In a political culture that advertises voting as the most important political act a regular citizen can take, it should come as no surprise the amount of attention elections in small states leading up to the national major party nominations get. This leads to the overblown media hype paid to the Iowa caucuses, New Hampshire primary and the South Carolina challenge. This year, after each one of these spectacles commentators from all degrees of the spectrum have been quick to hand the GOP nomination to the loudmouthed lout named Donald Trump and have simultaneously fictionalized the primary process to diminish Bernie Sanders campaign. Those to the right of Sanders—the Hillary supporters—point to each vote as proof that she can win while those to the left of Sanders take the same numbers and use them as proof that he is wasting his time.
The truth of the matter is this thing is not over until it’s over. As long as the pledged delegate count stays within a couple hundred, the primaries matter. Robert F. Kennedy entered the race late in 1968 and did not have a serious lead in the delegate count until the night he won the California primary and was killed. Of course, there wasn’t such a thing as 24/7 “news” on television back then and print journalists were actually journalists, not mere copy machines. I also do not recall there being such a focus on polls and money raised as there has been for the last two or three decades. I have a real problem with polls. Their constant presence in the media and the fact that they are truly answerable to no one as far as I can tell does at least two things. First, it gives the numbers they create much more meaning than they have and, secondly, they have the potential to affect the election in ways their numbers should have no business doing. Seeing said polls, some folks will vote for the “winner,” thereby fulfilling a fact that was never really true until the polls made it so.
Thanks in large part to Sanders’ presence, this campaign started out addressing the issues. It is now much more about polls and dollars, despite Sanders attempts to not let it become that. However, both his and Clinton’s supporters don’t seem to know any other way to look at an election. So, instead of emails addressing political differences, supporters are barraged with requests for cash; the mainstream media talks up the latest contrived poll; and the observers discuss poll numbers with a reverence usually practiced by Christians at Easter Sunrise services. And I’m just talking about the Democratic campaign here. The Republican drive toward the nomination has gone from the absurd to the absurdly ridiculous. It’s bad enough that the protofascist and billionaire bigot con man named Donald Trump was in the race to begin with. His harangues have already loosened the chains on the racists that hide behind their flags and guns, bringing them into the sunlight to bray about their rights to a legacy not even worthy of the word. The fact that Trump is outpacing the rest of his equally offensive opponents has moved the GOP campaign from bad to worse. As for the issues in that campaign—the last time I checked the men were throwing innuendos at each other about the size of their penises. Talk about patriarchy.
Then there are the folks who swear they will vote for Trump if Sanders does not get the nomination. Part of this mindset has to do with a dislike for Hillary Clinton. Some of this dislike is because she’s a Clinton and some if it is just plain misogyny. Some of it is because the false philosophy of populism, which both Trump and Sanders are both calling their own, is not grounded in a desire to get rid of the ultimately oppressive system of capitalism, but in a desire to make it work for working people. There are those who incorrectly think having an extremist like Trump or another Republican in the White House will make it easier to organize opposition, like it was during GW Bush’s regime.
The problem with this line of thinking is that those numbers in the streets in the Bush years ended up being used by the Obama campaign- a fact that effectively stifled most movements for social justice once Obama was elected. If Hillary Clinton wins the White House the likelihood of a popular movement for social justice and led by the Left has a much better chance than one that merely opposes a reactionary GOP regime. Remember, it was during Bill Clinton’s term that the anti-neoliberal capitalism movement organized and grew into a massive popular and militant movement around the world. The possibility of the success of a similar groundswell should increase even more if Sanders takes the helm. That is, if the Left does its job and organizes with this possibility in mind.
Voting is a tactic, nothing more. Despite those who act as if it were something akin to a baptismal rite, the truth is, votes are but one of the least important tools in popular democracy’s toolbox. The real effort comes between elections and do not usually involve campaigning for politicians.
Capitalism is designed to have cycles of growth alternate with periods of shrinkage. More importantly, the most crucial element of capitalism is wealth accumulation. Those with the wealth will always accumulate more. Consequently, US history involves a cycle of general prosperity for the majority (at least the majority of white skinned people) followed by a period when the rich get a lot richer a lot quicker due to their Wall Street speculation with our jobs, our bank accounts, our mortgages, and our lives. Then, in the name of the people, some of our politicians push through legislation to spread out a small amount of that accumulated wealth. Even though this rhythm of the cycle is ultimately what saves the capitalist system, the super-wealthy (the 1%) loudly and vehemently oppose these politicians and the movements behind them. Sooner or later, however, there will come a point when the former cycle of prosperity for the most is not able to repeat itself. One assumes that when this occurs it will be after every manipulation of debt possible by the financial houses on Wall Street and other stock exchanges around the world has run its course. The rich will face a moment where their wealth threatens to become meaningless. They will not respond nicely. Indeed, this election is proof they already fear that future moment I describe.
The reality we face in 2016 in the United States is fairly straightforward. The threads holding the society together are fraying rapidly. In addition, there are those intent on cutting as many of those threads as possible in the hopes that the ones tying them to their money will become stronger as they push aside those they impoverish. Elections will not resolve the situation, but one can hope they will at the least expose the fiction of these pretenses at democracy. One wonders what the future will hold should that truth become general knowledge.