements, both of those things should have happened, though reality very clearly tells us they haven’t. The senior HuffPost political staff (authors of the aforementioned article), are right. The reasonable standards and measurements don’t apply. We live in strange and dynamic times and we don’t know what the hell is going to happen.
Something about that is instinctually disconcerting to me, but what we on the Left seek is a total shakeup of the established order, so I guess I shouldn’t complain.
Besides, if you thought anything I just said was going to stop me from making further ill-advised analysis and projection, you were wicked mistaken.
Will Fascism Prevail?
Almost every single day, someone messages me in a panic. “Is there really a chance of Donald Trump really winning? Tell me there isn’t.” Except I can’t offer them much. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been telling these very same people for months not to worry, that Michelle Bachman and Rick Santorum and Rick Perry and like five other people were front-runners in the summer of 2011. I’ve been telling them that while the Republican Party may be incompetent and morally degenerate, they’re not entirely impotent, and won’t allow this guy to run away with it and bring them all down in the process. I’ve been insisting that at some point he’ll say or do something so far beyond the pale that not even the Trumpster can survive it. So far, I’ve been wrong about all of those things. I can repeat them all again, almost like a calming mantra of mindfulness, but it won’t have the same effect and I’m afraid I’ve already lost a substantial amount of my credibility on the subject.
The fact that Donald Trump and his brazenly crypto-fascist campaign has made it this far, and enjoys the massive popular support that it does, is in itself terrifying. I actually don’t think it’s possible to overstate how bad this is, for everyone. To be more precise, the popularity of Trump’s radical candidacy is not a calamity in and of itself, as a singular event, but because it shines a bright light on a dark and disturbingly ugly truth: the fascist impulse is strong, in this country, at this time. Whether or not he actually wins no longer has any impact on that fact – it will remain true even if he is defeated. The nature of this kind of purely reactionary militant racist nativism is, I hate to say, such that it may even grow stronger after a Trump loss, out of the need to channel their frustration somewhere else. Trump has provided these jackbooted thugs (many disguised cleverly as “soccer moms” and “ordinary folks”) with a platform, an outlet for their most repressed and deep-seated bigotry.
Mark my words – they won’t allow themselves to be robbed of that. They’re not going to go quietly. We need to be prepared for that.
On the plus side, he’s still not going to win. He’s still the clear front-runner, but his early surge is starting to abate, his dominance no longer unquestioned. The fact that Ben Carson, a guy who isn’t really serious about being president (or even vice president) so much as interested in selling books and getting a better contract from Fox, has started to edge him out in a couple of key state polls, should be taken as a legitimate sign that the whole charade is past its peak.
Jeb Bush, who’s pissed about a lot of things right now, has enthusiastically fired the first intramural shots at the fake billionaire frontrunner. Others will follow his lead. There are two factors at play here. One is the obvious fact that it’s in the interest of the party itself to take the guy down. There are concerns about his electability, widespread nervousness about the fact that the bigotry and xenophobia of Trump and his supporters is simply more obvious than even republicans consider tasteful, and, more than anything else, the existential drive of any party, of any flavor, to eliminate anything it cannot control.
The second factor is tangentially related to Trump’s refusal to be controlled – his arrogance has led him, unwisely, into making some pretty powerful enemies, namely Rupert Murdoch and the Koch Brothers. Do you really think anybody who pisses off the Fox News guy and the poster boy caricatures for Dark Right-Wing Business Money has a chance of winning the republican nomination? Pssshhhhhhhhh. I don’t.
So, if it even matters, where will that leave us? Like I already mentioned, Carson’s just fucking around and isn’t as much of a maniac as Trump is; in other words, he doesn’t even want to lead the pack for more than a month or so. Bush himself probably isn’t gonna be the one, either. To be clear, you can’t count anybody out with his money or his family’s political machine (yes, it still exists), but for Jeb, it no longer seems to be a matter of the Bush name being toxic in any way so much as his own failure to actually perform as a candidate. He’s boring everyone to tears in a year in which all republicans have made clear they are not to be bored. This isn’t smart-careful-boring, it’s not-sure-why-he’s-running boring.
That’s not the image he wants to project, and maybe (probably) he’s hoping that aggressively attacking Trump will break him out of that mold, and that by taking down Trump he can seize his crown. I don’t see it going down like that, though. He may well succeed at leading the charge that clips Trumpski’s wings, but I don’t see him reaping the rewards. He’s already too much of a disappointment for that.
Rubio, Cruz, and even Fiorina are hoping I’m right. They’re the only ones left with any kind of numbers whatsoever. Each of them is waiting for Bush to beat the shit out of Trump and then remain at no more than 7-12% for the next six months, when he can respectably quit the race. They’re betting Carson will get confused and wander off sometime before mid-January, and then it has to be one of them, solely because someone has to win this thing.
