Throughout history, it’s often been the case that great crises produce great leaders, should they meet the challenge of their time. Lincoln prevailed in his efforts to pass the 13th Amendment during the bloodiest war in American History. Franklin D. Roosevelt saw America through both the Great Depression and World War II. Even John F. Kennedy, to a less significant extent, bolstered his legacy by navigating the Cuban Missile Crisis (although it must be said, this was a crisis he had a hand in creating). In trying times, petty squabbles are usually put aside, and people do something quite rare; they support their leaders.
That support can be inspiring albeit brief. After the 9/11 attacks, George W. Bush’s approval ratings rose to 90%. His father’s also peaked during the Gulf War, a decade before. In both cases, those numbers quickly dwindled. I would like to suspect the same will happen for Donald J. Trump, whose approval ratings have somehow risen, despite a disastrous response to Covid-19.
I would like to think that because…
The effects of his inaction and bluster are palpable. As I write (Easter Sunday), the death toll in the US resulting from Covid-19 has reached 20,000. Unfortunately, that will continue to rise and many more will continue to be incapacitated to some extent or another. Hospitals are overwhelmed and there are not enough face masks to go around. Trump’s position has shifted considerably from a month ago when he glibly downplayed the extent of the crisis; something a lot of people did, but not those with top-level intel. I’m glad he is now taking it seriously and yes, perhaps it could’ve gotten a lot worse but really, with a competent president, it could’ve been a lot better.
Before this crisis, Trump had already made a mockery of the Oval Office and committed himself to the status of being the worst US President in history. However, a lot of his legacy was also built on the fragmentation of politics and polarisation of liberals and conservatives. The latter, fervent in their beliefs, would not give an inch even if it meant ignoring treason on their leader’s part. That’s pretty despicable and we can get into it another day but what’s fundamentally different about this crisis, is that politics simply shouldn’t enter the equation. Trump’s response is not political dogma; it’s sheer incompetence. Economically and emotionally, neither liberals or conservatives will be spared. The figures speak for themselves.
Alas though, I suspect he might survive this…
His election in 2016 was a fathomless affair so who’s to say this will finally be the straw that breaks the camel’s back? He’s defied reason and become exception at every other turn. Maybe, ideological differences will continue to outweigh any other perceptions. Maybe, this will still not give credence to the importance of a comprehensive health care system. Plus…
Well, you might have heard that Bernie Sanders dropped out of the Democratic race last week. This was a surprising turn for many although even if the primaries weren’t delayed, he was unlikely to succeed (being 300 delegates behind). Effectively, this has rendered “Sleepy Joe” the Democratic nominee. Again, I would like to think he would be a shoe-in to defeat Trump but his interviews thus far have been… they’ve been disastrous. Let’s not beat around the bush. He’s clearly out of his wits; uncertain of what he’s quoting, what he’s saying, and what exactly is going on. Is this a harsh assessment? Yes. But a necessary one. Joe. Needs. To. Get. His. Shit. Together. Hillary Clinton lost to Trump after all. Joe Biden, like her, is perceived by many as an establishment centrist but he’s a) “another old white dude” and b) less smart.
Now, Bernie’s supporters should do what they can to help him get elected. Although he has an iffy track record in several departments and is a less than ideal substitute for a progressive, he is a lot better than Trump. He will be reasonable, he may even work with some of those progressives, and yes, restoring a sense of normality would be a good thing. More importantly though, there’s just too much at stake to take a risk at another four years. Joe and his cohorts are right when they say the character of America would be fundamentally changed by a second term.
I’m not a big fan of theoretic propositions or what ifs when it comes to history. That way lies some Back to the Future II madness. But what if we actually tried to learn something from this crisis. It’s a devastating and frankly depressing time and one which should not be trivialised. To that extent, I’d like to specify that I’m not referring to some vague spiritual reawakening on mankind’s part or for the celebrities involved in that “Imagine” cover to reconvene and do better. I mean, what if we learn to appreciate and prioritise what matters on a practical level: the health care system. For too long, America’s rolled the dice on this one and sorry to say, it’s coming back to bite them on the ass. Politicians have sold out their peoples’ future and now innocent, less well-off people are suffering in the masses.
This crisis couldn’t have been avoided completely but it could’ve done with a steady pair of hands and a calm, reassuring voice. Like Obama’s. Trump is no leader. He’s not a unifier. He’s not smart. He’s not willing to learn. His ego means more to him than the lives of his people. That’s a hard truth for people to accept but we’re running out of time for bullshit. Again, politics shouldn’t matter. How could they in this situation? There’s no use left in blaming all those who voted for him in 2016 but it’s time to start thinking about what it’d be like to have, if not a genius in the Oval Office, a decent individual?
Or “The Washington Walrus’ Guide & Insight to Super Tuesday”.
