By Andrew Levine. This article was first published on Counterpunch.
Thanks to global warming and the vagaries of Nature, this has been a long, hot summer all over the northern hemisphere, including much of the United States. If only that were the worst of it!
Bad weather pales in comparison to the refugee crisis in Europe, the latest spate of truly horrific news brought on by nearly a decade and a half of Bush-Obama wars.
Because of what the United States and NATO have been up to in the Middle East and Africa, a seemingly endless stream of Syrians, Iraqis, Libyans, sub-Saharan Africans and others have struggled this summer to reach Europe in the hope of finding safe havens.
Many have died trying, and the situation is likely to become even worse.
But not all this summer’s news has been bad. It hardly balances out in the end, but for those of us who rejoice when bad things happen to bad people, these past few months have been amazing.
Benjamin Netanyahu has taken a licking, along with his co-thinkers and political allies in Israel and around the world.
The Senators and Representatives in the U.S. Congress who slavishly do Netanyahu’s bidding took a hit too; and the Israel lobby in the United States, along with its counterparts in other Western countries, must have finally come to the realization that, for them, the salad days are over.
They thought they were invincible; everybody did. And yet they couldn’t stop the nuclear weapons deal that six world powers, including the United States, negotiated with Iran; the greatest of all the “existential threats” Netanyahu has concocted.
No matter that Iran had not been working towards acquiring nuclear weapons or that it had no intention of doing so. No matter either that, in reality, the only thing an Iranian bomb would threaten is Israel’s regional nuclear monopoly.
The word had come down from the Bibster: if Iran will not surrender unconditionally, there must be war. The peoples of the world and their governments told him where he could go with that. Even Obama wasn’t bullied.
It was a truly magnificent humiliation.
Netanyahu’s government and its (unregistered) overseas agents — especially AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee – may still lash out; this is worrisome because they can still do harm. And Congressional Republicans evidently believe that, defeat notwithstanding, they can still benefit by keeping the issue alive. This is dumb, even for them. Still, the fact remains: all those miscreants lost — big time.
There was other good news as well. Thanks to Donald Trump’s egomaniacal demagoguery, “Republican donors” – spiritual and (sometimes) literal heirs of yesteryears’ “malefactors of great wealth” – lost big time too. A few months ago, no one would have thought it possible.
Miscreants like Sheldon Adelson who fall in both categories – there are quite a few of them – lost twice!
If anything ever has, this warrants a “Hallelujah.”
Back in 2010 and for a few years thereafter, when the Tea Party was riding high, Republican donors were on top of the world. They were recruiting cannon fodder for their war on the “ninety-nine percent” by the trainload, and it was only costing them pocket change.
They were also getting union-busting flunkies elected into Governors’ offices and state legislatures. Public sector unions in states with long pro-labor traditions — Michigan, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio, among them – were in plain retreat. The ripple effects were profound.
Best of all for those donors, some of the most alienated, distraught, and socially dislocated victims of the neoliberal world order were fighting against their own interests and for the plutocrats’.
It doesn’t get better than that!
Or so it seemed. Now it turns out that the people they were mobilizing weren’t quite so full of “false consciousness” as was widely believed.
To be sure, Tea Partiers and others of their ilk could be counted on to side with plutocrats on “the issues.” But their hearts weren’t in it.
It was hard to see through the miasma of hopelessness, but the fact was, and is, that it is the political class, not the people who vote for one or another of the major party’s candidates, that are the problem.
It was especially hard to see that Tea Party militancy was about a whole lot more than the issues that Tea Party politicians touted.
There were, and still are, exceptions: religious fanatics, misogynists, nativists, racists. Being easy prey for rightwing ideologues and political entrepreneurs, the GOP’s grandees own them just as surely as the plutocracy generally owns the Democrats and Republican who spend their days dialing for dollars.
But, in the end, those unhappy souls really only cared about their own issues – guns, abortion, gay marriage or whatever. They and the plutocrats were never entirely on the same page. Even in the Tea Party’s heyday, they were just along for the ride.
