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Summer Spectaculars: Prelude to a Tea Party?

Republicans go first with their convention, followed a few days later by Democrats. It will all be over by the end of July – leaving time for advertisers to get their money’s worth out of the Olympics.

Of those three ballyhooed summer spectaculars, the least important politically is likely to be the first, notwithstanding the historical significance of the destruction of the GOP. Thanks to Donald Trump, the Republican Party already has more than one foot in the grave. What happens in Cleveland is therefore unlikely to make much difference.

Nevertheless, watching Republican troglodytes and miscreants go through their death throes will be enormously pleasurable – not just for voyeurs, but for everyone whose head is screwed on right. It should be a great show.

There is still a question about the future of the GOP’s remains. The goings-on in Cleveland could affect that, but it is unlikely that the convention itself, however riveting, will do much to clarify the situation.

Or maybe not. With so many morons and reprobates assembled together in one place, anything could happen. [It is tempting to call them “morally and intellectually challenged Americans,” but in deference to their aversion to “political correctness,” I have opted for a more Trumpian description.]

By whatever name, there is only a small chance that Cleveland’s Quicken Loans Arena (how appropriate!) will host a meltdown wondrous to behold. It is far more likely that the goings on will be inconsequential – and also stupid and vulgar, like professional wrestling or, true to the calling of the presumptive nominee, reality television. Without choreographed scripts or network executives making sure that situations remain under control, all hell could break loose. But a world-shattering conflagration is unlikely.

Even so, television viewers won’t have to endure yet another glorified infomercial of the kind that Republicans and Democrats usually stage at their quadrennial spectaculars. Trump and his Republican enemies, most of whom are even more vile than he, are doing themselves in; and it will all be on display. Revel in it, but don’t expect much of anything new to come out of it.

Events in Rio are more likely to change the course of history – at least in Brazil.  Whether they do or not, Americans watching on TV will be among the last to know.

Unlike American exceptionalism, American provincialism is real. Most Americans know little and care less about the external world. This is how our rulers like it; and the media that serve them are more than happy to oblige.

Therefore, unless the situation in Rio spins out of control, as well it might, Americans will be hearing a lot about how American athletes are doing and about adorable gymnasts from around the world, but very little about, say, the coup against the government of Dilma Rousseff or about political corruption.   They will hear even less about American machinations in the region or the living conditions of Brazil’s ninety-nine percent.

With Russia out of the Games, there won’t even be many opportunities to badmouth Vladimir Putin.  So much for that staple of recent Olympics coverage. Count on Hillary to make up for lost time, however, just as soon as she gets hold of the bully pulpit.

In the fullness of time, what, if anything, the show in Rio will have changed will be recognized and acknowledged even in the Land of the Free. For now, though, and for the foreseeable future, count on Americans remaining oblivious.

Then there is the Democratic convention.

Unless the gods suddenly, and uncharacteristically, take a merciful turn, Hillary will come out the nominee. But it won’t be the kind of love-fest that we saw, for example, in 2008, when Barack Obama was crowned the candidate of Hope and Change.

Sometimes I close my eyes and imagine all the Bernie delegates, plus those of Hillary’s who will, by then, have some inkling of how dangerous that woman is, walking out en masse from the Convention Center in Philadelphia and assembling nearby, perhaps in front of Independence Hall, to found a new party or to join forces with the Greens, sealing their decision with a functional equivalent of the Tennis Court Oath.

That would certainly make talk of a political revolution more than just hot air or wishful thinking!

But it isn’t going to happen. For one thing, it probably couldn’t happen at this point without Bernie Sanders, and he would surely opt out. For another, there are too many institutional impediments in the way – ballot access heading the list.

This is why, for the time being, Americans are stuck with Democrats and Republicans – and, barring a miracle, with Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. In a parliamentary system, or in a less undemocratic version of the kind of system we have, it would be different; but in the real world of American “democracy,” with its semi-established duopolistic party structure, it is inordinately difficult to become unstuck.

Anti-Trump hysteria is another problem. The Donald is at war with the party he will nominally lead. But even were a truce somehow arranged, he would still fall – because he is too much of a narcissist not to self-destruct. This is perfectly obvious, yet far too many liberals refuse to see it. For far too many others, the mere possibility of a Trump presidency is enough to get their lesser evil juices flowing.

Sanders may only be grasping for a face-saving way to surrender to Hillary, but he too, like that other Great Progressive Hope, Elizabeth Warren, is feeding the wave of anti-Trump hysteria.

And so it was that, when he addressed his supporters by television last week (no live audience, no boos), he urged them to run for down-ticket, state and local offices. Maybe he was only looking for a graceful way out; maybe he wanted to keep his supporters’ morale from crashing; maybe, as his critics claim, the idea all along was to arouse, and then dash, the aspirations of people demanding a better world.

Democrats have been known to do that when Presidential elections loom; it is one of the special ways that they serve their capitalist masters. The last time it happened was eight years ago.

It hardly matters, though: whatever Sanders’ motives, the advice he gave was sound.

Call it the Tea Party strategy.

