Joe’s mantra was a simple but powerful one. Over the last four years, America has lost both its integrity on the world stage and its conscience at home. Like many, when the results came through at last, I was delighted and relieved to see the tides beginning to change… and yes, this is only a beginning. America is fractured and the divide must be reckoned with. For all his shortcomings, I believe Joe Biden might actually be just the right man for this essential duty.
One of the reason’s why is that this man’s ethos is his compassion. He’s lost close ones under tragic circumstances, paid witness to decades of political transformation, and still come out of it as one of the more humane politicians I’ve ever seen. That does not mean he’s always made the right decisions (support of Iraq) or exhibited empathy when needed (Anita Hill trial) but in a way, his mistakes speak to his character because he’s at least humble enough to admit he’s made them (as with Hill).
Another reason is that he’s not an ideologue. Initially I was on board for a Bernie Sanders’ administration (and still believe that was a great lost opportunity) but right now, America needs someone who doesn’t lean too left or too right. If the Democrats’ strategy was to appease moderates on both sides, then I think that strategy paid off. Joe will by no means be a revolutionary liberal but in light of where we’re coming from, that’s okay (for now). As is too often the case with politics, any strong measures tend to exacerbate the opposition and therein lead to a swing in the pendulum when complacency sets in with the victors (which happens tragically too often with Democrats come mid-terms).
No, if anything, Joe just needs to steady this ship out of troubled waters. He may not need a second term but in his first, he should do what can be done to restore the divide, so that the chances of an extreme bi-polarity come 2024 are slim. By then, we should be looking back on the period of 2016-2020 as a strange blip of history that no one quite remembers.
Of course, you might argue that the Trump supporters hardly deserve a break, given the level of vitriol they displayed. I can’t protest the merit of such a point given the basic principles of human rights and democracy they so casually disregarded. But have we not reached a point now where we can appreciate how poor the view is from a galloping high horse? Does it make us so honourable to disgrace and shame those we claim to be the actual bullies? You can rummage through a bag and take out media slant, percentages of hostility, gerrymandering, and all sorts of other indiscretions they’ve chucked in but in the end, perception is what matters. And you’re never going to convince someone otherwise by calling them an idiot. Moral posterity, in effect, won’t get us anywhere.
I think Joe understands this and even if the Democrats lose Georgia come January, he will still have a chance to do the job required of him at this point in time. Once the foundation is rebuilt, then the building can begin again. Without speaking to any specific legislation or policy measures, President Biden needs to set a tone of reconciliation and unity.
History is always being rewritten. The heroes of yesterday become the villains of today. We’ve seen this with the toppling of statues recently and the scathing rebukes of once-beloved or admired figures such as Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, After all, our values change and once ignored facts (inconveniences), such as Churchill’s white supremacy , come into greater light with new appreciation (or lack thereof). This revisionism is natural and no historical evaluation is without fault.
But something’s changed as of late. Our fervent grasps for social justice have left us empty-handed too often when it comes to a nuanced appreciation of certain historical figures. We fail to see these figures as a whole because one nibbling, doubtful, pernicious defect often overrides all common sense. In this case, I’m referring to the scandals that detract from the legacy of William Jefferson Clinton, the 42nd president of the United States (1993-2001).
Speculation and Scandals
Now, don’t get me wrong. The man is problematic, if we must indulge that favored millennial word. Some of the decisions made under his administration have had negative consequences, ranging from the short-sighted (crime bills, economic impairments linked to the 2008 crash) to the devastating (initial inaction in Bosnia and Rwanda). But really, what people focus on, in their retribution, is the man’s personal life. How many affairs has he had? Is his marriage an arranged partnership? What exactly was the nature of his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein? At the very least, the latter one should be investigated because of the differences in accounts being brought forward (it’s said he may have taken up to 26 flights on Epstein’s private jet and visited the island, although no affairs with any of the girls have been exposed). As for the other questions, one could defend him and say he has the right to a private life and that it’s unimportant in the larger scheme of things but instead of doing that, I will touch on the nature of speculation that surrounds the Clintons.
Speculation has hindered both Bill and Hillary’s public image more than any other figure in American politics. There’s always been this pervasive feeling that they’ve been up to something, be it through business connections or the Clinton Global Initiative, which arouses suspicion in the form of a lingering, shadowy question mark. The more questions that arise, the darker that shadow gets, even if there’s no substance or merit behind the question. What was Whitewater? I don’t know, man, but there’s something there. What were in Hillary’s emails? Shrug. And why did Vince Foster kill himself? Did he know something the Clintons wanted kept secret?