In any case, certifiable loony-tunes were never more than a small part of the Republican base.
Indeed, thanks to the Trump phenomenon, we now know that most “likely Republican voters,” as the pollsters call them, don’t – and probably never did — care much about issues at all.
We also know that in general their sympathies, like Trump’s, are more progressive than the average Democratic Party politician’s.
Not on all issues, of course. It seems that when it comes to welcoming immigrants from Mexico and Central America into the Land of the Free, heartfelt nativist attitudes abound throughout the Republican base.
But on, for example, trade or public expenditures for infrastructure, or even health care, Trump fans, like Trump himself (in the past and, when it suits him, still), are way ahead of the pack.
Trump has therefore been a mixed blessing. He has loosened the grip Republican donors have over Republican voters. At the same time, however, he has encouraged Republican voters, susceptible ones anyway, to cross over to the Dark Side.
Does he care? Who knows? Probably, not even Trump himself. What he does know is that there are quite a few inveterate, mean-spirited reactionary white men and women out there ready to rally behind noxious causes.
He also knows that it makes sense for him, at this point, to rile them up and egg them on.
Trump’s effect, so far, has been to disrupt (electoral) politics as usual. For anyone paying attention, this has made the long hot summer a tad less onerous.
If he keeps at it, he will be more disruptive still. Time will tell how good or bad the consequences will be.
They could be very bad indeed if the noxiousness that he has unleashed gets out of hand, or if, notwithstanding his purported dedication to furthering American interests come what may, he finds it expedient to go after Israel-first voters. That could delay the precipitous decline of Netanyahu’s hold over Washington. Trump’s participation at the anti-nuclear agreement rally in Washington last week suggests that he is thinking along these lines.
So far, though, the plusses have outweighed the minuses. High on the list of plusses is Trump’s candor about political corruption. More people now than ever before know how money in politics works — because, speaking with the authority of one who has been there and done that, Trump told them.
And, for anyone who can look beyond the fear and loathing Trump inspires, the Trump phenomenon can be enlightening.
It is not exactly news that when people are mad as hell – no matter why — they can be made to project their anger onto scapegoats. Neither is it news that, for descendants of immigrants, new waves of immigrants make perfect targets.
What is news is how angry people are – so angry that even a figure as ridiculous as the Donald can lead some of them astray.
The anger is understandable; indeed, justifiable. Neoliberal capitalism has done a number on the American people.
The tragedy is that there is no significant political force putting that anger to constructive use.
If Bernie Sanders and his acolytes would stop making nice with the Clintons and the Bidens and other feckless neoliberal neocons, it would be different.
If Jill Stein and other genuine progressives could garner even a modicum of media attention, it would be more different still, and far better.
But in the real world of American politics, the only actual or potential anger-magnet making a significant difference is Donald Trump.
And because Trump is so good at bringing repressed anger out into the open, we can now see the Tea Party’s role in the Republican Party’s trajectory in a clearer light. It is now plain that inchoate anger is what the Tea Party had always been about.
It would even be fair to say that, except for the handful of highly vocal principled libertarians in their ranks, Tea Partiers never really cared much about shrinking government or giving “free markets” free rein.
They seemed to care because ideologues were able to take advantage of the fact that it is hard to get a purchase on the harm “the invisible hand” of the market does, but easy to see the workings of the state’s visible hand.
However all of it, visible and invisible alike, can be, and often is, infuriating. The fury can be repressed, but it is always there.
Through snide insinuation and megalomaniacal bluster, Trump has managed to disengage the anger from the issues. An unintended consequence of this has been that the Republican base is now freer than it used to be from the their Party’s donors’ thrall.
Issues matter to Trump, but only insofar as they affect him. This is why he can be – and usually is — all over the political map.
When Trump was buying favors from politicians in New York – from Cuomos and Clintons and others of their ilk — he was pro-choice, and for public investment in infrastructure and education.
