by Jay Monaco
It’s not always fun to be right.
It was Monday, the big explosive opening night for the week-long televised self-congratulatory festival of tepid liberalness – the Rave for Real Realistic Realism – that is the DNC. Bernie Sanders, self-described independent democratic socialist senator from Vermont and erstwhile candidate for President slash commandante for some kind of thing he referred to as “political revolution,” endorsed his rival, Hillary Clinton. He told his delegates in the convention hall and his supporters watching at home that it was time for them to support the perpetually presumptive nominee, despite having told that same audience for the last year that Clinton is a conservative certain to kill any hope of progressive advances in the years to come.
Perhaps even more cringe-worthy, though certainly less consequential, he had spent the hours prior to this sending frantic text messages and emails to his delegates to try to get them to shut up and stop being so enthusiastic about the things they believe in, the things he spent the last year encouraging them to believe in. And then after that, he got on stage and took one for the team. Which team? Not Team Political Revolution, heavens, no. We’ve got to be realistic now, guys. No, Sanders took it in the chin for the Democratic Party, just like he always said he would.
To the best of his ability, with as much persuasion as he could muster, he made a solid effort toward ushering his young, idealistic, enthusiastic voters into the welcoming arms and wolfish grin of the democrats. It is too early to say whether he will receive any kind of worthwhile reward for being such a good sport and playing his role, or precisely what sort of reward could possibly benefit an old politician whose zenith just blew past him, leaving him little else to do now but walk quietly off into the Shadow. But rewards and payoffs and motivations hardly seem to matter now. The deed is done – and the fact that he’d always unwaveringly promised to do so in the end likely limited his ability to make demands. The progressive liberals have been given their instructions – vote for Hillary or else – and all indications suggest they are going to do exactly that.
Yes, again: 90% of progressive liberals are all coming back to vote D one last time, thanks to the good will of Vermont’s charming favorite son from Brooklyn. Now – and it gives me no pleasure to have to come out and say it – isn’t that exactly what some might call…sheepdogging? Hasn’t the act not only been committed but successfully so?
Some of us, a year ago, warned that this was exactly what was going to happen, that it was inevitable, a certainty. That the DP is a dead end capitalist party that will only ever coopt radicalism and will never be influenced by it. Here we are, July 2016, twelve-plus exhausting terrible political months later: Sanders meeting the most ignominious possible fate, the Bernie or Bust crowd in both disarray and despair, and cheesier front “campaigns” like Movement4Bernie are just as dead as the day they were first stillborn. Hillary Clinton, after tossing a few crumbs Sanders’ way in the meaningless, nonbinding party platform, chose a conservative-ass white dude as her running mate, cementing her general election pivot to the right. The predictable pivot, the inevitable pivot. She plans to win the election with centrist “independents” and “sensible republicans,” while the progressive “base” of the party can either vote for her or go to hell – she doesn’t really care either way. She doesn’t need them and isn’t going to act like she does.
If this doesn’t really look to you like the Sanders campaign has pulled her to the left, that’s because it hasn’t, because it was never going to do that. Just like we said. A year ago. And I don’t mean to be a prick about that, especially because the whole affair has left me exhausted and deflated, because this is one of those times I was always secretly hoping I wasn’t right. I really wish some kind of political revolution was possible through the DP system, I wish it were true that young progressives could remake the party as one of social democracy, that the ballot box could lead the way to some measure of justice, some greater condition of equality.
But for better or worse, wishes make for bad revolutions. It’s a bummer, guys. And secretly, I’m not just exhausted, but really disappointed, a tiny sliver of my heart quietly sharing the optimism of the Sandernistas. I mean, I started paying attention to this Bernie guy way back in ’04, when the exhausting heartbreaks inherent to that presidential election led to my very first Marxism-curious stage. And I hear about this crazy congressman, the lone congressman from wild yoga hippie Vermont, who calls himself a socialist and nobody minds. By the time he ran for Senate the next time around, I was living in Keene, and I could hop the border into Brattleboro and see his campaign signs: they just read “Bernie” and they were red. This socialist dude was so unashamed he even printed red campaign signs. And nobody cared, and he won easily. Wow, hope for America, amirite?