Indeed, the latter episode was a most shameful one in American history given the man’s longtime friendship to Bill. But when the Deputy White House Counsel committed suicide, Bill wasn’t even afforded a common level of decency in his grief. Ken Starr and the Republicans spent all their energy trying to discredit the man with a new, nasty kind of politics that involved personal injury at whatever cost. When the Whitewater investigation, which began looking into the real estate dealings of the Clintons, proved unfruitful, they simply kept the heat going. The Paula Jones’ sexual harassment allegations also persevered, though the Republicans were quite ready to redirect their focus when the “gift” of Monica Lewinsky came around.
In this regard, Bill deservedly brought some of the wrath upon himself. In a deposition, he was blind sighted by Lewinsky’s name being brought up and denied any “sexual relations”, given the legal definition provided by the Starr counsel. It was a technically correct answer but an unwise and immoral move that reinforced his image as a dodgy, snake-like politician. For months, he would deny the nature of their relationship, even to his staff and Hillary, until it became too obvious he was lying, or in his words “misleading” the nation. It was a personal embarrassment and a horrible thing to do to both Hillary and Monica, whose life would be greatly affected as a result (although, this enters the realm of cyber bullying for which many millions more than Bill also deserve a portion of blame).
Many people today, in light of the #metoo movement, point to this scandal as a demonstrable abuse of power. A couple of years back, Clinton’s attempts to salvage himself and take on an interviewer who brought it up, only served to convey a seeming lack of empathy on his part. Lewinksy, too, has been critical of the president, who never apologized directly to her.
That’s something he really should have done, straight away. He should have apologized to Monica and her family because they were given an unwarranted amount of press, that was relentless and downright mean. That’s not necessarily his fault but he could’ve stepped in and said “enough is enough, we’ve all made mistakes, leave her alone.” I think that would’ve helped but I also believe nothing he could have said or done would ever have been enough. Remember, this scandal came about, not because the people were concerned with Clinton’s supposed weakness for women but because the Republicans were attempting to destroy his presidency.
The impeachment which resulted was largely a joke, made in a last-ditch effort to humiliate Bill. Already, the Democrats had won back the House while his and Hillary’s approval ratings shot up. Back then, people had a better understanding of what was actually going on and in a universal middle-finger to the GOP, took to the polls. Ordinary people and leaders of other nations, including Neslon Mandela and Tony Blair, would stand by Clinton with the belief that he was a decent man who had done a bad thing. Today, I can’t imagine the same thing would play out and that’s not an effort to outright dismiss our morals. Integrity is important and we should expect it in our world leaders but let’s face it, there are more important things at play in shaping that integrity than personal scandals and failings.
The Record: A Moderate Democrat
Another interesting nugget you might hear about Bill Clinton was that he was not all that progressive or liberal. Correct. In the 1980s, the Democratic Party weren’t exactly on their A-game. Following the largely besmirched Carter Presidency (and for the record, he’s my favorite president), which was plagued by a struggle between moderacy and liberalism in the 1980 primaries, they had a hard time finding their footing. Eventually, the party’s liberals acquiesced to the more pragmatic middle-ground ideologies of the likes of Clinton, which gave way to a presidential victory after three consecutive Republican terms bolstered by the Reagan revolution and a strong but faltering economy. Reaganomics was good politics but very much the “voodoo economics” George HW Bush had called it when up against Reagan in 1980. By 1990, Bush had to rescind his “no new taxes” pledge for the good of the nation. It was a bold but noble move that damaged him in the 1992 election.
The first baby-boomer president made the economy one of his top priorities and actually left the country with a surplus, three years in a row at the end of his tenure. This had not been achieved since the post-war years under Harry Truman. Given Bush’s concession to the Democrats in 1990 and some of the negative consequences that resulted in 2008 (although that can be attributed to several administrations), this achievement has appropriately been lessened but it still remains a positive in most historians’ eyes. In the following years that would see major tax cuts and costly wars, people would naturally look back on the Clinton Presidency, in this regard, with nostalgia. It was a relatively prosperous time, helped by the rise of the Internet but also by a set of steady hands.
Social unrest was also another major concern which helped Clinton get elected. He pledged to invest in more police forces to keep the streets safe. This was a popular stance to take and received bi-partisanship support, resulting in the lowest crime rate America had in decades. Unfortunately however, this also led to a rise in mass-incarceration with arrests of minorities and low-grade drug offenders. Undoubtedly this has tainted his legacy and deservedly so, with both Bill and Hillary admitting that aspects of the crime bill needing to be revisited. Part of the problem, as most people now see it however, also lies with pervasive racism in certain areas and unaccountable police officers; a common trend that stretches back way before this crime bill passed.