What makes Super Tuesday so super? And why have we, The Washington Walrus, elected to add another “super” into the mix? Yes, this was no fortuitous matter. For you see, while the media and pundits have been endlessly speculating on the ramifications of the debates and results from recent primaries/caucuses, the fact of the matter is that everything could go topsy turvy this Tuesday coming. Here’s a few questions we’ve submitted and answered ourselves to shed some light.
What is Super Tuesday?
It’s like the Wrestlemania of the primary season for Republicans and Democrats. Since there’s nothing going on with the former party, the latter will be granted the full glare of the spotlight when 14 states (and the American Samoa caucuses) go up for grabs.
What are these states?
There’s Alabama, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, and Virginia.
How many delegates are up for grabs?
A thousand, three hundred and thirty four! To put this in context, 100 have been granted so far (with 54 more shortly as South Carolina is decided) out of a total 3,979. So while it’s not a complete deal breaker, it’s a very strong indicator of where the stars align.
What state has the most?
California with 415.
So should the candidates not put more effort into the likes of California than say, Maine?
Now, now. Maine’s 24 delegates may seem meager in comparison but the little things matter and come the general election, you’ll want to make sure you’ve covered more than just the east and west coast. Hillary learned this the hard way. After all, the electoral college is still a thing.
What is the electoral college?
Ughh… we’ll get to that at another time.
So why is so much emphasis placed on Iowa?
As aforementioned, the media revel in a good post-results analysis and while this may not account for what happens Super Tuesday, it’s important to see who has momentum. Iowa, as the first state, is something of a springboard. When Pete Buttigieg prematurely announced his victory (quite unfairly and somewhat inaccurately), he got the spotlight to shine just a little brighter on him. Sleepy Joe, on the otherhand, with his lack of success, quickly got painted as a candidate in decline.
Who’s leading right now?
Without South Carolina’s results accounted for, Bernie Sanders is leading at the moment with 45 delegates; Mayor Pete’s in 2nd place with 25; Sleepy Joe with 15, Elizabeth Warren with 8, and Amy Klobuchar with 7.
Who’s going to win Super Tuesday?
With a diverse range of states, nobody exactly wins, although a victor will be painted as such. It’s a little hard to call. Bernie Sanders has recently been topping polls nationwide so my money would be on him. This could be a turning point for the trailing Joe Biden however, who’s asserted he has a better chance of winning over Trump supporters and more moderate democrats. Mayor Pete too, is angling this territory whilst Elizabeth Warren’s settled into the gap between Bernie and them. In the end though, it’ll probably be a mix with Pete and Biden (and possibly Warren) hanging on through to the end of March.
What about Bloomberg?
His debate performances thus far have been so terrible that his camp could even do with getting help from Jeb! 2016 (don’t forget the exclamation mark). He has a tonne of money though, so you can’t exactly rule him out.
When exactly will we know who the Democratic nominee is?
The primary season ends in early June, although we should have a good idea by the end of April. Then, of course, there’s the shadowy league of super-delegates to deal with.
What are super-delegates?
Nobody quite knows. It is said they were born from an occult-like, yet beige, experiment in the woods when leading Democratic establishment figures realized they could lose the run of things after several disappointing election results. Actually, we wrote an article back in 2016 about them if you’re interested but what you need to know is that at 775 members (this year), they make up 1/5 of the total delegates and vote after the primary season is over. They’re criticized largely because they can potentially muck up things and could undermine the nomination of, oh let’s say, Bernie Sanders, should he prove problematic to the party’s core members.
When is Super Tuesday?
This Tuesday. We already mentioned this.
Indeed. Any other questions?
Yes, why is this site called the Washington Walrus?
Washington- cause we deal primarily with American politics. Walrus- to suggest a degree of majesty.
On Presidents’ Day, we like to take some time out from covering current events and issues to look back at past presidents, their ups and downs, and how they shaped the United States. In 2017, we ranked the modern presidents (including Trump) and last year, we pondered which presidents might make up a Mount Rushmore of the worst leaders (including Trump). This year, we’re taking a positive turn to examine my favorite president; James Earl Carter (1977-1981).
Let’s address first the fact that Carter was not a popular leader and is not even that well regarded by Democrats or Republicans. With massive levels of inflation, long lines for petrol, an energy crisis, and a tense Iranian hostage situation dominating headlines in the late 1970s, it was only natural that his image would suffer. Besides these largely external factors however, Carter was perceived as a weak leader, indeterminate in his decision making and unable to inspire a nation brought down by a prolonged war in Vietnam and the controversial Watergate scandal. He was even challenged by the popular senator Ted Kennedy for the nomination in 1980 when he went up for re-election, going on to beat him before eventually losing to Reagan. So… I’ve got a fair amount to explain.
