We are approaching the one year anniversary of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, which we all remember for the pathetic and milquetoast submission of Bernie Sanders. Trump is now firmly ensconced in his own debacles and press-formulated scandals while his odious ICE goons carry on like bandits on the streets of major metropolitan centers. These sorts of thoughts can give you a massive headache, to the point you go beyond the Tylenol into the secret stash.
Do you feel any regrets for supporting the Green Party?
First, there is the objective truth of Hillary Clinton’s semi-public admission that her presidency would have included the longstanding Robert Rubin-Larry Summers policy goal to privatize Social Security. The now-forgotten scandal of her speeches to Wall Street made it plain as day. She said to Morgan Stanley on 4/18/13:
“Simpson-Bowles… Put Forth The Right Framework. Namely, We Have To Restrain Spending, We Have To Have Adequate Revenues, And We Have To Incentivize Growth. It’s A Three-Part Formula… And They Reached An Agreement. But What Is Very Hard To Do Is To Then Take That Agreement If You Don’t Believe That You’re Going To Be Able To Move The Other Side.
SECRETARY CLINTON: Well, this may be borne more out of hope than experience in the last few years. But Simpson-Bowles — and I know you heard from Erskine earlier today — put forth the right framework. Namely, we have to restrain spending, we have to have adequate revenues, and we have to incentivize growth. It’s a three-part formula. The specifics can be negotiated depending upon whether we’re acting in good faith or not. And what Senator Simpson and Erskine did was to bring Republicans and Democrats alike to the table, and you had the full range of ideological views from I think Tom Coburn to Dick Durbin. And they reached an agreement. But what is very hard to do is to then take that agreement if you don’t believe that you’re going to be able to move the other side. And where we are now is in this gridlocked dysfunction. So you’ve got Democrats saying that, you know, you have to have more revenues; that’s the sine qua non of any kind of agreement. You have Republicans saying no, no, no on revenues; you have to cut much more deeply into spending. Well, looks what’s happened. We are slowly returning to growth. It’s not as much or as fast as many of us would like to see, but, you know, we’re certainly better off than our European friends, and we’re beginning to, I believe, kind of come out of the long aftermath of the ’08 crisis.
Simpson-Bowles was one of multiple steps taken by the Obama administration over the past eight years to implement privatization. On this issue, the Republican Party, it must be admitted, bungles and falls on its face, case and point being the Dubya-era ‘Social Security is Bankrupt!‘ farce. William Burroughs memorably calls the transparently fake “narcotics dick in a white trench coat” a flatfoot while riding away from a close call on the New York subway in the opening paragraph of his infamous Naked Lunch, an image that comes to mind for some reason when I think about GOP efforts to privatize Social Security.
Yet when Democratic presidents implement the same policy initiatives they are almost totally unopposed. The depositing of Social Security’s capital into ‘the market’ of mutual funds would be a cataclysm for millions of poor Americans who depend on the monthly check as their sole source of retirement income or disability insurance. Clinton’s insistence that it would have been alright, that ‘the market’ is able to deliver good results, would be equivalent to looking at the simpering face of Robert De Niro, intoxicated by black tar opium, that bookends Sergio Leone’s magnum opus gangster epic ONCE UPON A TIME IN AMERICA. While the chattering class within the press corps would have called privatization a ‘bold move’, everyone else would be asking aloud ‘Are you high?’
Second, there is the recent study Battlefield Casualties and Ballot Box Defeat: Did the Bush-Obama Wars Cost Clinton the White House? by Douglas L. Kriner of Boston University and Francis X. Shen of University of Minnesota Law School. They write “Increasingly, a divide is emerging between communities whose young people are dying to defend the country, and those communities whose young people are not. In this paper we empirically explore whether this divide—the casualty gap—contributed to Donald Trump’s surprise victory in November 2016.”
While I respect Eric Draitser’s work on the notion of white identity politics, I think that some nuance and further dimension is added to the issue rather than contradicting his work, which was based on a study from the University of Massachusetts Amherst entitled Explaining White Polarization in the 2016 Vote for President: The Sobering Role of Racism and Sexism.
Let’s be clear, yes, whiteness does bind together a significant number of these voters and they desire to preserve the “wages of whiteness”, to quote Du Bois.
But the reason that the balance of the ledger for these wages has been coming up short within their perspective over the past decade can and should be tied directly to Afghanistan and Iraq. White males spanning age 16-35 lacking access to college education were quite intentionally courted after 9/11 by the military-industrial complex, much akin to the stereotypical imagery of a dope pusher. They were promised money, free tuition, and a stable career in exchange for service to God and country as enlisted soldiers with an easier ability to ascend into the officers corps.
What they encountered was everything but what the advertising had promised. Rather than going to fight bloodthirsty jihadi hordes, quite literally equated with Nazis when Christopher Hitchens labelled them ‘Islamo-fascists’, they very quickly realized instead they had been sold a lie and were fighting an insurgency that was opposed to American imperialism, much as their forebears had in Vietnam. And, as was the case in Vietnam, the brutality of guerrilla warfare was far more than what they would have ever been willing to face. Insurgency combat methods included the infamous roadside IED bombs that were known for castration and crippling bodily mutilation.