Compared to most Democrats, he was also pretty good on the Iraq War and the larger War on Terror. On health care, he was better than the Clintons or Barack Obama.
This is the Donald’s way; by sentiment, if not conviction, he is a “maverick” with liberal inclinations. But, now that he is running in the Republican primaries, if some Republican cause suits an audience he wants to bamboozle – climate change denial, for example — he will go for it. The issues don’t matter; getting what he wants does.
Being more rabid than his rivals on immigration has worked for him. Being worse than, say, Scott Walker or Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio on other issues would be a waste of time. Why even talk about it!
It is important, of course, when running as a Republican, to maintain a Republican veneer. But Trump has shown that there is more wiggle room on that score than anyone would have imagined.
Were he to win the nomination, who knows what stands he would take? The one sure thing is that he would keep on exploiting voters’ anger, as best he could. There is plenty to exploit.
Miscreant Republican donors and high-ranking Party operatives fear the consequences. They have reason.
The problem is not just that Trump is scary enough to guarantee a Democratic victory in the 2016 election. Inasmuch as there never has been a Republican candidate in sight that a prudent voter could take seriously, a Democratic victory was all but assured long before Trump burst onto the scene.
The larger problem Trump poses for GOP grandees is that he will tear their concoction apart, accelerating its transformation into a niche party for aging white yahoos. The GOP is their thing, their Cosa Nostra. They don’t want to lose it.
And even if they do manage to hang on, they fear that Trump will put their Party permanently on the wrong side of demography; and of history as well. He may have done that already.
The good news is that there is nothing they can do about it! Even if Trump is not the eventual nominee, king makers like Karl Rove and Roger Ailes have already lost big time; all the Party’s movers and shakers have.
If Trump ultimately bolts the party, or is somehow thrown out, the damage he would go on to do could be irreparable.
Poor Reince Priebus, the Republican Party Chairman. He can pretend all he wants that he negotiated a pledge from Trump to stay on board no matter what. But Priebus knows full well, as does everyone else, that Trump’s pledge means nothing. Priebus wasn’t negotiating; he was being played.
Trump can up and go anytime he wants; he is rich enough, and mean enough to tell them all to go to hell.
The decline and fall of the GOP would be wondrous to behold. But the wise must be careful what they wish for.
Trump’s demagoguery could unleash forces that will move America so far to the right that the center will not hold. This probably won’t happen, but it could: the furies are at the ready.
As Maxwell Smart might have said to the Chief and 99: if only all that anger could be used for “niceness.”
This won’t happen with Trump leading the way. But credit where credit is due: awful as the man is, he has shown, for all to see, that it could happen in an only slightly different possible world.
Trump has shown that there is more than enough indignation abroad in the land for independent political movements to gain a foothold. He has demonstrated beyond a shadow of a doubt that America’s duopoly party system can be overcome.
Notwithstanding the merits of positions Bernie Sanders has taken on many domestic issues, the Sanders campaign has not done that at all.
It is good only for getting reasonably progressive political ideas back into circulation.
This can be beneficial in the long run, and in ways that cannot now be foreseen; but, between now and November 2016, Sanders’ good ideas are all but useless because he has no way to put them into practice – no party vehicle and no plausible strategy.
Winning the Democratic nomination and then the general election is not a strategy; and not just because it isn’t going to happen in Sanders’ case. It is not a strategy because what Sanders calls a “political revolution” is not about putting a new face in the White House – not, anyway, while everything else, the system itself, remains unchanged.
It is about changing the system.
By running as a Democrat and promising – not Trump style, but in all sincerity — to support the eventual Democratic nominee, the Sanders campaign is effectively reinforcing a system crying out for radical transformation.
Trump’s ideas are a mixed bag; some are decent, some are scary. Sanders’ ideas range from very good (on domestic matters) to par for the course awful (on foreign affairs).
In short, on “the issues,” Sanders trumps Trump. But Trump’s campaign could still do more good than Sanders’ – because Trump’s is undermining the Republican Party, while Sanders’ is making the Democratic Party’s stranglehold over all but the most modest progressive initiatives more secure.