That’s really what the republican race is going to boil down to – an amateurish and embarrassing process of elimination that leads to the nomination of some haggard survivor who hung on until he (or she, but probably he) won by default and default alone.
On the other side, we’re finally watching the beginnings of Bernie Sanders’ slide into defeat. Any Sandernistas reading this will begin flipping out after reading that sentence, I promise you, but it’s true. Hey, I give the man credit for taking his roadshow this far. He’s gone way further than I would have imagined, has seen a level of popularity that might cautiously skeptically represent a minor source of encouragement. And yes, he’s still got big crowds, good finances, a lot of free press, and strong numbers in early primary and caucus states. No, to the extent that he has ever been in it, he’s not out of it yet. But this is where it starts. Let me explain.
Since the debate almost two weeks ago, the incessant outcry about how the media is lying about Hillary’s strong debate performance and Bernie really won (because “online polls” + Kool Aid or something) has made me want to bash my head into the wall. None of the howling on this subject is based in reason. How many memes did I see promoting a pseudo-conspiracy in which CNN has to say Hillary won because Time Warner gives money to Hillary? Guys, all the medias said that Hillary won, not just CNN. Besides, wasn’t it just a few years (or minutes) ago that half the democratic party was screeching about how the media hates Hillary? Just, I mean, for the record, so I can keep this straight…does the media hate Hillary or are they in the tank for her?
Besides, most of the people I saw posting such things are people I know to be smart enough to understand that online polls do not now, nor do they ever, reflect anything close to reality. That’s why people pay polling firms to do it, like, scientifically. Anyway, you don’t have to like cold political punditry, but that’s all that’s at work here. No conspiracy. Winning a presidential debate is not the same as winning a college debate match (or debate-off/debateathon, whatever they are called). It has nothing to do with articulating the best ideas. It’s much simpler than that – who benefits? Who comes out of that debate with something they didn’t have before?
The answer to that question, objectively, coming from someone who has zero love for the Clintons, is Hillary Clinton. She did not have to score a knockout blow to win the debate; in fact, a knockout blow might actually have done her more harm than good. From her position as the Reasonable Experienced Centrist Frontrunner, all she had to do to win was be cogent and not fuck up. That’s what she did! It’s Bernie who needed to be aggressive and dominant, and instead he played at gallantry. The people who already love Bernie loved everything he said and did in that debate. But he didn’t win anybody over, while many who aren’t thrilled about a Hillary candidacy came away saying “Ehhhhh, maybe she’s not that bad.”
All post-debate polling bears this out. The pundits weren’t lying to you. They were just telling you something you don’t want to hear. Since the debate, Hillary’s numbers have shot up, particularly in New Hampshire, a state she was frankly never in danger of losing for a moment (doesn’t anyone remember 2008?!!? Jesus!). Webb and Chafee have bailed. Biden took a pass. And then she killed that ridiculous Benghazi hearing. This is her moment, and she’s just getting started. She’s about to blaze past Bernie and cruise to the nomination.
Sanders has a (very long) shot at Iowa, but he will lose New Hampshire, and probably every other state. The Clinton machine will see to it, as well, that he is not able – as Obama was in ’08 – to capture large numbers of delegates from a 2nd-place position. Biden’s entry would have made this a bit more predictable, but with that off the table, plan on the fireworks on the D side ending no later than mid-March.
Which brings me to my last point…
ARE WE GOING TO DO ANYTHING USEFUL, EVER
All of the lefties like me who actually oppose capitalism (unlike, say, Bernie Sanders) have been talking for months about how we need to engage the Bernie supporters so as to take advantage of the left-leaning energy in the country and build this into something resembling the mass movement Bernie could be making but refuses to.
So far, nobody has done anything. No, showing up and doing an “intervention” and trying to recruit for your party, as if the Bernie people are total idiots, doesn’t count. Neither, frankly, does pushing Jill Stein as a Sanders substitute. Don’t get me wrong – if I vote at all, it will be for Stein, but a quiet and dignified Unitarian-style suggestion of “Nooooo, vote Green!” isn’t the most impactful use of our time.
Can we talk to each other? Can we acknowledge one another? Can we come together with sincerity and pragmatism to somehow productively engage the more radical members of the Sanders camp in solidarity with an eye toward future cooperative action?
So far, all indications are that the answer to all of those questions is a resounding no. But with 3-4 months to go, I’ll remain hopeful – but this, right now, is our last chance to get something going. Though I won’t share them just yet (wait a couple days and I’ll lay it on you), I’ve got some ideas. Do you? Let’s hear it.