What Now?

Photo Source Phil Roeder | CC BY 2.0

The good news is that Democrats will take over the House of Representatives and hold onto or take back governorships in the upper Midwest and elsewhere.  That less odious duopoly party also did well in statewide elections all over the country, and about as well as could be expected in gerrymandered state legislatures.

Had this not happened, Donald Trump would now be feeling empowered to be even more mean spirited and wicked than he usually is, and more careless of democratic norms and the rule of law. Worse still, the benighted folk in the cult that has grown up around him would be even more prone to believe the nonsense they get from rightwing media and more likely to act out in violent and destructive ways.

The bad news is that the more odious duopoly party still controls the Senate, and is therefore still able to pack the judiciary with troglodytes, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh types and worse.

Were the Senate under Democratic control too, Trump would now be facing investigations from both chambers of Congress, and the possibility of removal from office in the constitutionally prescribed way.

Although the man is a clear and present danger, that might not be such a good thing because it would leave his administration in place with Mike Pence in charge, and it would likely take some of the wind out of the sails of the so-called resistance.

But two investigating bodies are more disabling than one — and since only badness can come out of the White House as long as Trumpians remain in power there, Democratic control of the Senate would be better than leaving Republicans in charge. Alas, though, it isn’t happening.

There were some particular disappointments in last Tuesday’s election as well. Democrats came close, but in the end they failed to undo Ted Cruz, the most loathsome Senator of all (except perhaps for Mitch McConnell). A pox on the fat cats and yokels of the lone star state who vote like the idiots they are!

Damn their Floridian counterparts too. Like Beto O’Rourke in Texas, Andrew Gillum didn’t quite make it across the finishing line. Those two were candidates one could support for their own sake, not just because they aren’t Republicans. They both did spectacularly well against enormous odds — but, in electoral politics, close, even real close, isn’t good enough.

But, on the whole, it was a good night; and now at least House Democrats will be able to call Trump to account. If they do that aggressively, much good could come of it – perhaps enough to keep a lot of really bad stuff from happening.

That is a big if, however. As a rule, Democrats are feckless cowards who, as Robert Frost said of liberals generally, don’t take their own sides in arguments.

So it is that, although every man, woman, and child in the Fox News demographic “knows” that the House Democrats’ current leader, Nancy Pelosi, is a radical firebrand, the fact is that she is a Clintonian centrist who is terminally “reasonable,” if not downright conflict-averse. With her and others like her calling the shots, the jury is therefore out on what House Democrats will be willing to do to constrain America’s hyper-noxious Commander-in-Chief and the GOP miscreants who do his bidding.

The sad fact is, though, that even if Democrats were less spineless, and even had a more robust “blue wave” materialized, it would still be the case that we would be no more likely than we now are to extricate ourselves from the perpetual war regime that has all but done in our American republic. A nuclear war to end all wars (along with nearly everything else) would be no less likely either.

Neither would the world be any safer from impending environmental catastrophes. Obama’s environmental policies, though better than Trump’s, were still woefully inadequate, but a Democratic majority in the House will not be able to do much of anything to reverse the harm Trump and the venal band of deregulators he has empowered have caused and will go on causing.

Over the past century or so, the legislative branch has ceded so much power to the executive branch that it would require heroic efforts on the part of an authentically oppositional leftwing political party to promote worthwhile initiatives over the objections of Trumpian reactionaries.

This is possible in principle; Congress controls the metaphorical purse strings and could therefore, by withholding funding, bring the executive branch to its knees. But Democrats are nothing if not pusillanimous. Therefore, even if they had the will, which they don’t, it would be difficult, if not impossible, for them to find a way.

The host of problems brought on by ever increasing income and wealth inequality would not go away either, though perhaps Democrats could be moved, if not to mitigate the situation, then at least not to make it worse.

A real change of course would require a transformation of the country’s underlying political economic structure, perhaps even a turn away from capitalism itself.  It is far from clear that even the handful of “democratic socialists” now in the party’s ranks would be up for anything like that.

And, of course, even had the midterm election shellacked the GOP more extensively than it actually did, the demons Trump has unleashed would still be out there.