Course my political journey didn’t stop there, and by the time this cool old man came to run for President, I was unable to experience the excitement I undoubtedly would have had anyone told me in ’04 that he would be the runner-up in a democratic primary. I would have flipped my shit. I couldn’t do that last year upon his announcement, because I don’t like lying to myself, but even if he is a sheepdog, and even if I’ve believed that to be the case from the beginning of this whole shebang, I’ve always felt Sanders is somehow a decent fellow, that he’s in some way honorable, or at least well-intentioned. He didn’t do this just to sheepdog, not as his goal. Right? I don’t know, maybe that makes me a sap. I won’t rule it out. I just say this to point to the fact that I still feel a certain sadness, largely against my will, that this is how this guy meets his end. What a bummer.
RNC kickin’ it up a notch
Last week, I tried to at least half-watch the first night of the RNC. Explicitly right-wing political conventions are always a special kind of bad, but I think we can all agree that whatever that was, it was some real next-level shit. I was not frightened so much as profoundly weirded out.
Never mind Trump’s batshit entrance to introduce his wife, and never mind his wife’s hilarious subsequent plagiarism (which I’m still convinced was sabotage, all claims to the contrary aside) – what struck me most was Rudy Giuliani, who still somehow gets invited places and even asked to talk, screaming about, like, something. I don’t know! I never could really figure it out, he was just screaming like a completely unhinged Italian old guy from New York, which I guess is what he is.
Then, even worse, was some psychotic spook general who managed to say all kinds of weird shit without ever really yelling. My takeaway (and I’m paraphrasing heavily here) was something like “We sure crushed communism, and it’s time we started crushing shit around the world again.” I mean, where to begin with all that? I feel like even most psychotic spook generals in 2016 have the wherewithal to recognize that pining for the Cold War isn’t particularly hip or resonant these days. And, please tell me, when did we actually stop crushing shit around the world? GAHH!
So that was enough for me. No more RNC for the rest of the week, no sir. And chances are, even if my experience hadn’t been so…full…I was probably never going to indulge in Trump’s hour-long fuhrer-LARP, and I didn’t. Nor was I tempted afterwards by the hysterical shrieking of the social media masses. No, I was already hunkered down as best I could in a trench, hoping the worst of it would blow by me. This would be the worst moment of all, the moment in which we all freak the hell out, the moment when even the sensible among us un-self-consciously embrace Godwin’s Law, the moment when it becomes clear to all Serious People Out There that we have got to stop the right wing menace at all costs.
Here we are, and I utterly failed to keep my head down long enough; but then, how could I ever be expected to hunker down until November? That’s a long time, and that’s how long we’re going to have to endure the incessant drum-beat. Thing is, watching the first night of the DNC was obviously a very different experience from that the prior week, but the effect on me was comparable. If anything, the main difference would be that the DNC speakers filled me with a rage I hadn’t experienced during my voyeuristic peek through the windows of the right.
Once again, it wasn’t the supposed main events that caught my attention – Bernie mumbled a bunch of predictable smarm into the mic and began his slow slide into the night. Elizabeth Warren gave a standard stump, or at least as standard as can be when you’re the Anti-Wall-Street Senator who just gleefully endorsed THE Wall Street Candidate of 2016. I enjoyed the booing and the chanting, that was cool. But what I began to find disturbing was less what was happening on the television and more what was happening on my phone. The sheer blast from the shaming of unruly Bernie delegates by even many “progressives” in my feed was something I wasn’t prepared for. And then the fawning over Michelle Obama’s speech….I wanted to scream. I did scream. I thought my head might explode. It was a bunch of strung-together platitudes about how in Greatest Motherland Country Amerika, with gumption and determination and a positive attitude, we will be GREAT and just naturally overcome all injustices, because we are, after all, Good People.
