By Andrew Levine / Counterpunch
Photo by Vinoth Chandar | CC BY 2.0
There used to be “moderate” Republicans whose views were no worse than, say, Barack Obama’s. That is ancient history now.
These days, for anyone who is not at least a multi-millionaire or an acolyte of the moneyed interests, Republicans are like mosquitoes. They cannot be ignored but, from a human perspective, they do no earthly good.
And yet, they abound. This can only be because, as they say, “there is a sucker born every minute.”
How else could Donald Trump have gotten millions of votes last November, by no means all of them from “deplorables?” That so many of those voters still don’t get it – that Trump conned them into thinking that he was on their side, and that his election would do them good — proves the truth of that venerable maxim beyond a reasonable doubt.
With more than a third of the electorate still standing by the Donald, quite a few terrified Americans have gone into mosquito control mode. Some of them call themselves a “resistance.”
This is not surprising in a political culture in which the Right routinely coopts the Left’s words and in which journalists assign the color red (as in “the workers’ flag is deepest red…”) to the more pro-business – and odious — of our two semi-established political parties. Even so, this use of such an honorable word by the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, DNC chair Tom Perez and, Hillary Clinton (seriously, Hillary Clinton!) is outrageous.
Democrats weren’t always as awful as they now are. Back when there were still moderate Republicans, there were also Democrats – not many, but a few — who would do what they could to fight the good fight. For the most part, Democrats then were as pusillanimous and inefficacious as they are today. But they weren’t all servile flunkies of corporate malefactors and Wall Street predators.
It was a debatable proposition back then, but nowadays it is clear as can be: the Democratic Party is part of the problem, not part of the solution.
A big part – especially since last summer. Under the aegis first of Team Hillary, and then of the sore loser brigade that crystalized after her self-inflicted defeat in the 2016 election, leading Democrats, and their media flacks, are now actively preparing public opinion for war – or, rather for marching right up to the brink of war – with nuclear Russia.
But for the fact that lately Republicans too have jumped on the bandwagon, this would make today’s Democrats even more dangerous than their more loathsome rivals. It certainly puts the idea that, compared to Republicans, Democrats are at least the lesser evil – once practically a truism — in jeopardy.
Trump inveighs against media that oppose him. That would include nearly all media that do not deliberately reinforce the benighted views of alt-right ideologues or otherwise pander to the lost souls in the Fox News demographic. As if to provide a textbook case of the pot calling the kettle black, he faults them for reporting “fake news.”
Bravo therefore even to the most servile Democratic Party flacks for getting under the Donald’s skin. But Trump’s animosity hardly exonerates them – not while the tales they tell lay the groundwork for catastrophes ahead.
Trump seems to like CNN least of all – for reasons that are probably more personal than political. The fact is that they all pretty much the same. MSNBC, for example, is no longer just a house organ of the DNC, the Democratic National Committee. It is now also doing the War Party yeoman service.
The broadcast networks are no better; NPR and PBS are, if anything, even worse. The Washington Post at least does serious journalism from time to time; so does The New York Times in its (failing) efforts to remain “the newspaper of record.” The War Party has them too in its grasp.
For sheer professionalism, the much-vilified RT, Russia Today, is better than them all –by many orders of magnitude. There is no need to argue the point; seeing is believing. Watch RT – any segment on YouTube, for example – and then watch, say, Rachel Maddow on MSNBC. QED.
Needless to say, Rachel and the others are gung ho for “the resistance”; all good Democrats are. Therefore, in the larger scheme of things, they are not unequivocally god-awful. Indeed, insofar as they contribute, even just a tad, to keeping the Donald and his minions hamstrung, bravo to them all. As a loose cannon who seems to have become increasingly deranged since moving his dog and pony show into the Oval Office, Trump may well be even more dangerous than a hundred Rachel Maddows and the entire “bipartisan” War Party to boot.
This doesn’t diminish the culpability of the warmongers, however. “Resisting” Trump is job number one, but taking over or, if possible, replacing the clear and present danger that the Democratic Party has become is a close second.
* * *
In most so-called democracies – in other words, in most countries where there is at least some respect for liberal values and the rule of law, and where generally free and fair elections are held periodically – an obvious way to “resist” an errant political party would be to abandon it and replace it with something better.
However, the authors of our Constitution and the jurists who came after them saw to it that the obvious solution, being too (small-d) democratic for their liking, would be all but impossible to implement.
Politics being “the art of the possible,” they did this by limiting the possibilities.
In their time and place, as in ours, at least a semblance of real democracy – of government of, by, and for the people — is indispensible for securing the legitimacy of political regimes. There is therefore a limit to how undemocratic the rules regulating elections can be. We, in the United States, come perilously close to approaching those limits.