This is the antecedent of the white male emasculation hinted at by so many analysts of the Trump vote. Further, it is worth pointing out that Trump did campaign on, among other things, fixing the notorious VA, though admittedly his recent union-busting efforts within the system portend a bad omen for other sectors of the economy.
Things were compounded further for returning combat veterans by the emerging opioid crisis, which had a significant antecedent within a collusion between doctors, pharmaceutical corporations, and the illegal opium trade that, in an almost darkly ironic way, could in some instances be traced back to war-torn Afghanistan. In the past half-century, the American medical system objectively failed to recognize pain as anything but something to be suppressed. From hangnails to headaches to heartbreak, the answer for the hurt was to pop a pill. In my own experience, I have seen two people die from the opioid crisis.
Those deaths were caused by the neoliberalization of the economy over the past four decades, with a significant level of that having been proliferated under Democratic Party auspices. Deregulation and corporatization of medicine and its auxiliary industries promoted the trends and currents that emphasized pain must be suppressed so to return in working order to the machine of production, that utopian projection called ‘the market.’ And as Johan Hari has shown in his recent book Killing the Scream, opiate addiction is caused by a lack of socialization and integration into a community, otherwise known as the activities which are absolutely impossible inside ‘the market’.
The paradigmatic flaw that caused the opioid crisis, pain suppression as opposed to pain management and coping, is a microcosmic version of the cultural failure in the face of neoliberalism. Each president offers panaceas that seem to fix the problem but in fact are merely band-aids on a gaping stab wound. It is the utopian delusion of ‘the market’ manifest within our midst.
Clinton’s austere, hauntingly shrill persona was that of the utopian who is desperate to avoid the cold hard facts of an economy that has been stagnated (except for the FIRE sector) since 2008. Her hubris in this regard was the ultimate cause of her downfall. For if there was a singular campaign gaffe that did her more harm than anything else, it was her undeniably racist, sexist, and classist refusal to apologize for the immolation of the innocents we describe as ‘Welfare reform’. As Robert Scheer pointed out in an April 2016 debate on Democracy Now,
“I interviewed Hillary Clinton. I interviewed her husband when I was working for the L.A. Times down in Arkansas. They championed the slogan—both of them—championed the slogan, ‘Let’s end welfare as we know it.’ And what they did is they ended the main federal anti-poverty program, the aid to families with dependent children. Seventy percent of the people on that program were children. Seventy percent were children. They claimed they had a program in Arkansas called Project Success that was helping people get off of that. It was a nonsense program. It never happened. It never worked. OK? Peter Edelman—she always says, ‘I work with the Children’s Defense Fund, Marian Wright Edelman.’ Peter Edelman was in the Clinton administration. He broke over this question of so-called welfare reform. He’s written a devastating book. Robert Reich was the secretary of labor in the Clinton administration. He is supporting Bernie Sanders. Why? Because he saw the inside of Clinton triangulation.”
Perhaps an aside here about how the Golden Triangle produces illegal opium is apt? Clinton’s triangulation had the impact of political opium, making everyone look whimsical and cheery despite misery, called “the toxic of virus…that has ravaged the political body of the American left for more than two decades” by Jeffrey St. Clair.
Her neoliberal utopianism was writ large on her face undeniably and consistently, an aura not unlike the religious fanatics of the Spanish Inquisition who wrought no less than our current capitalist-imperialist system alongside Columbus while destroying the multicultural Muslim Spain. Whether such lineage was obvious to the Black voter base that she took for granted or if they simply were tired of having their franchise kicked back and forth like a soccer ball by the Sanders and Clinton campaigns matters very little. In the end, Hillary Clinton’s loss was caused by a substantial number of Black voters simply refusing to show up at the ballot box. As St. Clair so elegantly put it on November 11,
“Blacks didn’t vote against Hillary the way so many Hispanics did, who were certainly mindful of Clinton and Obama’s merciless policy of mass deportation. Instead, most eligible black voters simply stayed home and in a kind of elegant negation exacted a stealthy retribution for two decades of political brutality, scapegoating and betrayal.”
The obvious question that arises for any ethical and sane adult is that with regards to the resurgent white nationalist movement, be it the KKK in southeastern cities or the self-described alt-right nationwide. How can any decent person look themselves in the mirror and not feel guilt in hindsight for being so hard on Clinton? How do you know that your nasty writings in venues like Counterpunch or even posting on Facebook and Twitter did not take votes away from Hillary Clinton, who could very well be the reincarnation of Susan B. Anthony, Eleanor Roosevelt, and the Virgin Mary all in one (or so I hear these days from MSDNC)?
