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 concern surrounding the climate change crisis seems to finally be reaching its target audience, the world. This is in large part thanks to Swedish activist Greta Thunberg and her powerful campaigns as well as a growing consensus on the part of liberals that bold action is needed ASAP. So which Democratic candidate has the most to offer future generations in this debate and which plan should we be standing by? It may be a matter of simply adding the numbers against scientific projections but unfortunately in the world of Washington, political capital is just as important.
Bernie Sanders, the wild haired independent from Vermont, has naturally put up the largest number in his addresses to tackling this issue. His plan would involve spending $16 trillion over the course of 15 years, aiming for zero emissions from transport and power generation by 2030, while supporting the Green New Deal proposed earlier this year. Elizabeth Warren is rated highly by GreenPeace too; she too desires 100% clean energy and has tied her approach into a more general economic restructuring. Some candidates like Andrew Yang and Beto O’ Rourke have also discerned where funds should be appropriated for coastal inhabitants being relocated and measures being implemented like sea walls, acknowledging that the crisis is already at hand. Indeed, most of them agree that clean energy, disaster relief funds, and taxation will be necessary to some degree or another; where they differ is in funds (Bernie’s plan costing the most, Joe Biden’s $1.7 trillion among the least) and attainable goals by time (Bernie’s being the most ambitious with the likes of Julian Castro’s or O’ Rourke’s 2045/2050 in contrast.
They’re all more or less admirable approaches and where specifics arise, like Biden’s plan for half a million renewable power stations, there is some room for hope. But not too much. Yes, there has been a 17% growth since 2013 in Americans seeing climate change as a major threat and yes, there is a rise in renewable energy in parts (e.g. in wind turbines in Texas). Unfortunately, there’s also been an increase in energy consumption, with 2018 seeing a significant spike as a result of post-recession spending (with the last peak year being 2007). As of last year, petroleum and natural gas still dominate this consumption, with renewable sources adding up to a mere 11% (Energy Information Administration). Plus, although 3/4 Americans now believe in climate change (a still embarrassing figure), only 56% Republicans surveyed in August (by AP VoteCast) agreed, with even less (41%) believing human activity was a factor in this.
The odds are not great, especially with the way the Senate is tilted currently and time is running out for the nation that produces 15% of the world’s emissions. To effectively tackle the crisis, a World War 2 level of mobilization will be needed. Perhaps in an economic model of some kind then, we can place our best faith. After all, wind and solar and hydro-electric energy make sense, whether you believe the science or not. Coal is not making a comeback, despite what Trump may have suggested and fracking is coming under an increasing amount of scrutiny. Over half the candidates are for a ban in that area (Castro and Klobuchar support limiting these resources).
The next president, God willing, will face America’s and the world’s greatest challenge. For all the fear-mongering rhetoric the right and idiots would associate with such a statement and what Greta Thunberg has said, the reality is alarming. So should the candidates propose these measures with an air of restraint, lest they alienate voters, or put it out on the line, with the severity it deserves? I hope it will be the latter. After all, the Democrats finally started to impeach Trump, they won the House handily in 2018, and they’ve brought ideas like Sanders and Warren’s into the mainstream (a far cry from five years ago). Hillary tried to walk the line, the same way so many Democrats have in recent decades, positing a centrist alternative to issues the Republicans had the mic on. This time, the Democrats need to be strong and unapologetic because for all the urgency of their other priorities, e.g. health care, climate change is the only one with a non-negotiable time frame.
Alas, the 2020 election’s already rearing its ugly head even though there’s still 19 months till it actually happens. With candidates like Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren emerging and with the stakes higher than ever, I thought this would be a good opportunity to provide some necessary nuggets of advice because… well, let’s face it- the Democrats kind of… suck. That is, not to say, that their candidates are bad or that their ideas lack gravitas or sense; they just don’t know how to sell themselves or stay the course. So, please take heed because nothing’s guaranteed.
Don’t turn on one another: Bernie Sanders isn’t the enemy, nor is any other candidate who takes the steam away from the party’s star darling. In 1980, the Democrats’ chances were greatly skewered by Senator Ted Kennedy’s challenge against incumbent Jimmy Carter. In 2016, Hillary and Bernie supporters clawed and gnawed at each other to the point that many of Bernie’s ranks became Trump voters while many of Hillary’s bemoaned the sheer gall of a challenge .