One of America’s biggest problems has always been its unmitigated patriotism. The idea that this is a superior nation where Government is always the problem, not the people, really got a burst of steam in 1980 when Reagan ran against Carter. This was an easy card to play against a president who once stated that “human identity is no longer defined by what one does but rather by what one owns.” Carter was not a man of bluster and pomp; at his inauguration, he demonstrated as much by getting out of the limo and walking towards Congress. Unlike previous presidents before he him, he would not be removed from the people. He would always do what was right and always be honest; a far cry from what we expect of any politician today.
The thing is people don’t like to be told they’re wrong or that they need to change their ways. On almost every measure he undertook, Carter had to face an upwards battle, be it with the return of the Panama Canal, passing energy bills, SALT II, and even a lost battle for national health insurance. With the latter, he was notably more conservative than the great liberal hopeful, Ted Kennedy, but not to the degree that he was senseless or insensitive. Rather, he was being somewhat measured and cautious with taxation, given the economic problems of the time. This was perhaps the Democrats’ greatest chance at a comprehensive health care scheme too up until the Obama administration, destroyed not by the president but by Ted Kennedy, who saw his last-minute withdrawal of support as an opportune moment to leverage his stakes against Carter in 1980. This has been leveled as a failure of the Carter administration despite the fact that Ted Kennedy undermined the bill for mere electoral purposes (when asked why he was running for president, the man could barely even respond).
Carter and Kennedy’s animosity towards each other had been building even before that battle. The reason was simple enough. Carter was an outsider. He was not a part of the traditional Democratic elite and his election had come out of nowhere for a party who had ran Hubert Humphries and George McGovern in 1968 and 1972 to no avail. In the wake of Watergate, the nationally unknown governor of Georgia was able to capitalize on the peoples’ disenfranchisement and rise like no other candidate before or since. In power, he comprised a cabinet of his own people (the so-called “Georgia mafia”) and adopted something of a middle-ground idealism between the Republican and Democratic parties. In many ways, the Democrats had much more trouble with him than the adversary party. Carter would not play ball with them on everything; upon taking office, he quickly axed several water projects that had been in projection for years and set about tackling goals they had no interest in. Kennedy’s opposition would eventually fracture the Democratic party and make it a lot easier for Reagan to win. Had the senator’s personal ego not gotten in the way in 1980, Carter’s success might have been a whole other story.
There were successes too of note. Carter was the only president to broker a lasting peace agreement between Egypt and Israel in the Camp David Accords, which stunned even his most ardent critics. He brought human rights front and center for all the world to appreciate and understand in a way that hadn’t been done by any president before. He established both the Department of Energy and the Department of Education. He didn’t launch a single missile (the only president since WW2 to not do so). And, he tried to tackle America’s growing dependence on foreign resources. He even had solar panels up on the White House!
On paper or online then, it’s quite easy to make a case for the 39th president. A majority of people simply didn’t see him as presidential however. He wasn’t bold in his decision making; he didn’t rock the boat the way Reagan would with the Soviet Union. He didn’t deliver a multitude of triumphant speeches (although his Crisis of Confidence speech, which we looked at back in 2017, was one of the greatest ever given by a president) and he didn’t equate military might with strength as a nation.
On this last point, it’s difficult to wholly absolve him of blame for the Iranian Hostage Crisis. The helicopter rescue was a disaster, if well meaning, and his decision to let the Shah receive cancer treatment in the US too was short-sighted (again, if decent). Carter was made to look foolish throughout the prolonged period in which the hostages were held (lasting 444 days) to the point that they were mockingly released mere moments into the Reagan administration. This episode however also speaks volumes of the man’s decency because the first thing he did, upon leaving office (having stayed up the whole night negotiating their release) was to fly and meet them. Carter might’ve been more successful had he launched a missile, yes (something Reagan would’ve had no hesitation in doing) but above anything, he was concerned what ramifications this might have had for the prisoners. That kind of humanity is often lost in those reaches of powers.
I don’t consider Jimmy Carter to be the greatest US president or even in the top ten but what he was, was a different choice who, given enough time, might have set the US on a much more noble path. They might’ve really had a shot at implementing renewable sources elsewhere (had Reagan not had the solar panels torn down) and might really have made further grounds with the Middle East peace process. Alas, in 1980, America decided to turn the other cheek and have the convenient microwave meal. Carter went on to inspire in his own way, establishing the Carter Center for Human Rights, tackling the guinea worm disease in Africa, monitoring elections, and going on to win a Noble Peace Prize in 2002. He’s one of the very few presidents in US history I believe who refused the easy short cuts and was willing to make the hardest decisions, because they were right and not out of political motivation.
We are a week out from the Iowa caucus now and my hopeful 2015 self should be starting to re-emerge in full blossom. Bernie Sanders is leading. Not only there. But in New Hampshire. Momentum is growing. The attacks are escalating on him, yes, but they don’t seem to be having the desired effect. And yet, I’m filled with trepidation when anyone speaks the warm and effervescent words “President Sanders”. I should stop them. I raise a finger as if to offer counsel but I just cant. Hardship must be learned in the battle fields.
