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.
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 less than three weeks, the year-and-a-half stench of the 2016 election will begin to fade. With poll numbers increasingly conveying the dominance of the Clinton camp, it seems unlikely that we will see an orange face in the White House come January. But unlikely is just not good enough. Polls can be misleading for a variety of reasons. Voters can be swayed too, depending on their feelings; and whilst we would like to think every eligible voter will bother to get of their beds November 8th, the dismal reality on such occasions has always proven otherwise. Too many people, disenfranchised with the so-called broken system, often espouse notions of how voting won’t make a difference. There’s something dodgy going on with both Trump and Clinton after all, right? It’s a wash- either’s going to be terrible for the country! It’s easy to say such things but it’s also lazy and irresponsible- because like it or not, Trump and Clinton are not as equally bad and indifference or disgust in the election cycle will not grant you immunity from its consequences.
False equivalencies have always speckled their way across political discourse. We believe balance is important because it mitigates bias. That’s why we try to give Republicans and Democrats equal opportunities for speaking when it comes to the issues. On certain occasions however, balance for balance’s sake becomes inconvenient, if not, regressive. For example, in a debate on Global Warming, does an Archbishop really deserve the time of day a qualified scientist receives? Should politicians with ties to the fossil fuel industry really influence environmental progress, where their expertise (if any) lies elsewhere? You might argue that these agents of chaos are only there to reflect the beliefs of a wider population. Does the percentage of climate change deniers then still reflect such a ridiculously humoured viewpoint? Almost every issue has at least two sides to it but they do not always balance on the basis of argument, scientific proof, and popularity. That’s why most schools in enlightened parts of the world teach evolution but not creationism.
With this election, it seems absurd then that false equivalencies are being thrown around so casually. We have Trump, who without fail,has committed to at least five gaffes every debate without answering a single question coherently, as sentences meander off into the upside-down, perhaps to be rediscovered in the next season of Stranger Things. He has for years navigated his personal and business life with the candour of a silver-back gorilla on cocaine. He has questioned the legitimacy not only of Obama’s presidency but of his citizenship. He has mocked the disabled. He has dimissed sexually aggressive banter as “locker room talk”. He even used the word “bigly.”
Then we have Clinton, who just feels dangerous. Granted, there are plenty of issues to be raised with this woman but in comparison to Trump’s resume, they are minute and rather petty (except for her Iraq vote- that was bad). From the vitriol of her adversaries’ testimonies however, you’d swear she had sold nuclear missiles to North Korea and covered this up with laundered money from several years of work on behalf of the Clinton Global Initiative. Really, she hasn’t done all that much wrong. She was cleared of Whitewater and Benghazi. The e-mail scandal, whilst irksome and professionally unacceptable, has hardly warranted the level of discussion it’s been given. The truth of the matter is that Clinton’s legacy has been dogged for so long now by conservatives that scandals seem to arise out of thin air. As John Oliver wittily pointed out, before it’s proven that there’s no basis for them (or in fact, that they are just made up), they have already simmered into the subconscious of America’s vague but general distrust of this power-hungry, condescending woman. We know she’s dangerous, we just don’t exactly understand how.
With Trump, we know we’d have a disastrous presidency. With Clinton, we suspect we won’t be given the revolution Bernie promised last year. Those are both disappointing outcomes of a desperate election, but they are not equally disappointing. This logic is simple but the Bernie supporters now backing Trump or even the idiot Gary Johnson don’t seem to have grasped it. I am reminded of a quote from the movie Argo in which Bryan Cranston’s CIA operative informs representatives of the Carter administration about the option they have chosen to rescue six hostages from Iran; “there are only bad options. This is the best bad option we have.” So, even if Clinton’s not your choice of spice, isn’t she a whole lot better than putting a piece of human shit onto your chicken?
In recent weeks, Green Party candidate Jill Stein and Libertarian, Gary Johnson, have been making the rounds in the media, hoping to draw up the support of the loose stragglers of the Bernie camp, among other disenfranchised souls weary of the Donald and HRC. Chasing that elusive 15% (required to enter the national debates) has so far proved a challenge however, with current polling placing Johnson just under the 10% bracket and Stein at a mere 3%. Is it that these candidates are lackluster? Do they simply lack the magnitude bestowed upon others by the mainstream media? Or is it that old adage at play that affirms a vote cast for an independent is a vote thrown in the garbage? As always, it’s a bit of everything but history, once again, speaks loudest.
Despite the occasional disruption, America, for the most part of its recent history (20th Century), has championed a two-party system. This has developed as a result of natural inclination and artificial structures placed on its political thresholds. With regards to the former point, these two parties have essentially been afforded the right to prosper, owing to conditional and enterprise funding over the years as well as historical gravitas. The party of FDR, for instance, is an institution in itself and tradition, while valued, is often upheld merely for the sake of its own legacy. With the moral decay of the GOP and its hopeful actual decay in the future, one would think a third-party could possibly build itself on the crumbling mounds of another, but a three- or four-way battle is rarely as marketable for the media and public. In America, commercial tendencies encroach on all avenues of life.
In relation to these artificial constructs then, we must remind ourselves of the unfortunate nature of America’s election cycle and government. They do not facilitate a parliamentary-like system, the way ourselves or the UK do. With most of their votes, plurality laws eliminate the point of acknowledging where the minority votes lie- even if that is a very slight minority. Basically, winner-takes-all. This, of course, simplifies the already tedious process of the election cycle but it also obfuscates the diverse range of public opinion. Even with many of the latter Republican primaries for example, this applied so that Donald Trump, though opponent-less later on, would be the unrelenting winner. (Surpassing 50% isn’t even mandatory for this reasoning.) This hardly seems necessary for establishing the preferred candidate, when everything is only officially tallied up at the conventions. Math is not the GOP’s forte however. With single-district representation and plurality at play, the scientific study of Duverger’s law has found that such countries will thus be more likely to develop a two-party system.