Ralph Waldo Emerson was right when he said: “if you would strike a king, you must kill him.”  The same goes for “the darker angels of our nature.” Not only did the midterms not kill them off; they didn’t even weaken them a tad.

It now appears that Trump feels that the law is closing in on him, that his back is against the wall. This is why he didn’t even wait twenty-four hours before firing Jeff Sessions, replacing him – probably unconstitutionally — with a flunky he can control.  And it isn’t just Trump who is becoming unhinged; the elections rattled a lot of cages in Trumpland.   These are reasons to worry – we are not talking about stable people, but about mindless thugs prone to lashing out.

Another thing House Democrats will not be able to do, even if they wanted to, is change the fundamental economic policies that made Trump and Trumpism possible.  The Clintons and other Democrats were the main authors of those policies, after all; and, in the precincts of the party’s old guard, nothing fundamental has changed.

Worthwhile as generational change and “diversity” may be, the requisite transformation of the lesser evil party will not come about just by electing more representatives who are not “dead white males.”

The Democratic Party will stop being part of the problem when social movements force it to become part of the solution.  The labor movement did that once, and so did the civil rights movement and the liberation movements that followed in its wake.  It is the only way.

That – not settling on some new (or newly resuscitated) standard bearer for the next election – is where the action now should be.

Instead, though, Democratic Party grandees and their media flacks are hard at work promoting niceness – they call it “civility” – and moderation.  Potential candidates for the White House are busy too, raising money and testing the waters.

Evidently, Democrats are not only spineless; they also never learn.

Therefore, for the time being, and very likely for the foreseeable future, the situation with the lesser evil party will remain unchanged – in short, you can’t live with ‘em, you can’t live without ‘em, and, although not all Trumpian loony-tunes have gotten the memo, you can’t shoot ‘em either.

Therefore, as it was before the midterm elections, the Trump Party’s worst enemy is not its duopolistic rival; it is Trump himself.

It is pointless to speculate on how this will all pan out, except in ways that are already obvious. Thus we can confidently predict that the Mueller investigation will have a lot to do with whatever happens – either through its direct findings and the criminal prosecutions that follow, or through the constitutional crises it generates as Trump’s efforts to derail it take off.  Most likely, all of these factors and others (some predictable, some not) will be in play.

The economy will have a lot to do with whatever happens too.  So far the gods have been kind to the Donald – by keeping the current expansionary phase of the global capitalist economy going for as long as they have, once the financial crisis that gave rise to the Great Recession finally passed.

Presidents and other stewards of the economic order can and often do make situations worse, but there is usually not much they can do to change capitalism’s trajectory in ways that actually make the economy work better for (remember them!) the ninety-nine percent.  If there is any praise to be meted out in this case for whatever good economic news there has been over the past two years, more of it redounds to Obama’s credit than to Trump’s.

The Trump tax scam – essentially a gift to the obscenely well off  – has given the economy a metaphorical sugar high that has lasted throughout the entire election season.  It shows no sign of abating even now, but when the overdue end of the current cycle finally does arrive, as it surely will, it will be a downer to remember for all but those with money to burn.

By then, it will be especially hard for the government, bled dry as per the Reaganite “starve the beast” strategy, to do much of anything to help.

Thus, more likely than not, what most midterm voters hoped to achieve in 2018, but did not and could not, might actually come to pass by 2020, thanks not so much to the Democratic Party as to conscientious law enforcement and to a foundering economy.

Remember too that while there is morbidity and mortality, there is hope.

Being notoriously fickle, the gods might just find it amusing to stop afflicting the world with the Donald, and instead, at long last, to turn on that vile creature himself.

If and when that happens, I, for one, would be especially pleased were cholesterol to be their instrument of choice.  Thus, when I see that noxious Trump punimon my TV screen, I often find myself recalling the demise of Mr. Creosote in Monty Python’s “The Meaning of Life.”  There is some consolation to be found in imagining Hispanic restaurant workers in one or another of Trump’s gaudy golf resorts bringing the Commander-in-Chief his final cheeseburger and a bucket.

That is at least as likely a scenario as any involving the Democratic Party.




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).