I speak metaphorically, of course, with a dash of drama thrown in. After all, the 2016 election wasn’t that long ago. I still remember it well. I remember thinking: Holy cheese and crackers, he could really do it. If social media’s anything to go by, nobody’s voting for Hillary. Like that Kevin Spacey character from House of Cards, she can remain a part of the old Washington tapestry. Kevin Spacey sure does seem like a nice guy in interviews though…
What a fool I was. Not only did it turn out that my liberally-infested social media actually accounted for f- all in the grand scheme of things but apparently Kevin Spacey was also somewhat demanding on film sets. Ah, to have that cocky gleam brought back to my eyes; that penchant for hope that made 2008 a magical year for so many. But alas, it is not 2008. It’s not 2016. It’s 2020. We’ve seen the election of Donald Trump. We’ve seen Brexit come to pass. We’ve seen Bolsanaro turn a blind eye to the Amazon fires in Brazil. We’ve seen similar fires ravage the landscape of Australia and be ignored by political leadership. We’ve seen both Game of Thrones and Star Wars butchered to death. We should probably just give up and hope Sleepy Joe doesn’t make a faux pas in the debate against Donald Trump.
It would be easier that way but even though I’m skeptical of what I read on social media these days, I am hopeful to a reasonable degree. Why? Because somethings have changed for the better since 2016. Hillary may have got the nomination back then but the momentum of the party came from the rallies of Bernie Sanders. Three years later, we were given a wide and much more liberal-leaning Democratic field than we could have imagined, debating the best ways to tackle the climate change crisis without a major candidate’s proposal falling below the Greenpeace B grade. The year before, the Democrats also took the House back with cultural change highlighted in the election of representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar.
Despite becoming a household name, Sanders has had, in some respects, a tougher climb this time around however. Whilst a breath of fresh air in 2015/16, by the time candidates were declaring early last year, he was one of several leftist options. Warren was leading him for the most part. Even, Kamala Harris managed a strong ascent for awhile. Joe Biden, of course, became the presumptive nominee even before he had announced. Plus, the rise of woke culture meant he had to deal with the impossible contention of being “another old white man”; a deal breaker for some people we can’t find a politically correct word for. He also had to account for some volunteers of his sexually harrassing others in 2016, as if he personally shepharded every single person involved in his campaign. The criticism was feeble and his moral consistency never wavered; that’s why he managed to succeed.
In recent weeks, the attacks have gotten more desperate. First, Elizabeth Warren affirmed that in a private meeting in December 2018, Sanders had told her he didn’t believe a woman could be president. She quickly tried to downplay the importance of this, which seemed unfair considering anyone alive would know how big a splash this would make. Sanders outright dismissed the validity of this statement anyways, leaving speculation to hang in the air although to many, Warren’s allegations came across as calculated given her falling poll numbers. Then Hillary Clinton, most calculated of all politicians, said that “nobody likes” Sanders, criticizing the culture around “Bernie Bros” and calling him a “career politician”. This may have boosted his numbers, if anything because a) people saw this as a child-like insult, b) people countered that he had done in excess of 30 rallies for her in 2016 (far more than she did for Obama in 2008), and c) not that many people like her (even Trump probably thought to enter the backlash for a minute before returning to his Mc Cheese Burger). And then, Bernie had the audacity to share a video of popular podcaster Joe Rogan saying he’d “probably” vote for Sanders, which many pointed out, was wrong because Joe Rogan has said made some controversial comments about trans people in the past. Bernie’s team responded by saying that just because he valued the endorsement does not mean he agrees with everything Joe Rogan says. I mean, it was hardly an endorsement from the KKK.
So, the attacks don’t seem to be landing. The latest polls show Bernie leading Buttigieg and Biden in Iowa. There is a good chance he could win the primaries and go onto becoming the Democratic nominee. His battle with Trump will be a whole other challenge thereafter. I don’t believe there are any proper controversies that are worth taking this man down. Unfortunately, I’m not part of the crowd with the loudest voices. Taking into account those cases above, anything seems to be on the cards for a stir. Bernie could lose half of his online California following by dismissing a vegan sandwich as “gross”. Maybe he’ll stand on a grasshopper? Who knows? For now, most people seem to be wising up to the vapid nature of woke criticism but just remember any previous election in US history; things get dirty and viscous. Is it worth discarding an A candidate if we discover a little tip-ex over the minus part that follows? Is it worth jeopardizing the future of the party over impossible standards and loose lips that okay, sometimes say the wrong words (or the right words the wrong way)?