Theoretically speaking then, a third-party candidate’s ascension to the White House is notimpossible. The climb however is steeper than the one even Bernie had to climb (he was after all, an independent who adopted the Democratic Party to his advantage.) Huge wads of cash won’t do it alone; even with his popular inclusion in the televised debates, Ross Perot wasn’t able to budge a single electoral vote in either the 1992 or 1996 elections. Framing yourself as a genuine alternative may prove appealing to some but as Ralph Nader’s candidacy proved in 2000, without enough steam, you can cause significant damage by taking votes that would have been cast for another candidate. (This humorously led to Bill Maher and Michael Moore begging him not to run in 2004.) In fact, the last actual candidate of a third-party persuasion to make any notable stride was George Wallace in 1968, who took 46/538 electoral votes. And who was the most successful third-party candidate of all time? Well, they fared a great deal better in the 1800s when the two-party system was still in development but the answer is Theodore Roosevelt from 1912, who for obvious reasons, was an exception.
With Trump and Clinton being the two least popular candidates in decades however, is it not plausible that 2016 could do another flip and present the so-called impossible alternative? Logically speaking, this is a sound theory but as aforementioned, the 15% is still out of reach and the first debate is coming up at the end of this month. After that point, if not already so, most people will have decided if they’re wearing blue or red this November. If a third color is to succeed in breaking this fashion trend (which I do not mean literally, I intend to wear an array of clothes), then it will be because of a strong mass organisation which eschews the notion that a third-party vote is a wasted one. Any other kind of philosophy will continue to hold back the prospect of a third-party president ever existing.
Last week marked the unofficial end of the rivalry between Hillary Rodham Clinton and that ever cantankerous Senator Sanders. In a speech delivered before the people of New Hampshire, who voted in his favour, he addressed the question of his movement’s future and where his loyalty lay. I watched this as it streamed live on Facebook, torn between the body language of the two figures at the podium and the incoming flood of knee-jerk reactions from half-wits and the odd informed. Many complimented this change in tone; it had after all been a long and arduous primary season. Others lamented however Bernie’s decision to stand by the Devil and surrender everything he had ever stood for. And that’s where we stop because (and I’ll put this plainly), Bernie didn’t sell out. Here’s why:
He won on the issues- if you listened to Clinton’s speech, which directly followed Sanders’ endorsement, you will have noticed how clever SNL were with their skit on Clinton becoming more and more Sanders’ like (to the point where Kate McKinnon ended up with a bald cap). At first, I gave her the benefit of the doubt on the assumption that she just isn’t as conservative as the uber-liberals have suggested. When it came to Wall Street however and her bargaining plea to overturn Citizen’s United, it became clear that she was taking note of the issues that prevailed in the debates, brought about because of Sanders’ longstanding rhetoric. She delved into college fees and global warming too, which made for a nice combination, leading me to believe that she has moved far more to the left than even the most hawkish of critics could have guessed.
It’s not just about the Presidency- Sanders’ movement and the rise of the Left cannot solely rely on an office tampered with more than ever. It needs to endure beyond one or two terms into a progressive model by which the future of the Democratic Party can be shaped. Yes, Hillary has, in many senses, won the battle but the future could be Sanders, so long as the issues on which he based his candidacy, continue to resonate. As mentioned above, I think they already have to the point that Hillary can’t afford to ignore them. As well as that however, he can also serve as a highly influential figure outside of the White House. Who, for example, had more of an effect on American culture in the 1960s than Martin Luther King? Has Jimmy Carter not accomplished some of his best work out of office? The presidency is a convenient altar, through which many channels, from foreign aid to educational reform, can be distributed but as Bill Clinton himself has noted, it’s also prey to circumstances beyond a president’s control (e.g. 9/11).
Trump must be defeated- I’ll admit that this is not my favourite argument as I do not believe elections should be contested on the basis of fighting against, rather than for something. It is an important one though and whether it depresses you or not, voting for the lesser of two so-called evils is still worthwhile. Bernie’s candidacy, has gone as far it needs to, in my opinion. With the Democratic National Convention coming up, it has become clear that his issues and supporters will not simply be sidelined but incorporated into the party’s agenda for the coming years. For now, he needs to ensure, if his own visions are to be realised though, that this party does as well as it can come November. Otherwise, the country will head in the exact opposite direction with Trump.
Listen to the speech again- Sanders didn’t have to necessarily endorse Clinton but it was the responsible thing to do; what purpose would their rivalry have served after all? Not enough to sway you? Listen to the speech again then and tell me where exactly he abandons the principles on which he built his campaign? Still not enough? Take a trip through his YouTube interviews and go back to a year ago when he expressed his admiration for Hillary Clinton whilst acknowledging their differences of opinions. Granted, the race heated up and nostrils flared during the primary season but the gulf in rhetoric that existed between their camps, was never as deep as many of Sanders’ less reasonable supporters suggested. He fought a good battle and we can only admire him for what he did but that battle is over now and at some point, you have to concede and look to the positives.
It’s undoubtedly sad to see Bernie leave the race; he shook things up and set the country’s vision towards a better tomorrow, in a manner we just couldn’t have expected over a year ago with the “inevitable” Clinton candidacy. His role however in this race will at least go down in the history books and his role to come will remain that of an inspiring spokesman for a disenfranchised generation.