The Big Chill, the Donald, and the Judas Goat: the Big Picture on 2016


Candidates We Hate

What could be more absurd than the longstanding died-in-the-wool neoliberal corporatist and arch-imperial war hawk Hillary Clinton striding up to a victory podium with Black, Latino/a, and Muslim people cheering backstage and signs pasted all around saying “Fighting for Us”? I don’t know…maybe the blustering, white-nationalist real estate tycoon, television bully, and World Wrestling personality Donald Trump posing as the champion of the American working man?

So here it is. The “hidden primary of the ruling class” (Laurence Shoup) has spoken with an ugly verdict this last stupefying Super Tuesday. We can smell what the Rock of Class Rule is cooking up for the latest quadrennial extravaganza. It’s emitting the usual faint odor of inverted fascism more strongly than any time in recent memory.

We can feel the Big Chill[ary] in our bones as The Queen of Chaos gears up for the ultimate quadrennial cage match with the new Latter Day Mussolini, poised to become “Silvio Berlusconi with nukes” (Roger Cohen). We are being handed a great authoritarian “choice” between two noxious, super-wealthy presidential candidates we rightly loathe. In one corner, Hillary “My Turn” Clinton weighs in with a Quinnipaic rating of 56% unfavorable vs. 39% favorable. In the other corner, The Donald tips the scales at 59% unfavorable v. 34% favorable. “You hate your selection? Too bad, ungrateful underlings! Now open wide so we can shove this slop down your throat.”

Both of the candidates exude violence and authoritarianism to a disturbing degree. Hillary says “we came, we saw, he died.” The victims of the blood-drenched madness she’s helped advance in the name of humanitarianism in Syria, North Africa, Honduras and elsewhere can testify to the misery she inflicts. Trump talks flippantly of shooting people and punching protesters in the face. He mocks the disabled, engages in the macho jeering of women, and goes off on anti-Muslim and anti-Mexican tirades. He promises to expand U.S. militarism like no previous president to “make America great again.”

Judas Goat

Oh but what about Bernie? Send the Judas Goat back to his comfortable perch as Vermont Senator for Life, I say. My distaste for Sanders has only grown with the primary contest. His doomed and nominally socialist, socialism-neutering campaign feeds the deadly illusion that progressive, social-democratic policies lack majority support in the U.S. Nothing could be further from the truth but the Bernie madness and failure helps cloak the reality. It also helps Hillary seem to have emerged victorious from a serious and democratic debate about the issues. Truly, it would have been better for her to ascend to the top of the Democratic ticket through a more transparently corporatist coronation.

Then comes the deepened sense of popular powerlessness engendered when Sanders tells his supporters to vote for Hillary, a candidate who epitomizes much of what he at least claims to be against. He promised to do this from the start, pledging not to be “spoiler like Ralph Nader.” Trump likes to tweet a quote attributed to Mussolini: “It is better to live one day as a lion than 100 years as a sheep.” Bernie will ask millions to vote like sheep on the day he gives his concession speech.

On the very day that Sanders announced his candidacy as a Democrat (still pretending to not already have been a de facto Democrat for many years) last May, the veteran Black left activist and commentator Bruce Dixon identified Bernie in Chicago as a “sheepdog”: a fake “contender” whose basic mission is to rally understandably disaffected voters and non-voters to the dismal corporate-military Democratic Party. Sanders as much as admitted the accuracy of the designation when he gave the following debate remarks in the course of telling CNN‘s Anderson Cooper what he meant by “democratic socialism”: “The facts that are very simple. Republicans win when there is a low voter turnout, and that is what happened last November. Sixty-three percent of the American people didn’t vote, Anderson. Eighty percent of young people didn’t vote. We are bringing out huge turnouts, and creating excitement all over this country. Democrats at the White House on down will win, when there is excitement and a large voter turnout, and that is what this campaign is doing.” That sure made Frederick Engels proud.

Actually, I think “sheepdog” is too mild. Here is Wikipedia’s definition of the term Judas Goat: “a trained goat used in general animal herding. The Judas goat is trained to associate with sheep or cattle, leading them to a specific destination. In stockyards, a Judas goat will lead sheep to slaughter, while its own life is spared. Judas goats are also used to lead other animals to specific pens and onto trucks. They have fallen out of use in recent times, but can still be found in various smaller slaughterhouses in some parts of the world, as well as conservation projects.”