The idea of “President Sanders” is not an impossibility. It is not going to be a walk in the park either. Just as the Republicans have united to win elections when unity was called for, so should the Democrats follow suit. And I mean this too for if Warren or Biden or Buttigieg (somehow) gets the nomination. The hope that defined Obama’s rise twelve years ago was a noble but surface concept; the jaded US of today needs something a little more tangible.
In 1992, Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History… suggested that with the end of the Cold War, humanity had reached an end/block point to the ideological evolution of the 20th century resulting in a broad acceptance of Western liberal democratic values. It was a stupendously general claim to make and one that would be criticised as new problems rose to take the place of the old. But if you take a step back, you’ll see how it is sometimes crucial for our understanding of history to get a broad overview before splitting stones because back then the US had very much started a new chapter of its story.
Hindsight is key for any proper historical evaluation. This article will simply not be able to capture the essence, key themes and ideas of the last decade; at least, not in a lasting way- primarily because, we don’t know what’s going to be important six months from now, let alone in 20 years. New information always becomes available and our core values change with each generation. Obama may be considered left of centre today but for future generations, he could be positively right-wing. Heck, Richard Nixon (the most flabbergasted of Republican presidents) established the Environmental Protection Agency.
Enough dawdling though; this context is important for the purpose of humility but it does not advance the story of the 2010s. What was this decade all about? How did America get from point A to point B? From Hope to Trump.
A New Generation
The millennials came of age this decade. Cast in the shadow of global austerity measures and economic hardship following the Financial Collapse of 2008, theirs (I say theirs, ours really) was a generation fraught with a unique level of anxiety. Many degrees were becoming increasingly less advantageous as job opportunities dried up and the unpaid internship net widened. It’s no wonder why, in this context, a sea of resentment festered; particularly against Boomers who wreaked prosperous opportunities in less tech-automated times whilst ignoring the most pressing issues facing the youth of today. As such, we’ve seen more people living at home for longer, trying for MAs, and adapting to a range of career positions; fluidity and creativity all the more pertinent.
Did the Obama administration fail this generation then by following in Bush’s lead in bailing out the banks? Intentions are certainly important; Obama did save America from the brink of a depression but the seeds of discord were planted in 2009 and the early 2010s. If millennials were to be denied the opportunities of their fathers or grandfathers, they’d at least strive to make their voices heard- which they very much have; for better and worse.
With regards the better, they (and Generation Z) have called for increasingly liberal stances on issues such as student fees, climate change, and health care. Whilst not altogether effective yet, the knocking on the government’s door has been getting louder and louder in recent years. How else would one explain the sensation that is Bernie Sanders; a candidate who probably wouldn’t have prospered this way in the 2000s. In another area, they have been more effective; calling for increased diversity in workplaces, media, and arts. Today’s music, TV, and film scene is a lot less white than it was 20 years ago.
With regards the worse, millennials are often seen (seen, don’t cancel me) as petty and entitled by the older generations (who in turn, have seemingly forgotten their responsibility to rear and guide their children). Is there truth to this? It’s a wild stereotype that’s limited but keeping in mind, the general overview from the intro, I’m inclined to believe that for all the good done with social media justice, there is an equal and lamentable drive for over-reaction. It is far too easy to get a rise out of people on social media or to have their television or film contract reassessed due to some stupid but ultimately unimportant remarks made in the past. On college campuses, speakers are protested for merely holding non-liberal views and as a result, many fear the very idea of free speech is under threat (especially when the term “hate speech” gets added to the mix). Outrage is an industry in and of itself.
Millennials can be said to be tolerant of anything but intolerance. Again, generally. At first glance, this may seem amicable and perfectly reasonable. Look at the strides made by the LGBTQ community this decade; today, people assess sexuality and gender in a far broader context than ten years ago. On the other hand, judgment has become popular and forgiveness is in short supply. This is not meant to advocate some false equivalency of opinion between liberals and conservatives but rather to point out that to effect change among certain groups, it is sometimes wise to speak rather than shout, listen so as to at least be cordial. This is as much a question of generational divide as it is political ideology; a great gulf has split people on subjects ranging from health care to gender neutral bathrooms. I believe we should let decency prevail where political correctness fails because there are numbers to be gained from the other side, especially in 2020.
With all that in mind, I don’t think millennials can be faulted for their intentions. Climate change does need to be addressed and for this reason alone, there is more hope to be found with 20- to 30-somethings than with our elders. The question looming over the 2020s on this issue, among others (like gun control) will be did they manage to tackle the problem effectively as well as righteously.