How odd therefore that nearly all of us are so tolerant of the privileges our system accords to Democrats and Republicans. It is as if those two parties were facts of nature, not politically sustained institutional constructs.
This was the situation that Tea Party Republicans came up against eight years ago. And while it might seem that only fools would follow the lead of such benighted folk on anything at all, in this case, there actually is something that can be learned from their experience.
The Tea Party came close to taking over the GOP in the years immediately preceding the 2012 election. It wasn’t easy, but the party establishment did finally secure the nomination for Mitt Romney, one of their own; and many Tea Partiers did end up voting for him, even if only for lesser evil reasons. They hated Barack Obama that much!
But the Republicans lost anyway. That was the final straw for most Tea Partiers. After Romney’s defeat, the inmates were again mobilizing to resume their struggle to take over the asylum – lock, stock and barrel.
Thus the nincompoops and incompetents who vied for the GOP nomination early on, and others of their ilk, were salivating over the prospect of becoming the party’s new grandees. Their efforts were not entirely for naught; indeed, some of them are now in Trump’s cabinet.
But they have no real power because something remarkable, something that no one expected, happened: a vulgar, ignorant billionaire mountebank from the world of sleaze ball real estate operators and reality TV producers won over the hearts and minds of the people who had crawled out from under the rocks that the Tea Party had overturned.
One would think that voters susceptible to meaningless jibber jabber about “making America great again” would die a thousand deaths before allowing someone like that to become America’s public face. But, as George W. Bush might put it: that would “misunderestimate” the stupidity of large segments of the voting public.
Who knows what Trump thought he would achieve by running. Most likely, all he wanted was boost his brand and to glorify himself.
However, to everyone’s amazement, very likely including his own, it soon became apparent that the party’s leaders would not be able to deny him the nomination. His candidacy had too much momentum, and they had no one to offer in his stead.
And so, as if History itself was inclined to make a mockery of a core idea of one of its greatest admirers, Trump seemed to be on the brink of becoming what the philosopher Hegel (1770-1831) called a “world historical figure,” a man (always a man) whose passions and interests move history along in unintended ways.
Trump’s historical mission, it seemed, was to upend America’s deeply entrenched two party system, by leading one of those parties, the GOP, to ruin.
To be sure, the general idea was that world historical figures would be men of the stature of Napoleon and Alexander the Great; not Donald J. Trump. But then Hegel also said that great historical events sometimes repeat themselves — first as tragedy, then as farce. Therefore maybe, with Trump as the agent of the GOP’s demise, he wasn’t too far off the mark.
In any case, thanks more to Clinton’s chronic incompetence than to his own political skills, the mission that Trump seemed to be executing was unexpectedly interrupted.
Instead of leaving the GOP in ruins, he led it to victory. The irony is palpable; but also, very likely, short lived.
Just a few months into his term, it has already become clear to all but the most willfully blind that Trump is no more up to the task of moving history along, even unintentionally, than he is qualified to hold any political office more lofty than, say, city councilman.
This is why, though it now looks like Trump threw the Cunning of Reason off track, in retrospect – or, as Hegel might say, “when the owl of Minerva takes flight with the setting of the sun” — it may turn out that all he did was temporarily interrupt processes already underway.
The Democratic Party’s contributions to those processes are on track for amounting to zilch. Today’s Democrats have nothing to offer except more of what got them into their present fix.
They cannot even get it together enough to win special elections for seats vacated by Trump appointees; and, worse, when it comes to spinning their defeats, they show themselves to be the dunces they are.
What could have prompted them to depict special elections in districts from which Trump picked off officials to serve in his cabinet, hardcore Republican districts, as de facto referenda on Trump? Could it be because they have nothing more positive to offer than a way for people to express opposition (“resistance”) to Trump’s nocturnal emissions of risible tweets?
They cannot even get it together to do more than voice support for not dismantling Obamacare. When pushed, Bernie Sanders will repeat his line about Medicare for All. But then why does he support the Affordable Care Act, the miserable half measure through which Obama and the Democratic Party leadership sought to set back the cause of Medicare for all for yet another generation?
And then there is California, where Democrats control both houses of the legislature and the governorship, and where leading officials, including the Governor, outdo one another voicing support for a single-payer health care insurance system, and where those same officials refuse to move from words to deeds. The reason why is plain: Big Pharma, the insurance industry, and for-profit health care profiteers own the political class, and they are the ones calling the shots.
All the Democrats have going for them is Donald Trump. For reasons having to do more with hope than embarrassment and disgust, he is what is holding the Republicans together too. But they may soon realize that they would be better off without him; Democrats don’t have that option.