There are two answers that are plainly obvious to me. First, did people actually think that, after more than 25 years of the right wing media demonizing Clinton daily and stoking the fires across the land that Trump’s loss would vaporize that animus overnight? Was a Clinton victory going to potentially cause Rush Limbaugh, Alex Jones, Glenn Beck, and that doppleganger of the first SNL cast, also known as the onscreen talent at Fox News, to spontaneously combust when the glass ceiling was broken? If anything it seemed clear to me that a Trump loss would have caused that base to become even more infuriated and much more susceptible to the charms of the white nationalists.
Second, with Clinton’s blatantly obvious austerity plans made manifest, what could be expected but a further excitement of these forces? Austerity policies were exactly the cause of Hitler’s ascent to the chancellorship. Even if the complete privatizing of Social Security would not have be tenable under Clinton, refusing an annual COLA to Social Security recipients, now a regular practice, certainly would have. Indeed, a major point now highlighted by many pundits since November has been the hike in Obamacare premiums just prior to the election, a move that rightfully infuriated millions. If Trump lost, the next Republican nominee would have been someone like David Duke.
No, what is necessary instead is much more challenging. When Steve Bannon makes mention of Lenin as an idol, part of it does have to do with praxis in regards to statecraft But the other, much more horrific aspect, is based around the praxis of party building. The alt-right is not just a rebranding of old Nazi ideas. Instead, it is the agit-prop of a campaign to build up a Leninist-style white nationalist vanguard with all the militancy, not to mention armaments, as the Bolsheviks.
That fact bears within it two conclusions for leftists. First, we are now in contest with the Nazis to bring people to accept either class war or race war. This is a deadly and violent contest that has already claimed multiple casualties since the election which have been reported in the headlines as hate crimes. They are hateful indeed but they are part of a wider ideological civil war afoot in America. Second, the right has experienced a Cartesian moment of self-awareness, a sort of “I think therefore I am hate”, and recognizes that in numerical terms that it is in the minority. Ergo they are now utilizing an entryist strategy among the Trump voters to sow seeds of their sickening, putrid doctrines. We have an advantage now as a numerical majority and because the left did win the so-called Culture Wars with regards to Jim Crow, the Vietnam war, LGBTQQIA rights, and abortion. But those victories have been eroded by both parties over the past four decades and the alt-right wishes to accelerate that erosion.
This gets to the final challenge for Leftists, which I present as a short recollection. Last year, Noel Ignatiev, editor of Hard Crackers magazine (new issue out now worth buying!), and I spoke over the phone and he said “I think that you and I agree we have to talk to these people.” That is the true moral obligation and responsibility of white skin privilege in a simple sentence.
So-called whites who wear a camouflage of skin privilege and desire the abolition of the white race have to operate as if they were Communist Partisans during World War II and take up ideological guerrilla warfare against the alt-right. Rather than hanging out in safe spaces, we need to go to VFW halls, biker bars, and sundown towns to figure out how to get these people to agree with our side rather than the alt-right’s. We need to talk with parents of those who have died in the opioid epidemic, the war widows of Iraq and Afghanistan service members, and the children who have been so abused by Common Core, Race to the Top, and charter schools.
Bernie Sanders, for all his failings that I call him out on regularly, at least seems to be grasping this basic fact by going into the reddest of red states (even if his routine is going to end with nothing changing in the Democratic Party). He knows that there is something much worse to come if we don’t talk to these people.
I look back on some of my writings in the past 24 months with a semi-wistful nostalgia. Would it have been possible to create a better dynamic with the Sanders base if I had perhaps been less scornful of what at the time seemed like the most bothersome, jaw-dropping pseudo-hootenanny this side of Pete Seeger’s tombstone? Could that have attracted more people to the Green Party? It’s hard to judge, particularly since, in the aftermath of the election, the Democratic Party has gone into overdrive with their mobilization of liberal voter-activists who are thoroughly indoctrinated by a notion that Jill Stein’s campaign somehow cost Clinton the election. Indivisible, the Democratic iteration of the Tea Party, emanates a kind of smug, middle class aureole dripping with Clintonism and Starbucks, a sort of devilish sweet scent bearing piquant tones of chasing the dragon.
Sanders, who allegedly has the power of a kingmaker now, seems unable to get beyond speeches into the actual policy realm, probably because it would mean his wife would go to jail. Building a party independent of the duopoly is a bit more challenging because of this but we have some great folks in RI who are going about it anyways.
I have not a single regret for my Green vote. If for any other reason than the aforementioned, it is because of my Vote Pact with someone I cared deeply about. Indeed, I saw it as only morally acceptable to vote Green if I had made such a pact and feel that it should be more widely embraced in time for the 2020 contest lest we face a repetition of 2004.
At about this point last summer, my Pact partner looked at me dead in the face and said “Donald Trump is an asshole but at least he isn’t Hillary Clinton!” And so, in tribute to my upbringing as an Irish Catholic, which I got over when I reached the age of reason (quoth St. George of Carlin), I agreed that I would vote Green if he voted for the Libertarians. Thus I saved his soul from the four year damnation of having to defend himself for voting for the game show host presidency. By not voting for Clinton I took a vote away from Trump also, equivalent in my book to having my cake and eating it too.
Voting is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.