The Culture Wars (On Steroids)
To explore this generational/ideological gulf further, we must assess why and how everything became so political. What do I mean? What talk show today doesn’t feature a joke about Trump? What books or movies or genres of music do well with one camp or with another? This isn’t exactly a new idea- the culture wars have long been prevalent in American society but nowadays, even a movie like Star Wars: The Last Jedi is read by some as a feminist assault on traditional cinema. The reactions to divisive projects like this are often downright ridiculous but they do have origins tales of their own; for just as diversity promised to enrich America’ cultural experience, there were those who felt the pendulum was moving a little too fast and in places with a little too much force (e.g. female reboots, politically correct re-workings). With the recent reaction to John Legend’s version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, it’s fair to say that “woke culture” (to broaden this horizon) was given a bit of a slap in the face. The condemning of past opinions too (like John Wayne’s on race relations), while right, also seem trivial and petty. Will it be a case that liberals have to learn to pick their battles or will a dignified if self-righteous sense of morality prevail?
Of course, the culture wars don’t matter to most people and outrage (built on Twitter feeds) has never truly reflected the actuality of common opinion. Clickbait journalism and not-even-trying-to-be-objective-anymore news stations have amplified once barely prevalent tensions. Controversy sells and as long as people relinquish their sacred duty for critical thinking (on the left and right), the battleground will continue to get muddier.
It’s also become harder to blend opposing facets of oneself. You vote Blue so you must adhere to every liberal constitution, right? Your favourite movie is Moonlight andyou drive a hybrid? Where the divide between Democrats and Republicans has intensified on the actual issues, so too have the values associated with social liberals and conservatives. It may not come across on your social media field but there have been gay republicans and fervently religious but vegan democrats. Contradictions may arise if you take everything literally but people aren’t just what they wear, what they vote, or what they listen to. The idea of groupthink and identity politics may be useful for our understanding of certain privileges and economic disadvantages but it is fundamentally important to remember the individuals (sometimes) trapped within.
From Hope to Trump
So far, we have largely explored the emerging tide of liberal values among millennials as well as their shortcomings. While their voices may be heard across social media and campuses however, the real power now lies with a bizarre authoritarian right wing. Is this a reaction to political correctness? A reaction to an America older white people don’t recognise? To the failure and stalling of democracy? Obama? It’s hard to pin it down to one reason but most people would agree it is indeed a reaction.
Let’s go back to 2010. The economy is poor and health care legislation has been passed. The Republicans have amped up their objection to an 11. Will they undo Obama’s key piece of legislation? No. But they will use it as bait to take back both the House and Senate later that year and for the next six, make Obama’s presidency as much of a struggle as possible. Every time, a shooting occurs, they will keep focused and ensure protection of the NRA… I mean, the 2nd Amendment. Every time, a liberal piece of legislation comes forward from Obama, they will block it because they understand it to be good politics; the attack strategies of the last twenty years have worked, so why not? Thus, Obama is confined to foreign policy measures and acting where he can. To many, he appears weak.
Obama’s team is not willing to give up that easily however. There are cards to play and victories do emerge, even if they take time. One such victory was the assassination of Bin Laden in 2011, which undoubtedly helped push the re-election campaign along nicely. Beating Romney the following year also cemented his popularity, meaning he could argue his case to the public more frequently. The Iran Nuclear Deal and Gay Marriage followed in 2015 and all things considered, Obama had done a pretty good job with what he was given. So why was there such a fundamental shift in 2016?
For one, people underestimated just how important the appeal of Obama, himself, was. Hillarys politics may not have been miles off his but she simply couldn’t inspire the loyalty he did; he was one of the greatest orators of all time. As well as that however, Obama was unable to translate his messages across as those of the Democratic establishment. After all, they lost handily in 2014, even before Trump entered the picture. Perhaps because, for all their gesticulation, they couldn’t advertise themselves half as well as the GOP. Confidence it seems can be as toxic as it is appealing. That’s where Trump comes in.
Trump won, not because of the substance of his arguments but because of the way he projected them and himself. The Republican field toppled in the debates of late 2015 and all the while, throughout the primaries, we fooled ourselves into thinking this was some kind of joke. Brexit should’ve rang alarm bells. Trump getting the nomination should have too. But like an age-old tragedy, we followed the path blindly and suffered as a result.
If Trump wasn’t a traditional conservative, it didn’t matter at all. As stated earlier, Nixon established the EPA; so clearly this party’s open to whatever. And just like that, they all relinquished honesty and their duty for the sake of power (… Paul Ryan). The Democrats, on the other hand, may not have exactly appeased their camp but they did little to persuade voters, who could be turned, why theirs was a better one to join. Many liberals simply took to labelling Trump supporters stupid, racist, misogynistic, homophobic, and so on. This continues to be a mistake, in my view, and a crucial one differentiating many working class people struggling with every day economic opportunities from the elitist self-righteous liberals who know nothing of them.
Trump’s impeachment may get rid of the man but it won’t get rid of the problem because he’s as much a symptom of the ills dominating the bi-polarity of politics this decade as obtuse NRA support or further tax breaks for the 1% are. In a strange way, it’s odd that it’s taken so long for a clown to ascend to the throne considering the acrobatics and pantomime politicians perform but if anything should be clear to the Democrats now, it is that their battle will not end in 2020. Complacency has always been their problem.