* * *
Were Obama to capitalize on his victory over Netanyahu and AIPAC, all kinds of worthwhile initiatives could follow.
Step one would be to enforce a modicum of party discipline. If nothing else, Obama owes that to himself. For the sake of his own self-respect, he should now see to it that Chuck Schumer not be the Democrats’ Senate leader and that Ben Cardin not be the top Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
And he should rebuke, not praise, Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz for her pathetic blather about how, as a Jewish mother who keeps the Holocaust constantly in mind, she agonized about defying the wishes of the Israeli government. What a piece of work Wasserman Schultz is; and what a load of crap!
Don’t count on Obama doing the right thing however; and don’t count on him not making amends to Netanyahu by giving Israel more money and the Israel Defense Forces more weapons.
What he should be doing now is calling for a nuclear free Middle East. This would mean relieving Israel of its two to four hundred nuclear weapons.
That would hardly make everything right, but it would make it harder for Israel to act with impunity towards its neighbors and towards Palestinians. This would eliminate at least one source of regional instability. Don’t hold your breath, however.
Don’t even count on Obama spending more political capital improving relations with Iran. There are so many reasons why he should; working with the Iranians to crush the Islamic State is high on the list. But as long as the Israel lobby is only down, not out, placating it is more his style.
On the other hand, Trump’s challenge to establishment GOP donors may have started something from which there is no turning back.
Notwithstanding all the money the donors have to spare, it must bother them that the vast sums they will spend trying to get someone elected President whom they can at least abide might as well be flushed down the toilet. But that is the least of their problems.
A far greater one is that Trump is turning their trusty poltroons into damaged goods. George W.’s little brother is not the only one who is floundering. So are Walker and Rubio and Cruz; indeed, the whole sorry lot.
The donors are therefore staring into the face of a future in which they will have no one left to do them yeoman service.
This prospect has made some of them so desperate that there is even talk of running Ben Carson up the proverbial flagpole, to see if anyone will salute. Carson is an even more implausible character than Trump.
One would think that being African American would keep him from being taken seriously; this is the GOP, after all. But Republicans have a history of taking fondly to reactionaries who come from populations they despise. Maybe it is because they make it easier to assume a “what, me racist?” pose.
Whatever the reason, some of them evidently think that Carson might be a keeper. Why not? He is as reactionary as they come, and as loony. Carson is a man of science who thinks that God created the world in six days.
But, unlike the Donald, he isn’t gaudy or grotesque or scary. Having pulled himself up by his own bootstraps, becoming not just rich but also a man of extraordinary accomplishment, a world-class neurosurgeon no less, Carson presents himself as a role model – and also, not incidentally, as living proof that African Americans can do just fine without affirmative action.
He is said to be an affable character too, and very polite; everything Trump is not.
Ironically, this, not his color, will be his undoing. Carson’s candidacy will be a flash in the pan because the last thing that desperate people in the grip of unproductive rage are looking for is a nice guy to lead them. They want somebody mean-spirited, a real bastard. Ergo, Donald Trump.
Carson will therefore enjoy his fifteen minutes of fame, and then slip down into the memory hole.
It will be the same with the next Trump alternative, and the one after that.
Unless he bolts – or gets bored – count on him being around for the duration.
Therefore, pity the poor Koch Brothers and others like them. All that money and no place for it to go! Could anything be more amazingly great?
Well, maybe, but who this side of Hillary’s hubby is fatuous enough to feel Sheldon Adelson’s pain?
ANDREW LEVINE is a Senior Scholar at the Institute for Policy Studies, the author most recently of THE AMERICAN IDEOLOGY (Routledge) and POLITICAL KEY WORDS (Blackwell) as well as of many other books and articles in political philosophy. His most recent book is In Bad Faith: What’s Wrong With the Opium of the People. He was a Professor (philosophy) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a Research Professor (philosophy) at the University of Maryland-College Park. He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion (AK Press).