The “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy of 1993 was another controversial measure. Bill had pledged in his campaign that gays could serve in the military. Many opposed this. So, quite quickly, they compromised. Basically, gays could serve but couldn’t come out as gay. Better than nothing? Possibly but ultimately, a pretty feeble gesture, which Bill was quite happy to get rid of, given the controversy surrounding such a topic at the time.
What’s interesting about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, along with some of Clinton’s other compromises is that they demonstrated a strategic tactfulness to his administration. Elected as essentially a moderate, he was willing to settle for what he could get, aware that the Republicans (who swept into power in the 1994 midterms) would accept only certain things. Another example: Hillary’s health-care led initiative essentially stalled that same year with fervent opposition. Aware of this, they worked to at least provide health care to children with CHIP (Children Healthcare Insurance Program).
Compromise is often seen as a dirty word. The Clintons were largely pragmatic though, aware of the political game and very much willing to play it. Even in his memoir, My Life, Bill Clinton can’t help but admire the strategy Newt Gingrich employed to lead his party to victory in 1994. The problem arises when people perceive their party as moving away from their traditional values and causes. The Republicans’ success and move to the right in the 1980s didn’t result in the Democrats following suit towards their side. Rather, they also moved to the right. This meant, for many, that a moderate Democrat was essentially an old-style conservative. Of course, now that the Democratic Party has actually started to move to the left, we’re in a whole different scenario, which lends credence to the liberal critics of the Clinton administration.
Political pragmatism is important though, even if perceived as selling out. Had Ted Kennedy been more willing to work with Jimmy Carter’s more pragmatic approach to health care, then they might have actually gotten something achieved instead of nothing. The Clintons failed to get health care too, as so many before had, but at least they tried and got something done. After all, millions of children as a result were given a safety net they otherwise would not have had.
This pragmatism became all the more crucial however in Clinton’s foreign affairs, which began on a rocky trajectory before steadily improving. First, there was Black Hawk Down, which cast doubt over whether Clinton could really manage a humanitarian crisis. Initially, the US had been successful in their Somalian dealings at the end of Bush’s presidency (Bush being, by most accounts, a masterful player on the world stage). Then Bosnia followed, which saw a massive ethnic cleansing of the Muslim population. At first, the US were hesitant in their approach but by 1995, Clinton came into his own as commander-in-chief, sending in forces. Perhaps he had learned from the Rwandan genocide, which he always regretted inaction about. Part of the problem was public opposition to US intervention elsewhere, given the disaster of Somalia. It seemed navigating the morality of the US’ role in these conflicts was not always that black and white. You were damned if you acted and damned if you didn’t.
By the late 1990s however, Bill Clinton was very much a respected leader around the world. The intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was seen as a prudent step across the board, between Democrats and Republicans, and he had helped negotiate the terms of the Good Friday Agreement the year before, which greatly helped the situation in Northern Ireland. While his efforts to formulate a lasting peace agreement between Israeli prime minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat at Camp David ultimately stalled in 2000, it was seen later as one of the better attempts made by a US president at resolving the problem.
Towards the end of his presidency, when asked about his legacy, Bill Clinton saw it in terms of navigating the shift from one American age (Industrial) to another (the Information Age) as had occurred a century before. He felt the historians would wonder whether he had succeeded in preparing America for the new century but he was realistic even in his thinking, realizing that if George W. was elected and the Republicans regained power, much of what he had achieved could be undone. Indeed, that became the case notably when the Brady Bill (which acquired some gun control legislation) wasn’t renewed.
It may not stand in the mercurial tide of politics as one of the most important presidencies of American history but in my opinion, it was a good one. Despite personal setbacks and a new norm of vitriolic partisanship, Clinton was able to hone in on what could be achieved and act accordingly. While negative consequences arose as tributaries to the main functions of certain bills (like the crime bill), the overall objectives were usually sound and reasoned. His foreign relations too were smart without recklessness (queue an analysis of the Bush II administration) and where he failed (e.g. Rwanda, Somalia), he at least had the decency to learn and make adjustments so he could help (queue an analysis of the Trump administration).