WHAT. What. Come on, seriously, this is what is getting people off? In 2016? Horatio fucking Alger mixed with ’04-’08 Barack Obama? We aren’t past this yet? This trick still works?
And that’s what scares me more than Donald Trump does. Right on cue, the whole of the media, even outfits like Gawker and the Guardian, basically everybody except The Intercept, TeleSUR, and RT, adopted the line. Et tu, Shaun King? We must defeat Trump. We must defeat Trump. We must defeat Trump. Fascism fascism fascism.
In a misguided attempt to avoid having to fight an insurgent right here at home, we must sacrifice the lives of children abroad. We must sacrifice the fight for black lives and accountable police, for health care for everybody, fair wages, unionization. We must sacrifice the whole of the fight against capitalism. Those dead children abroad will understand. We had to defeat Trump.
What’s next? Organizing! (What else?)
If it were not for the election-agnostic radical organizing I’m involved with, along with so many comrades, and the parallel organizing of cousin comrades, I would totally toss in the towel. No mas politics. No, thank you. This is just not fun.
But it is the duty of radical organizers to organize. Organize we must and organize we will, regardless of how fun or depressing it may be at various times. We’ve got treacherous waters to navigate going forward. The rushing tide to fall in line is headed directly for even that 10% of Sanders supporters we might reasonably consider among The Left. It has always been incumbent upon the socialists to find those people and give them a place to go.
It’s also important that those, especially those who still call themselves progressives, committed to radical change despite the primary results to not be swayed by false optimism yet again. I keep seeing promotion for some campaign called like Rock the Down Ballot or something. I understand it’s to get lefty liberals to run for local, municipal, and state office – but as democrats still, to transform the party from within. Still. Guys, learn from this. I beg you. Learn from the Sanders campaign. The DP is a dead end, and that’s just as true at the local level. We aren’t going to take over the party like some Progressive Tea Party from below. It’s not the same thing. Those Tea Party people got a foothold in the GOP because they had substantial financial and material backing from a certain section of the working class. We called it astroturf, as opposed to grassroots, remember? We can’t replicate that. That thing that happened to Sanders, that will happen at the local level, too. All that DNC corrupt machinery and all that, that exists on a more microcosmic scale everywhere in the party. And anyone who makes it through will be welcomed to the club, coopted, spit out.
Don’t do that.
As we go forward to lead some of these voters into third-party candidacies, we on the socialist Left must ourselves take care to keep focused on the goal. We will disagree on which candidate to pump, and that’s okay. I am personally quite disposed toward the idea of La Riva or Soltysik, explicit radical socialists, making clear where we stand and what we are all about. But I’m also actually engaged, without reservation, in support for Jill Stein’s Green candidacy. The GP is very flawed, and they’re only tepidly anti-capitalist. But this work puts us in direct contact with the crowd for whom sheepdogging didn’t work, and it would be malpractice for us to fail to speak with this section, to offer them a place to crash, so to speak, maybe stick around long term.
What we can certainly agree upon, however, is that we radicals never put all our efforts into elections – or even our primary efforts. We must organize in our communities and for our causes and solidarity, just as we always do. And while we can and should scoff at the ahistoric hyperbole about rising fascism in the US of A, we mustn’t discount the actual rise of the real Far Right, such as it is today. Hell, we encountered it just the past couple weekends in Manchester. This odious force can never be defeated at the ballot box, whether Trump wins or loses – and certainly not by electing a warmongering conservative like Clinton – and while the fearful shriek about falling in line to defeat it, we will be the only ones actually doing the work to make that happen. It’s time we come together, all of us, and talk about how we defend ourselves and the already oppressed, in real life, in the street every day. Not reckless Antifa adventurism, either. We need to plan, to cooperate, to gather information, and map out a strategy for the next several years.
Happy election season, everyone.