A “sheepdog” the canine just moves the sheep around in the pasture. They get to live on eating grass and getting shorn of their wool every so often. Not bad. A “Judas Goat” send other sentient beings to their death. The second metaphor better captures the Democratic Party’s time-honored role (ably documented in Lance Selfa’s excellent book The Democrats: a Critical History) as the graveyard of social movements and independent people’s politics. Maybe I’m overdoing the anthropomorphic thing (apologies to Orwell and others) but the analogy stands. The Democratic Party (with which Sanders has been strongly if stealthily affiliated since at least the early 1990s) is the great and longstanding killing floor for radical and grassroots activism and protest. Its dreadful track record as a social justice cemetery goes back at least to the Populist rebellion of the 1890s and up through the industrial workers’ movement of the 1930s and Civil Rights, Black power, feminist, Chicano/a rights, immigrant rights, and gay rights movements during and since the 1960s. The dismal, demobilizing Dems’ leaders have not been averse to combing repression with co-optation, as when Democratic president Woodrow Wilson incarcerated and deported American socialists and anarchists during and after World War One. Presidents Kennedy and Johnson harassed, infiltrated, and spied on Civil Rights and antiwar activists. Barack Trans Pacific Obama’s savagely neoliberal administration helped coordinate the violent dismantlement of the Occupy Movement (this even while “Wall Street Barry” stole Occupy’s rhetoric for deployment against Mitt Romney) by Democratic Party-run city governments across the U.S in the fall of 2011.

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The “Purist” Charge

One of the more depressing parts of The Bernie Sanders Experience for an actual independent American radical socialist like (well) myself has been to be told by fellow “progressives” and even “leftists” that one is engaging in a selfish, even narcissistic exercise in “moral purity” and “extremism” when one has the decency to situate the longstanding de facto Democrat Sanders in this unpleasant history. It is apparently the duty of all serious leftists to muzzle their observations of fake-left sheep-doggery and Judas Goatery past and present. We are expected also to suppress basic reporting and commentary on some rather ugly parts of Sanders’ record, past and present, including his failures to seriously attack the American global Empire project and Pentagon system (whose massive budgetary take renders Bernie’s ambitious progressive domestic agenda largely mute); his open embrace of Obama’s Drone War; his reference to the anti-totalitarian hero Edward Snowden as a criminal; his sickening defense of Israel’s mass murder of Palestinian children in Gaza; his vote for the funding of U.S. military forces occupying Iraq (despite his admirable vote against authorizing George W. Bush to invade); his support of the Obama administration’s criminal and provocative actions in Ukraine; his equally terrible support (as a fake-independent US Congressman) for Bill Clinton’s unnecessary and criminal bombing of Serbia (urged on Bill by the Queen of Chaos in her First Lady days); his championing of the murderous F-35 Fighter Jet in the name of stealth military Keynesianism (“jobs for Vermont”); his call for the arch-reactionary and arch-fundamentalist, head-chopping Saudi Arabian regime (leading center of Wahhabist ideology) to step up its murderous military role in the Middle East (good grief!); his ridiculous defense of the abjectly corporatist and terribly misnamed Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) as a first step to real social-democratic health care (single-payer); his sad support of rampant, mind-numbing standardized testing in K-12 education; his tepid record and statements on immigrant rights and racial justice; his abject failure to seriously call the Clintons out on their full, longstanding, and deep records of corporate neoliberalism, imperialism, classism, eco-cidalism racism, and mass-incarceration-ism.

For an actual radical socialist to note all this and more terrible to mention (including not least of all Sanders’ insidious, Judas-like watering down of the meaning of socialism to connote at leftmost a hint of Scandinavian social democracy) in Bernie’s record is to be accused of parading around to “demonstrate the superiority of one’s politics.” Wow.

Racial Fail

Nothing is more pathetic perhaps than Sandernistas who say they just can’t understand why Hillary has beat Sanders so badly with the Black primary vote. If Sanders had been remotely serious about getting Black voters, he would have run early and hard against the Clintons’ vicious and deeply racist 1996 welfare “reform” (a measure that Hillary writes about with great admiration in her recent memoir). He would also have gone after Hillary’s horrible, racist remarks on Abe Lincoln and Reconstruction and at the (co-president) Clintons’ three strikes mass incarceration-ist crime bill. He would have spent more energy trumpeting the contrast between his early 1960s civil rights activism and Hillary’s racist Goldwater Girl origins. He would have talked about how the corporate-neoliberal “New Democrat” tendency that the Clintons helped champion in Arkansas meant pushing the Democratic Party further away from any substantive concern with racial justice. He would have avoided his foolish standoffishness about reparations and dropped his underlying suggestion that liberal-Keynesian economic policy will provide a nice color-blind and social-democratic solution to the nation’s stark racial disparities and oppression. There was a lot of racial justice material for Bernie to work with and an old white guy from super-Caucasian Vermont needed to work with it if he was at all serious about taking Black votes from the Clinton machine. He failed badly here.