Of course, consensus and absolute certainty make for a dismal appreciation of any historical figure when discussing nuance. Most US presidents have been imperfect with wildly mixed legacies. It can’t be helped when you’re playing chess on such a massive scale. I decided to write this long piece and read his ridiculously long memoir (958 pages) because I felt we were in danger of simplifying this man’s legacy. In the years that have passed since his presidency, he’s gone from one of the most respected world leaders to a figure of disdain, even for many from his own party. I wouldn’t go so far as to point to Hillary’s loss in 2016 as a referendum on their legacy but in this new age of evaluation, I feel the constraints of examining history through a modern lens should be acknowledged.
Context is key to any historical understanding and we can learn from history. But just as the problems of today don’t necessarily require the attitudes and solutions of years before, so too did the problems of those years not necessarily requite the outlook we would hold now.
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.
Last week, I took a political profile quiz to determine which camp I belonged in. Somewhat to my surprise, I was labelled a liberal with ideologies not so dissimilar from Gandhi’s. Strange, I thought, I’m far too stubborn and curmudgeonly for that kinda stuff. The quiz, for all its comprehensiveness in the issues addressed (and actual issues at that too, such as health care and education) was flawed though. Firstly, it was based on the rather limiting agree/disagree dichotomy (with the somewhat unnecessary “strongly” accords), which doesn’t pave way for much nuance. Secondly, it failed to grasp the actual tone of liberalism/conservatism so rampant in today’s media and social landscape.
I consider myself a liberal of a vague and tepid persuasion; sometimes a centrist for kicks (though on a couple of occasions, people have charged that that’s what conservatives always say???). I believe in universal health care, a good measure of gun control, tackling climate change with the utmost expense, free speech, and equal rights. In fact, I think most Republican measures in the last thirty or so years have been reprehensible and guided by mostly terrible leaders. With that said, I admire President George H.W. Bush a lot, I think a balanced budget is important, and in certain cases, Democrats do over-legislate (e.g. in 2017, there was a proposed law to fit alarms into cars to prevent children being left in hot conditions; this is really a parent’s responsibility in my opinion). These are to many, minor concessions; an olive branch of a feeble sort to the other side. Increasingly however, these considerations have become all the more necessary, if toxic.
It’d be foolish to fully comply with the notion that you can’t be a Republican who believes in gay marriage or that you can’t be a liberal who wants to protect the 2nd Amendment. For one, it’s inherently stupid and two, you’d always find some smart-ass commentator picking a part your language specifically. But at its essence, I think most people are finding a conversation between both sides increasingly frustrating and pointless. Conservatives think liberals promote a decaying state of morality whereas liberals think conservatives promote every kind of prejudice with every sentence they utter, etc, etc. To a degree, we’ve come to expect this from the GOP with their arsenal of attack ads, in play since the Reagan era. What’s so disappointing is how bad the left has gotten in recent years.
What do I mean by this? I mean the manner in which certain peoples’ opinions are smeared across every edifice of our culture. We can’t watch the new Joker movie without some question mark wavering over whether it’ll inspire alienated white men to grab up arms. We can’t cast a new film or TV show without accounting for a strict diversity quota. We can’t watch old films without a moment of silence for the lack of wokeness at play. We’re told to hold certain opinions over certain matters because they’re politically correct, before examining whether they’re intellectually sound (indeed, reports have shown conservative students reluctant to speak out in their liberal universities). And if you disagree and think, Caitlyn Jenner’s not a hero or that female-reboot of Ghostbusters was lazy pandering, the chances are you’ll be called a trans-phobic or sexist individual by someone in the comments section, no matter what the argument.
This is by no means a rallying call to be politically incorrect for the sake of it or rude or sexist/racist/transphobic, etc. I’m not trying to provoke anyone in saying these things. For the most part, these liberals have admirable intentions. The problem is, in their plea for open-mindedness, they fail to open their own to the possibility of reproach; because racism is so entrenched in society and so historically destructive, they aim to stamp out anything even approaching intolerance. But it’s not that easy and it’s not that clever because when you try and enforce your values on somebody, no matter how sensible or decent they are, you push them away. Calling someone an idiot does not make them change their mind, it only paints you in a negative light. You want to get Trump re-elected in 2020? Start promoting the most pious and patronizing Democrat available.
The Democrats have the right ideas and a good chance of winning in 2020. Let’s not squander that opportunity by alienating centrists or soft right-wingers who don’t agree with us on everything or perhaps liked an off-color joke back in 2004. Let’s get back to focusing on the important issues which should define our political persuasion, as in that quiz, and not the petty minutiae of woke culture. It seems a redundant statement but people aren’t good or bad, left or right, liberal or conservative. They’re a blend of various factors and while I personally thought The Last Jedi was the worst Star Wars made, that does not mean I hate women in power (#warren2020).