A New Left
There is a spark of hope to be found in the Democratic Party however as we end the 2010s. For just as the right has moved beyond any nuance of centrism, the left has recognised its need to stake its own ground too. The campaign of Bernie in 2016 mobilised a movement the corporate Democrats simply didn’t understand; one that has already flourished with the election of candidates like Alexandria Occasion Cortes last year and the adoption of more liberal stances in the election field this year. The party is undergoing a period of transformation, having essentially spent the last 30 years meeting their adversaries in a compromised middle. Whether this will prove wise remains to be seen. Two schools of thought are currently battling it out to see who can take back those Trump voters; the more centrist likes of Joe Biden and the others like Bernie/Warren. Again, we see the political and the cultural dominoes of America falling in tandem.
As I’ve often stated in pieces on this site, I believe the issues should remain central to Bernie’s and other’s campaigns, not the bait Republicans masquerade as issues (e.g. patriotism) nor the scandals that get blown out of proportion (e.g. Hillary’s emails). So far, they seem to be on track but as the other elections of the 2010s have shown, the Republicans aren’t bad at winning.
How strange the Clinton-Blair years now seem to us in a world turned upside down. Forests are burning, debts are rising, automation threatens millions of jobs, racism appears more openly acceptable, and James Corden has a chat show. The 2010s have been a scary time and they’ve only gotten more so; the fresh fruit of the Obama years now rotten to its core. Were we misguided by hope as we may be now? Possibly. I think, more likely however, voter apathy and perennial compromise by liberals beset on preaching without acting led to desperation.
In times of economic upheaval and vulnerability, radical ideologies become all the more appealing. That is not to say we will face a direct parallel with the 1930s and devolve into a fight between fascism, democracy, and communism but this sharp split is somewhat reminiscent. It will play out dramatically in next year’s election, which will be about much more than electing a new president; it’ll be about ratifying the course American culture will head in under the auspices of ideological, generational, and human values (or as Joe Biden put it, the “soul of America”).
The 2010s are yet foggy and there was a great deal more I could have explored (e.g. foreign policy, keyboard warriors, police brutality, #metoo, etc.) but a feint trajectory permeates this hew nonetheless; one linking our apathy and disinterest to upheaval and renewed activism. The people of today speak of politics far more than they did ten years ago. This is both a good and bad thing.
The 2020 election’s in full swing and that means one thing; it’s time for the A-listers to have their voices heard. So, drop your shield and pick up your placard Chris Evans cause this time, you know it’s going to matter!
Okay, perhaps that’s a tad too snotty because really, celebrities can influence an election turnout by drawing attention to issues and candidates. Oprah’s endorsement of Obama, without a doubt, made an impact in the lead up to the 2008 election and certain groups can be targeted, that would otherwise be out of reach on proper news networks, like the Kardashian fan base (I’m not abandoning snottiness altogether). On the other hand however, celebrity endorsements and political proclamations can sometimes be a wealth of patronizing embarrassments. For instance:
That happened and we let it happen…
In all seriousness however, there was a lot of criticism to be drawn from the Hillary camp in 2016 as an endless deluge of pop stars and actors came forward at rallies to incite substance-less messages, achieving nothing really besides spectacle. Maybe that was just Hillary, though. Maybe, not even the ghost of Sir Laurence Olivier could have inspired people to flock to her side. Maybe… just maybe, we don’t give the people enough credit in their own critical thinking. I suspect the latter notion holds true because while people may admire certain celebrities like Beyonce, they also understand that their life experiences are far removed from the working peoples’.
There’s another layer to this differentiation too; the cultural divide between liberals and conservatives has in recent years been amplified by the mainstream media, often courtesy of the latest woke trends / virtue signalling of celebrities. I’m not just talking about Gwyneth Paltrow’s holier-than-thou approach to good living. I’m talking about every celebrity that appears on the Colbert show with an anti-Trump message; every time a celebrity coins a weird hipster form of phrase (e.g. Emma Watson’s “self-partnered”, i.e single status affirmation); and every time we’re given some pandering new display of wokeness (e.g. John Legend’s new version of “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”). These changes in the zeitgeist are, to many, welcome and sensible extensions of progressive thinking. To many others though, they’re tedious nuggets of preaching that detract from the actual substantive issues (economy, health care, job loss, climate change) and reminders that yes, you’re out of touch.
I don’t think these celebrities have bad intentions, to be fair. Emma Watson has certainly gone above and beyond in her duties as a UN Women’s Goodwill Ambassador, proving herself truly dedicated to her cause. Still, the perception remains and that’s what’s so important as we approach next year’s election; to present a noble and dignified front for the Democratic party, instead of exacerbating the elitist theatrics of a militant #cancel, PC faction.