Indeed, it takes a special kind of stupidity for Democrats not to spin their near losses in recent special elections as moral victories in districts they lost badly just half a year ago. Even the dumbest Republicans would have known to do that.
Those special elections will only be distant memories by the time the 2018 midterms come around, but even if Democrats think that it is nevertheless worth making a big deal of them now – say, to boost fund raising and anti-Trump enthusiasm — why would they squander so much of their time, effort and money, more money than was ever spent in any election anywhere for a seat in the House of Representatives, on poor Jon Ossoff’s doomed campaign in Georgia’s sixth Congressional district?
Why would they go with a wet behind the ears milquetoast straight out of the Bill and Hillary Clinton playbook? Surely, they could have found a more suitable candidate elsewhere, one with more of a common touch, to make whatever point they wanted to make.
Ossoff is plainly smarter and more capable than, say, Jared Kushner or Ivanka Trump, but his résumé is hardly more substantial than theirs, and he doesn’t even live in the district in which he was running. What were the Democrats thinking? Even a more experienced and formidable candidate would have had a hard enough time beating a Republican in a district that was once represented by Newt Gingrich and, more recently by Tom Price.
Democrats are supposed to have brains. If they do, why don’t they use them?
Democrats are hopeless, but, thanks to those damn “founders” and their successors, there is no getting rid of them.
Thus the way forward seems blocked. This is why we could do with a real resistance – one that would fight Trump by any and all means, but that would also demolish the Democratic Party and build something worthwhile out of its remains.
Sadly, this way forward is effectively out of reach in a political universe in which the Democratic and Republican Parties are, for all practical purposes, permanent features of the landscape.
However, a more “pragmatic” resistance, one that would do what the Tea Party came close to doing and, but for Trump, might have ultimately done, might be more feasible. Taking the party over and transforming it from the grassroots up just might work.
The problem, though, is that, within the ranks of the national party, there really is no Left Opposition, and therefore no foundation upon which to build. The Tea Party had plenty of rightwing Republicans to recruit from and build upon.
Yes, Bernie Sanders has his (he calls it “our”) Revolution, but, except for adjusting to twenty-first century conditions, the policies he advocates would have seemed mainstream half a century ago. They hardly offer a radical vision to rally around.
Sanders’ views on military and foreign affairs are even more mainstream. Compare Sanders, say, to George McGovern – and weep.
This is or ought to be a relevant concern for a “democratic socialist,” as Sanders calls himself, because, as LBJ discovered, “guns and butter” cannot indefinitely coexist. This was the case half a century ago, when the American economy was still on the ascendant and when America was still riding high; it is much more the case now that American world domination is sustained more by military than economic power, and when the economy on the skids.
For a Democrat, or even a Democrat who claims to be an “independent,” Sanders is about as good as it gets. If, say, Elizabeth Warren would be any better, she has yet to show signs of it.
Must we therefore abandon all hope?
It is starting to look that way, but there are still straws to grasp. Sanders and Warren and the others may be useless, but the Sanders campaign did draw many people – young and old, but especially young — into its fold. There is reason to take hope from that.
But only if Tea Party style obduracy and insistence on matters of principle does not give way to the spirit of compromise. The call has gone out from the commentariat that compromise is the order of the day. They are wrong about a lot of things, but they could not be more wrong on this.
How pathetic that it now makes sense to look to the worst of the worst, to the Tea Party no less, for guidance. But this is the hand we have been dealt.
Party unity – falling in line behind the DNC in order to make common cause with the likes of Schumer, Pelosi and the Clintons – will not help efforts to rid the world of Trump and his troglodyte toadies.
They are self-destructing in any case. Republicans can help the process along; Democrats can do no more than look on from the margins.
But, from outside the party system, any and all help from everyone who understands how great a menace Trump is can be helpful too. Those who want to call that “a resistance” should feel free. What do words matter when so much is at stake!
But people need to understand the urgency of resisting the Democratic mainstream too – with exemplary Tea Party-like obstinacy and unwavering dedication to principle.
Along with lesser evil thinking, calls for Democratic Party unity are partly to blame for the Trump v. Clinton election that made it possible for Trump now to menace the world – because, despite every imaginable advantage, Clinton only had it in her to lose. With Democrats currently hell bent on creating hell on earth, party unity is the very last thing we need.
Therefore, whatever else it may be, now is emphatically not the time, as per the old typewriter drill, “for all good men to come to the aid of the party.” It is a time for all good men and women who want the world to survive and flourish to do all they can to take that wretched party over or, better still, to smash it to smithereens.
ANDREW LEVINE is 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).