Match-Up Fantasies

Nothing is more lame than the Sandernistas’ whining about Blacks except perhaps their citing of primary season match-up polls to tell us that Bernie would do better than Hillary Clinton against the Republican candidate (Trump, barring a coup of some kind at or before the Republican National Convention) in November. Sorry, but no. Match-up polls in the primary season are worthless, or close. The bigger reality is that a nomination of the “socialist” Sanders by the Democratic Party – always a wild progressive fantasy – would send vast piles of 1% and Super-PAC cash otherwise earmarked for Hillary to the GOP candidate. The red- or at least pink-baiting project funded by big Republican donors would likely be effective and it would get no small assist from a corporate media that has obsessed over the quasi-fascist Trump’s every word and gesture while steadily downplaying and ignoring the giant crowds turning out for Bernie’s progressive rallies.

My semi-educated guess is that the nation’s unelected dictatorship of money would prefer the – let’s be honest – moderate de facto Republican Hillary in the White House over a GOP lunatic and wild card like Donald Trump or Ted Cruz. At the same time, the real masters atop the deep state financial corporatoracy love divided government and would like to keep the game going with one party in charge of the WH and the other party in charge of Congress. But not to the extent of letting a self-described socialist into the presidency.

A Radical Hillary Dividend?

Is there anything for leftists to be happy about here? Sure. The smart money still has Hillary prevailing in November and it’s better for the left to have a corporate Democrat than a corporate Republican in the White House for two key reasons different from those given in the self-fulfilling, viciously circular Lesser Evil argument many progressive intellectuals and activists (including some of the left’s best and brightest) make every four years. First, the presence of a Democrat in the nominal top U.S. job is always usefully instructive for young workers and citizens. It helps demonstrate the richly bipartisan nature of the American plutocracy and Empire. The people need to see and experience how the intolerable misery and oppression imposed by capitalism and its evil twin imperialism live on when Democrats hold the White House.

Second, the presence of a Republican in the White House tends to fuel the illusion among progressives and others that the main problem in the country is that the wrong party holds executive power and that all energy and activism must be directed at fixing that. In other words, if McCain had won in 2008, we wouldn’t have gotten the briefly remarkable Occupy Movement but rather a big Get the Vote out for Barack or Hillary movement in 2011. (It’s the same perhaps for Fight 4 15 and Black Lives Matter if Mitt Romney had won in 2012.) And here let me quote a self-declared Sandernista, Ron Jacobs, who disagrees with me about Bernie but shares my sense that it is not at all useful for left organizing to have Republicans in the White House:

“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.”

There is, yes, the problem of Democrats in the White House functioning to stifle social movements and perhaps especially peace activism. But there’s more good news here about a Hillary presidency. Not all Democratic presidents are equally good at shutting progressive activism down. As the likely Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein recently noted in an interview with me, Hillary Clinton will have considerably less capacity to deceive and bamboozle progressive and young workers and citizens than Barack Obama enjoyed in 2007-08. “Obama,” Stein notes was fairly new on the scene. Hillary,” by contrast, “has been a warmonger who never found a war she didn’t love forever!” Hillary’s corporatist track record – ably documented in Doug Henwood’s book My Turn: Hillary Clinton Targets the Presidency (her imperial track record receives equally impressive treatment in Diana Johnstone’s volume Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton) – is also long and transparently bad.

By the Way…

Dare I say that a Hillary Clinton administration might, combined with objective circumstances of capitalist and imperial rule that are only going to get worse and worse (the profits system has nothing left to offer any but the wealthy few), help make America a left organizers’ paradise? I will also add something that the mass corporate media and the broader, Big Business-managed media won’t tell you this year any more than they did in 2012 or 2008 or 2004 or 2000: if you want to vote (and it’s certainly understandable if you don’t) for a presidential candidate who is neither a lesser nor a greater evil next November, guess what? That candidate – imagine – will be on your ballot, even if kept out of the officially sanctioned debates. Her name is Jill Stein of the Green Party, whose core platform includes a thoroughly do-able program to save livable ecology (the biggest issue of our or any time, by the way) while creating millions of good paying and socially and environmentally-necessary jobs, slashing the disastrous Empire budget to help pay for programs to eliminate poverty, health care insecurity and eco-cide. Now that Bernie is done for (and he is, despite the denial that prevails among his more passionate supporters), those who want to use the presidential ballot as a vehicle for progressive change (I’m more of a social movement type but I always take five minutes once every four years to vote for the most viable and sensible third party left candidate) might want to think outside the two party box that way next fall.

Paul Street’s latest book is This Happened Here: Amerikaners, Neoliberals, and the Trumping of America (London: Routledge, 2022).