Stand by your liberal values: The latest stream of Democrats in the House suggests the Democratic party is moving to the left. Agreeing on a final platform in the summer of 2020 will undoubtedly be a messy affair but at this juncture, there’s no sense in compromising to meet the Republican base’s standards. Trump’s damaging the party in spectacular ways and if the Democrats present a centrist vision, they may lose the value of contrast.
At the same time, don’t be the wrong kind of liberal: The issues are what matters, not the identity politics gripping today’s culture. Yes, they shouldn’t compromise on their values but there’s no need to alienate moderates or even potential conservative turn-abouts with condescending notions of political correctness. Don’t abide racism, sexism, or any other form of prejudice. Yes, these things matter. With that said, sometimes a joke is a joke. Don’t be the kind of candidate who polices language and how “woke” people are with the thin-moustachiod zeal of the PC Principal.
Attempt a 50-state strategy: Yes, we all know the electoral college system’s stupid but it’s not likely to go away anytime soon, is it? So, do the right thing and engage as many Americans as possible, even if it means a trip to a blood red state. A personal touch really makes a difference. Trump had a horrible platform in 2016 but he didn’t just bring it to Iowa.
Keep an eye on Social Media: With or without Russian hackers, people flick by a large number of sensationalist headlines every day on Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. The more and more you see a story or a theme repeated, the more likely you are to believe it or at least, give it some pause for thought. In today’s culture, it’s become very difficult to separate the truth from the bullshit, so if the Republicans are going to play dirty, the Democrats either a) need to as well or b) find an effective way to convey just how wrong these articles/the Republicans’ assertions are. As I write this, I understand that this is of course, a lot easier said than done.
Engage your opponents: This is to further point 3 above; be prepared and willing to engage with those who don’t hold your opinion on say, abortion, or gun control. Even if you strongly disagree with someone, you can still have a conversation with them. You might feel their’s is perhaps a dangerous opinion and that they should not be given a platform (as has happened on university campuses), considering the scores of others who have never had their voice heard. I grant that that is a fair and even practical approach at first glance. When you try to impede someone’s free speech however, you often just strengthen their resolve and help marshal others to their cause. You even appear weak and afraid that perhaps their bluster pertains more nuance and scope than you first imagined. The Republicans, I believe, are fundamentally wrong on a number of issues but that does not make them villains who we must banish to the darkness.
Don’t make age an issue: Chances are rife that a lot of these candidates are going to be in their 60s and 70s. They could easily just keel over and die at any moment, right? Do they really represent the youth? Sure, not every issue affects every age group equally and yes, people die more so later on in age but a) these candidates do preach, by and large, to concerns affecting most Americans (income inequality, climate change, etc.) and b) some of the best Democratic senators and representatives have served well on in life (take Jerry Brown’s work as Governor of California for example or two of the most popular prospective candidates, Sanders and Biden).
Don’t be passive, inspire: Above, I wrote about how sensationalist articles can cloud people’s better judgment on Social Media. Sometimes, sensationalism is needed to convey a point effectively though. Whoever emerges as the Democratic nominee will need to take Trump to task with strong, vitriolic language. There is just cause because this is a ridiculous man and a lame-duck, politician type will not be successful in his arena. Why not even take a stab at being a great orator? One who can inspire the way Obama or JFK did?
And lastly, be yourself: There’s probably a good point to be made here, concerning Hillary’s robotic approach but I’m just going to take this opportunity to wish all the candidates good luck. You may not run for president again, after all. So reach for the stars, show ’em what you got, and all that!
Undoubtedly, there’s a lot more these candidates will need to be mindful of but as I’ve already said, it’s a long way away yet. Anything at this point is mere speculation. What we do know for sure if that Elizabeth Warren is seeking to run, Kamala Harris is running, and a number of others are considering it. Like in 1976, it’s a fairly open field and anyone’s guesses are as good (if not better) than mine. I expect we will have at least ten noteworthy candidates by June (perhaps Beto O’ Rourke and Cory Booker) and at least five options. We mustn’t, of course, make the mistake of 2016 and assume anything’s for sure however. Biden’s not 100% definite. Nor is Sanders. Or anyone else. And there’s still a lot of work to be done by the House to keep Trump at bay.
On Tuesday, American voters have the chance to re-frame much of their governmental structure and the issues at play over the next two years. Not only are all House seats and 1/3 Senate seats up for grabs, so are a number of Governorships and Attorney General positions. Historically, voter turnout for midterms have been lower than years when the presidency is up. This year however, early voting seems to indicate a promising shift for the otherwise complacent Democratic party, who’ve seen devastating losses since 2010. Is this purely reactionary to the Trump agenda or have liberals finally learned what it takes to set the tone for a nation so entrenched in right-wing dogma? It’s seemingly both (as you’d imagine) but the issues aren’t all that’s at play.