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.
There are nearly 20 declared Democratic candidates for next year’s election and yet one key figure remains aloof and undecided. Yes, hanging out there, somewhere in the horizon with a winning smile but a shadow cast in a question mark is none other than Joe Biden. You know him best as Obama’s other half but he’s also served in the past as a Senator for 36 years with a host of positions including Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee. He’s got the best experience of any of these Democratic hopefuls, charisma, and something most politicians lack; a genuine personality. So why not declare? Well, let’s get straight to the first and most pertinent stumbling block and fair warning, it’s a touchy subject…. okay, sorry.
Joe Biden’s been caught in a whirlwind of controversy this last week over a number of women claiming his “personal touch” to be a little invasive and inappropriate. This is by no means an explosive or recent discovery. In the past, many commentators and comedians like Jon Stewart have squirmed at Biden’s holding of shoulders, heads, and hugs for prolonged periods. It’s never been described as sexual harassment as such but rather just uncomfortable and strange. In the context of the #metoo era, perceptions have of course shifted however and Biden is now being asked to account for these instances.
In a statement last Wednesday, he explained that any handshakes or hugs were always given as marks of “affection, support, and comfort”. He said he was not sorry for his “intentions” but acknowledged that “social norms are changing” while promising to be “more mindful” in the future. On Friday however, at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Construction Conference, after hugging the IBEW president, he joked that “he had permission” and then later made the same joke when others joined him on stage. (A bit sloppy, yes.) Well naturally, some people took this in jest and others with more affront, such as Tarana Burke (founder of #metoo movement) who said the jokes were “disrespectful and inexcusable” and that it was not enough for him to be “mindful,” he needed to make an effort to apologize properly.
Is this an overreaction? Part of me wants to say yes and defend Biden outright. After all, sensationalism in today’s media is driven by headlines rather than analysis. Most people who catch a whiff of these headlines, I hope, would delve deeper and read a bit into it. But words like “allegations,” “accusations”, and so forth have such a weight to them now that I fear Biden will be dragged into the company of far worse offenders. He certainly did himself no favors with his jokes but he did, at least, respond and yes, I do think “intentions” matter. I don’t think most people honestly consider this man to be a true creep like say, the President of the United States.
Biden’s of a different generation and age; a fact some commentators don’t think matters given the gravitas of this cultural change we’re experiencing but context is always crucial. Our backgrounds shape us, for better or worse. Biden, has suffered the loss of a wife, a daughter, and son in his tragic past and often made a connection with people in hard times through words or hugs. Most politicians do this, albeit to lesser extents. He’s 76 as well so his customs and mannerisms may be off tilt with younger generations.
That’s all just pause for thought, more than anything though. Before we #cancel Biden, we need to examine what value is to be attained in judging people’s morals and conduct retrospectively. If it’s for the cause of attaining a better 2020 candidate for the Democrats, then maybe there is something there. After all, the party has become more liberal and with so many alternatives on board, why should we accept the obvious choice like so many did with Hillary in 2016? There’s a few reasons:
Some of these candidates suck, are disingenuous, and do nothing but pander to the liberal waves like Kirsten Gillibrand
The aforementioned level of experience
He has the highest polling
He can appeal to moderates who might otherwise side with Trump
He’s charismatic and likable; marketable too
Association with Obama
There’s definitely reasonable debate on whether or not he should run. I would agree with Ross Douhat (New York Times) that, if he does, he should run on his record rather than against it. Any sharp left-wing moves will be preyed upon by the media, his fellow candidates, and online trolls and then mocked by Trump. There is a section of Trump’s base to be swayed too who actually do care about labor unions, health care, and other important issues, which Biden can speak to with precision as others might vaguely address. Plus, if nothing else, it’ll at least give Democratic voters some alternative to the growing liberalism represented by candidates like Booker, Sanders, Warren, and O’Rourke. Then, they can’t whine come November 2020.
Biden has always been “awkward”, prone to gaffes, and toneless remarks (e.g. wishing he “could” have done something about the Anita Hill sexual harassment trial in the early 90s, despite then being chair of the Judiciary Committee.) His record is not squeaky clean. He’s even run twice before and failed. In the Democratic Party’s quest for greater wokeness however, it can’t be worthwhile to decry and discard every ally who’s ever done wrong. When the bar is set this high, the likelihood for success becomes increasingly narrow and the bigger picture gets lost. The Republicans understand this much, if anything. I also don’t want to see Trump re-elected because his opponents couldn’t find their Messiah.
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.