To this end, it’s important to lastly examine why we, as a society, give so much clout to celebrities’ political opinions. Is it really as simple as saying they draw attention to important issues, where needed? That’s a pretty shallow response, if so. It suggests we’d rather an unqualified opinion that’s popular than an experts’ know-how. Therein lies the loss of nuance and the opportunity to present a false sense of validation for the virtue signaler who really doesn’t know what they’re talking about (e.g. when Ben Affleck called Sam Harris and Bill Maher “racist” over their criticism of Islam.) It’s a response, used among others however, to justify peoples’ greater complacency when it comes to avoiding actual research and reading on the issues. It’s a response, I think, that has effectively become default across the world too.
Why else would we continue making celebrities UN ambassadors? In general elections and chat shows, I can compromise and allow for a bit of endorsements and activism but with an international institution? Am I purely curmudgeonly or is this just downright tacky? For that matter too, why does the Queen keep knighting ageing rock stars every couple of years? Is this really a way of honoring those who’ve made a significant contribution to the arts or just cheap publicity for the sake of relevancy?
Perhaps, this societal framework is all in contribution to raising awareness and encouraging charity and political activism. Perhaps, we all need our own “fight” song. It’s difficult to come down on those doing more than yourself to make the world a better place but in conclusion, I think it’s of great importance to remind people to think for themselves and not accept a cheap form of populism. After all, Trump didn’t even have the real Smash Mouth performing at his inauguration.
Earlier this month, Martin Scorsese compared Marvel movies to “theme park rides”, stating that they are not what he considers to be proper “cinema”. Social media reaction was, as you could imagine, well thought out and nuanced. LOL JK! For real, the shit hit the fan with many bemoaning this “hackneyed, old curmudgeon fuck-face” for not being with “it”. Okay, I’m paraphrasing but it was embarrassing to read the amount of comments I did with people unfavorably comparing his movies to Marvel’s. Don’t get me wrong! I enjoy all the Marvel movies. But Scorsese has directed Taxi Driver, Raging Bull, and Goodfellas, among many other original greats. In some cases, sure, it’s a matter of opinion but beyond this, what became apparent to me was how vitriolic and nasty these people were in their comments. This has become the norm, all too readily, when an unpopular opinion is shared, even in a matter as insignificant as this.
On some level, I think Scorsese was being picked a part for not speaking as delicately as he should have. I don’t actually agree with his opinion and would note that these Marvel movies are keeping cinemas alive, to an extent. Plus, there is some proper acting, directorial creativity, and emotion to be found in them. You could even argue that the magnitude of a shared, albeit commercially-driven universe, like the MCU, is a bold and ambitious experiment in modern cinema. On the other hand, I want to back Scorsese because his knowledge of cinema is second-to-none (or very few), he has helped restore many great movies, and has a point when he says we’re being “invaded” by these kind of movies. There are too many of them and on some level, it feels like a factory-churning process. For instance, Captain Marvel came less than two months before Endgame which was followed by Spiderman: Far From Home, just over two months later. We knew Spiderman was fine after the snap in Infinity War before we’d even seen its sequel. Furthermore, there seems to be no end in sight. Disney have already filled their calendar for the next three years with an array of shows, sequels, and new additions to the MCU. It really is an all-consuming empire.
So, you can go back and forth on this. You may not like Scorsese. You may think superhero movies are for children. What’s so desperate about this all is how hard it is to even have a conversation without great offense being suffered. That’s where I admire Robert Downey Jr., who simply left it at “appreciating” Scorsese’s opinion (which has been edified slightly since to acknowledge them as a different/new kind of “art”, if not proper cinema- I don’t know, it was kind of vague). Downey Jr’s latter-day career has been built on the legacy of Iron Man and he’s made a ton of dough from it but he’s not arrogant enough to disregard what one of the true greats has to say. Interestingly, he compared the Marvel phenomenon to a “stomping beast [eliminating] the competition”. When things like that happen, as with the Westerns’ craze in the 1950s, there’s naturally going to be some push back. Sometimes, a spanner needs to be thrown into the works to get things interesting again. Punk did that for music in 1976 and the likes of Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola did that for cinema that same decade.
Thanks to social media, cults of fandom have been given a voice most people used to ignore. We can all, in some sense, be producers of the franchises we love and consume. For instance, notice how the trailers for The Rise of Skywalker are steering things back from the divisive reaction to The Last Jedi? Disney listens because Disney has a product to sell. That doesn’t mean their movies lack artistic integrity but it does color the picture, if only a little bit. It’s gratifying for fans to have their voices heard but when you pay too much due diligence to popularity, you appropriate credibility in turn. That’s why there’s such a sense of entitlement in these fans’ expectations of these franchise movies and why more unique, original projects are so lacking today. I suspect the directors of old, like Scorsese and Coppola, feel this way, which is why they are so hostile to the way industry has gone recently. The culture has changed.