Let’s take a trip back down memory lane to two years ago when Trump defied the odds and became the 45th US President. Liberals were so beside themselves in trying to explain just what had happened. Was their progressive vision now irrelevant? Had bigotry eclipsed their hopes for further equality and subsumed any focus of their issues? Was all lost? Well, it’s not that simple but they had lost bad. After all, Republicans had taken both houses of Congress as well as the Oval Office. So, as Crooked Hillary’s book asked, what happened? Here’s a few thoughts, not expressed in that book:
The Democrats lost focus on the important issues: Really, most Americans need proper health care, are for sensible gun control, and could do with a decent minimum wage hike. As Bernie Sanders would say though (arms flopping about), these are the issues that are never covered by the mainstream media. But also by some liberals. They take the bait too often and lose themselves in the maelstrom of Trump’s tweets and the latest non-controversies, defined by-
Political Correctness. Sigh. We’ve covered this topic, maybe exhaustively, but let’s be clear about this; it’s not that political correctness is in itself bad but it alienates liberals from many potential voters by painting a picture of piety and self-righteousness wildly at odds with most Americans’ mindsets. Most people don’t want to associate themselves with the buzz-killingtons of the world and the liberals SJWs are just that.
Identity politics too, for all its value in assessing demographics, should not be religiously standardized to the point that blacks, women’s, gays, and white males get defined by atypical subsets of values. When statements like Hillary’s about Trump’s inaugural address being a “cry from the white nationalist gut” are made, it does very little for reaching out to Trump voters. And liberals should be reaching out. There’s no real reason you have to separate these groups of voters when so many of their concerns are shared in actual issues; job protection, health care, social security, etc.
The Democrats have lost vision for their party too. To be fair, it’s gotten more progressive recently but in 2016, there seemed to be two threads being pulled between that side (on behalf of the likes of Sanders and Elizabeth Warren) and the more centrist wave that’s dominated since the 90s. The party needs to consolidate its core principles and its base because for all the terrible ideas the GOP espouse, they do so together. Unlike the Democrats, they’re confident, strong, and on-point.
In many ways, this is a call for the Democratic Party to react to previous losses by moving further to the left, so long as they do so on the issues. It’s no use criticizing and labeling all of Trump’s supporters when in reality, their concerns aren’t so different from liberals’. Trump is a unique phenomenon and his presence is undoubtedly felt in these midterm elections but he’s also best understood as a symptom of a sickness that’s taken hold in American politics; extreme bipartisanship.
As above, I’ve argued that identity politics is limiting to our understanding of how Democrats will vote on Tuesday but that doesn’t mean key issues, primarily affecting womens or blacks won’t play a role. For instance, I think it’s fair to say there’ll be some backlash to the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh. In the era of #metoo as well, there’ll likely be a thirst for progressives and indeed, it is a record year for women running for office (but again, complacency is a great weakness- just ask the last year of women, 1992.) In this respect, individual issues are taking a backseat to greater visions for a new liberal base. If the Democrats lose badly, the party may very well resume its default centrist position but it feels like it’s beginning to get the fire in its gut again.
In the last few years, American politics have become increasingly preoccupied with style over substance, in the avenue of political correctness, the culture wars, and identity politics. The latter issue hasn’t been discussed much yet on this website because hey! who needs to hear from another white male about race and gender issues? This may seem like a cheap joke or key point, depending on your point of view, but it cuts right down to why this has become incontrovertibly linked with political discourse today.
Identity politics (and how it’s stirred in conversation) breeds off a culture of resentment among alienated groups (privileged and disenfranchised, generally) while at the same time remaining all the more relevant, in times when a US president can’t even be bothered to condemn the KKK. Its genesis lies in the history of oppression of minority groups (Blacks, LGBT+, etc.) and the effective silencing of their voices resulting in what many believe to be a necessary template for defense. Its faults, as some would argue, lie in the abuse of where it’s applied and the mentality of “victimhood” it encourages; giving a victim the leverage of identity over an opponent in debate. Naturally, it’s a sensitive topic to discuss because discrimination isn’t some abstract idea for many people but to make some steady progress, let’s examine the criticisms and defense channeling this conversation.
Criticism of Identity Politics
Let’s divide the critics into two types: a) rhetorical and b) practical.