The real Tea Party never quite had a strategy; its activists and funders were too “challenged” to come up with one. But whether by design or simple thoughtlessness, they waged their rebellion from within the bowels of the GOP. Tea Partiers hated mainstream Republicans, but they never separated from them by going off on their own. They took major sectors of the Republican Party over instead.

This was, in effect, what Sanders told his supporters to do to the party of the Clintons and Wasserman Schultz.   Since you can’t beat them; and since, if only for the sake of common decency, you can’t truly join them; and since, at this point, viable exit options seem foreclosed, the best thing to do may be to use the Party’s own traditions and rules and its ballot status to advance causes that “we, the people” want, and that Democrats disdain and impede.

The real Tea Party took shape within weeks of Barack Obama’s inauguration. Then, thanks to the racially inflected resentment of its mostly white and mostly elderly supporters, and to the greed of Republican donors, who saw opportunities for parlaying the social anxieties and racist animosities of people they’d cross the street to avoid into economic gains for themselves, it spread like a virus.

The Tea Party also benefited from “populist” disgust with politicians and politics as usual.   Because of the bite neoliberal globalization has taken out of democracy, and because of the demise (or protracted eclipse) of the historical Left, that kind of disgust is rampant these days nearly everywhere. Rightwing populist movements are breaking out all over the world. The Tea Party was one American example; the Trump phenomenon is another.

Once it became clear that Obama had feet of clay, the Republican leadership, not realizing that they were creating a monster that would someday turn against them, encouraged the insurgency – demonstrating yet again that Republicans are not the brightest bulbs on the tree.

But thanks to their support, and thanks to ample funding from plutocrats like the Koch brothers, the Tea Party had a good five or six year run. Now, thanks to Trump, it is on the skids, just like the remnants of the old school Republican Party has been since the Tea Party itself came along.

Liberal media have played a major role in bringing the Trump situation about. By giving that billionaire buffoon more free publicity than any other candidate could beg, borrow or steal, media moguls and their talking heads turned Trump’s campaign from a lame joke into a force of nature.

As practicing liberals, the moguls hate Trump with a passion. But he is good for their news and talk programs’ ratings, and therefore for their bottom lines; and, because they are also practicing capitalists, greed conquers all.

A Tea Party-like insurgency within Democratic Party ranks would probably not even last the five or six years that the Republican original did. This is a point in its favor. The Democratic Party is rotten to the core; it therefore cannot be repaired from within. It can only be replaced.

If down-ticket political neophytes, heeding Bernie’s call, still harbor illusions about the Democratic Party’s reformability, they won’t for long. In a few months time, with Hillary at the helm, their party will be even more rotten than it already is; and the rot will be too salient even for most of Hillary’s fans, much less Sanders supporters, to ignore.

Also, once the November election is over, anti-Trump hysteria will subside, and all kinds of exit options will open up. There will be no need to wait years for opportunities to exercise them; the time to do that will be right away.

The only reason not to start now, even before next month’s spectacular, is that too many deluded or willfully blind liberals, fearing that Trump might actually win, would object. Because Trump is bound to lose, there is a case to be made for not indulging their obsessions; there is also a case for not antagonizing them needlessly.

However, when Trump is out of the picture, and when Hillary’s war-mongering leads to situations that will turn her liberal supporters against her, just as liberals turned against a far worthier figure, Lyndon Johnson, half a century ago, the path forward will at last open up.

Patience is a virtue, but there should be no need, in this instance, for a whole lot of it: Trump will be gone in a few months time; and the two, three, many Vietnam-like quagmires – or worse — that Hillary’s clueless ineptitude and reckless bellicosity will provoke, will start erupting shortly thereafter.

It wouldn’t hurt if, before long, some comparatively uncompromised Democrats would join forces with whatever takes shape after Hillary’s election becomes a done deal.   A few high-profile defections from the Democratic fold could be a powerful consciousness-raising tool.

But the Democratic Party itself is a lost cause, especially, but not only, at the national level.   At state and local levels, there may actually be a few good Democrats around in more than a handful of jurisdictions. On the other hand, the number of genuine progressives in the Congressional Progressive Caucus – and in the Black and Hispanic Caucuses – is vanishingly small.

A new party will therefore need new people; and, as Sanders said, the process has to start from the bottom up.

The fact that it hasn’t started yet is one reason why it is highly unlikely that insurgent delegates will march out of the Convention Center in Philadelphia to form a new party on the spot. It is a beguiling thought, and it would be wonderful if it were to happen, but it is not in the cards.

But this is not a reason to despair. A new party – of, by and for the people — will become eminently feasible just as soon as progressives come to the realization that they and the Clintons, and the Clintonized Democratic Party, have nothing in common; that they are on opposite sides. With Hillary in the White House, the day that they come to that realization is not far off.

Sanders and his supporters say that they want to use their presence in Philadelphia to shape the Party platform; as if party platforms matter.  What matters is that sparks fly and that “teachable moments” ensue; in short, that progressives and Clintonites lock horns. The more of that there is, the better.

Therefore, Trump or no Trump, now is emphatically not a time to come to the aid of the Party. It is a time to expose what the Democratic Party is, and to develop strategies for doing it in.

Republicans are already on their way out. If not now, then very soon, the time will be right for the other half of the rot to follow suit.

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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).

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