The former have problems with the rhetoric identity politics inspires. They charge that it inspires groupthink, which in turn compromises individual thought on complex issues and furthers the gulf between left and right. In common discourse, we expect minorities to side with liberals all the time, even though many of the matters dividing the Republican and Democratic parties have little to do with identity, e.g. gun control, climate change. We assume race and sexuality plays a major role in a Black or Gay person’s life which may be statistically sound but at times, possibly comes across as condescending and untrue. As the popular political commentator Dave Rubin has noted, “you as an individual are much more than your immutable characteristics.”
Plus, experience does not necessarily establish authority in an argument. We may not be able to fully appreciate another person’s struggles and yes, it may at times appear insensitive to even engage but debates should be run on good ideas, regardless of one’s “immutable characteristics”. This notion blossomed considerably when echoed by Obama in a speech commemorating the 100th anniversary of Mandela’s birth in July (when he said opinions should not be dismissed just because they are white or male).
Practical critics think along these lines too but with goals in mind- i.e. beating Trump in 2020. As Sheri Berman opined in a Guardian piece (“Why Identity Politics Benefits The Right More Than The Left”): “Is our ultimate goal ensuring the compatibility of diversity and democracy? Then promoting the overlapping interests and identification that enable citizens to become more comfortable with differences and thus more tolerant and trusting, is absolutely necessary.” Left and right have been painted as stark opponents in the culture wars. A tough point, some liberals seem unwilling to accept, is that not all Trump’s supporters are racist white males. Okay, there are definitely some racists. And yes, a lot of his support was from white males. Their support did not rest solely on identity politics however. It derived from other places; chiefly, economic misfortune- a shared characteristic for people of all identities in many situations. In short, as Bernie Sanders would hound, the media needs to pay more attention to the issues!
In Defense of Identity Politics
Okay, so that’s all very good but racism, homophobia, and sexism are everyday issues affecting millions of lives. There are oppressive methods in place preventing Blacks from voting (by conservatives gerrymanders and legislators). There is a double standard for women and inequality of opportunities in many job sectors. LGBT groups are routinely subjected to the nastiest treatment and commentary for merely being who they are. So, in many respects, identity politics is something that has been thrust upon these groups rather than something they’ve sought out and just as the right are known to parry off cries of offense with deflections like “oh you’re just being PC”, is it not possible that identity politics helps their cause a little when it comes to such enduring prejudice?
In his article, “In Defense of Identity Politics”, Paul Von Blume writes that American society has been mechanized to the umpteenth degree to reinforce the status quo of white male privilege. When expressions like “just plain American” or “melting pot” are bandied about, he argues that while they may be “well meaning,” they really just brush over the historical “exclusion” of millions of its people. Direct, aggressive racism or prejudice in general does not necessarily tie this altogether. White privilege is maintained out of fear that the promotion of less enfranchised persons may lead to a decline in their quality of life (a concern that pervaded the “turbulence” of the 1960s). Michael Eric Dyson, a professor of Sociology at Georgetown University and Peterson opponent), has noted this much, writing for the New York Times in December 2016 that “the interests of the white working class have often been used by white political elites to stave off challenges to inequality and discrimination by black folk and other minority groups”. (It should be noted however that he’s been criticized for pushing identity politics to the extreme, referring to Jordan Peterson as a “mean mad white man” during a debate on political correctness).
White men like me will never fully appreciate the Black, Women, or Muslim experience, as diversified or as shared as it can be. In many respects, our culture and systemic prejudice has necessitated such labels as identity be used in the mainstream. It catches people’s attention when a meme or hashtag or article goes viral, encapsulating all the frustrations of “mansplaining”, whitewashed history, or privilege. It’s all very understandable but at times, overtly sensitive to the point debate gets shut down; e.g. with the above case between Peterson and Dyson, the former debater was immediately cast under suspicion (or an attempt was made) just because he was a white male arguing against political correctness. At times, this isn’t fair but there will always be exceptions in every case that define how we must study it. For example, a panel of all male commentators discussing abortion would seem ridiculous to most but of all females, rather reasonable. Also, “All Lives Matter”?
It’s a trying discussion which transmogrifies the collective into the personal experience. For all practicalities’ sake though, in light of recent political developments, it has become a “serious nuisance” underlying almost every political debate. In order for the Democrats to make some ground on those stubborn Trump supporters, there needs to be some attempt at reconciling the majority with the minority, whose interests don’t necessarily deviate from one another’s. The 2018 midterms and the 2020 election should return to the boring stuff that makes up most sane countries’ elections; economic opportunity- and that means to help all citizens advance, be it on an individual or group level.
2016 has been a dark year. We not only lost the man behind “Purple Rain,” but we got more than we could bargain for with the man who believes orange is more than just the new black. Now, with a little more than a week to go before what could be the most decisive day of the decade, we are confronted with what I like to call that last trek of the Fellowship; the part in which Samwise grits his teeth while carrying Frodo up the slopes of Mount Doom. And just as a new age came from the ashes of that fiery climax, so too can we expect a sliver of hope on the horizon, if not a great beacon. But enough Lord of the Rings for now, let’s speak plainly; for if not only the Donald is defeated November 8 but the Republican majority is overthrown in the Senate/House of Representatives, America could begin to herald in a New Deal for the 21st Century- one led by Hillary Rodham but directed by that old favorite maverick, Bernie Sanders.
Earlier this year, we wrote a piece on a plausible return to the left for America, in which we explored the possibility that the strength of Bernie’s rhetoric would push the Democratic party far enough to the left, that the next administration would mark the most progressive agenda since the time of Lyndon B. Johnson. Bernie’s eventual defeat was a crushing blow to many, especially among the young, who scattered their way about to Hillary, Jill Stein, and for some incredulous reason, Donald Trump. We figured at the time however that although Bernie had lost the nomination, he had dealt a significant blow to the once centrist stances of Hillary, ensuring that she would be held accountable for the promises she made on the campaign trail. In recent weeks, a lot more focus (though far from enough) has been placed on the Senate though, because of Speaker Paul Ryan’s warning to the GOP base: ‘[if] we lose.., do you know who becomes chair of the Senate Budget Committee?’ Yup!
It must be noted of course that Bernie’s ascension to this highly sought podium is not guaranteed, but it is a strong possibility and thus, a strong opportunity for liberals. The logistics of taking the Senate are not at all daunting either; there are 34 seats up for grab this year (a term in the Senate lasts six years) of which 24 are held by Republicans. (It may interest you to know John McCain, Marco Rubio, and Rand Paul will all be contesting their highly coveted seats). They need to take at least four of those away to bring the Republicans down to 50 seats and another one or two, if they want a majority (accounting for Independents). This miscalculated statement on the Speaker’s part has given rise to the #ThanksPaul emblem now spreading the Sander’s seed once again across the nation. As we all know however, a tweet or Facebook post is nice, but a vote is helpful.
Generally speaking, the Republicans have been better at marshaling their cohorts out to vote for mid-term elections and on other less exciting occasions (e.g. for town mayors). The result has been a systematic rightward shift for the country on a national, statewide, and local level, making it particularly difficult for the Democrats to gain any legislative ground, even with a majority. This changing dynamic can be traced back throughout America’s entire history but in 1980, the ball really got rolling with the GOP’s courtship of the Evangelical vote. Reagan’s revolution was not only one against the Soviets and the Carter administration, it was one built on Supply-Side (or ‘Trickle-Down’) economics and a distrust of Big government. The deficit grew but the brainwashing worked- people kept going out to vote Republican. When in 1994, after a particularly heartbreaking mid-term election, the Democratic President Bill Clinton, declared the ‘era’ of such government to be over, an unfortunate belief was ground into the American psyche, that some level of conservatism would always be needed. Obama’s rise then should have dispelled this notion, building on the promise of the Affordable Care Act the so-called audacity of ‘hope.’ He was abandoned in a significant respect however, by those who championed his cause in 2008, but felt deterred and disinterested by the nitty gritty bits of the legislative process- the public. So, three election terms later, will America’s liberals and moderates finally learn the imperative lesson? It’s not enough to solely elect a president, you need to elect his/her network on all levels. A slab of paint may make a wall look nice, but beyond that wall, you’ve still got Mordor.
As it stands, the Senate is split between 54 Republicans, 44 Democrats, and 2 Independents. Polls are currently indicating a strong chance for a Democratic take over, though baffingly Marco Rubio is still leading in Florida, despite losing to Trump, criticizing him, then supporting him. With the House of Representatives then (in which all seats are contested every two years), there are presently 247 Republicans, 186 Democrats, and 3 vacant seats. A Democratic coup here is far less likely, though recent polls suggest they could take an extra 20 seats. President Johnson once said the difference between a Senator and Congressman was the difference between ‘chicken salad and chicken shit.’ It’s a darn good quote but as asserted earlier, every little difference matters. So come November 8, when the world wakes up to a new dawn or a poorly devised Hobbit trilogy, remember that the power to change the United States does not solely belong in one office.