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First Lose All the Moderates


Is there anyone in the Trump Party, formerly known as the GOP, who is not worthy of contempt?

Perhaps somewhere within the Fox News demographic there are a few. Thanks largely to that propaganda outfit and other rightwing media, there are people who don’t know better, who are that dumbed down and disinformed.

But the GOP’s Trump toadies and enablers, its Senators and House members especially, have no excuse.

Like Trump himself, they have to be taken seriously – for the power they wield. Otherwise, they would not even be worth despising.

Anyone who is paying attention at all to the political scene who doesn’t realize this has a serious problem. If anything, the Republican Party nowadays is worse than contemptible; more often than not, it is beneath contempt.

This is worth bearing in mind when sanctimonious politicians and pundits call for “bipartisanship,” for working “both sides of the aisle.”

Of course, Democrats are not so great either. However, they are a lot less odious.

Thus, in 2011, when Barack Obama ordered Navy Seals, his very own Murder Incorporated, to “take out” – extra-judicially murder – Osama Bin Laden, he seemed somber and almost regretful that the man had to be killed rather than brought to justice.

By all appearances, he was mindful of the fact that a country purporting to be “the city on the hill,” a country that once championed modern notions of international law, could not, or would not, be civilized enough at least to try to appear law abiding. He was also humble, not taking all the “credit” for himself.

Needless to say, this didn’t stop him from exploiting the Bin Laden assassination to the hilt when he ran for a second term. But that was almost forgivable; “hypocrisy is,” after all, “a tribute vice pays to virtue,” just as de la Rochefoucauld said it is.

Nevertheless, how shameful that no one anywhere near the mainstream called him and his assassins to account; all they did, and still do, was pile on praise.

This is not nearly as surprising as it ought to be because civilization was already in retreat long before Bush the Younger and Dick Cheney launched their war of revenge — not exactly against Al- Qaeda, the perpetrators of 9/11, but against the Taliban and, worse, against Afghanistan itself, not for being involved directly in 9/11, and not, like Saudi Arabia, for providing most of the terrorists who carried out the atrocity, but for sheltering those who were calling the shots.

Perhaps, in the cosmic scheme of things, the moral decay of the ambient political culture should count as a mitigating factor. By the time Obama came along, this sensibility had become so pervasive that hardly anyone even bothered to notice how worrisome revenge killing is from a moral point of view.

It is like the African slave trade and the extermination of the native populations of the Americas was in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. For a very long time after Columbus, hardly anyone in Europe or in the settler cultures of the New World thought any of that problematic, much less objected to it.

Could it be that moral obtuseness will always be with us? However that may be, Obama’s position is morally fastidious in comparison with Trump’s.

Trump made the extra-judicial murder of Abū Bakr al-Baghdadi all about himself – no surprise there! – while he gloated over the blood and gore, in much the way that a troubled adolescent boy might act out after knocking off an enemy avatar in a violent video game. Even as his body has aged normally, Trump’s mind never matured beyond that stage.

Thus, although they are both guilty of more or less the same thing, Trump’s moral level is worse than Obama’s. Therefore, so is the moral level of his Republican toadies, especially the ones who echo the barely literate rants and tweets of the Dear Leader without a hint of irony or shame.

This about says all there is to say about Democrats and Republicans, except that while all or nearly all Republicans are by now damaged beyond repair, there are Democrats who are not. Some of them – many more since 2018 than before — are not merely lesser evils. They are our best chance for emerging intact and in a good place from the morass Trump, even more than his predecessors, has laid upon us.

Unfortunately, the vast majority, including the party’s leaders, are not among them. Thanks to their penchant for moderation, they are Trump enablers too.

***

Moderates say, and probably believe, that they have to be, or seem to be, moderate because commonsense demands it. Perhaps so, but common sense can sometimes be dead wrong.

The history of medicine provides many examples. Does a patient have a bad heart? Then commonsense tells us that exercise is out. It took a long time and a lot of contrary evidence to overturn that morsel of medical wisdom; meanwhile, many were worse off for it and many died sooner than they otherwise might have on its account.

The political case is more complicated, but the basic idea is the same, especially in a political landscape in which only Democrats and the Trump Party matter. What commonsense then dictates is clear: promote positions close to the ones that the Trump Party favors, but not so close that bona fide progressives would be unable to bring themselves to go along.

This is the functional equivalent of endorsing discarded views about exercise for heart patients; it is what “moderation” now means in Trump’s America.

Commonsense positions that do not cause Democrats to pull their punches are a different story. Running against Republicans, they do have nothing to lose and much to gain by being more civilized, more informed and more decent than their opponents, just as commonsense requires. This is how they ought to be in any case, but it is also a good way to enthuse Democratic voters and to bring more independents over to their side.

As for hardcore Trump supporters, forget about it; they are a lost cause. Some of them actually like Trump’s vulgarity and moral decrepitude. They also like sticking it to big city, bicoastal, educated “elites”; anything to get their goat. There is no point expending time or effort trying to win them over.

They will not move out of the vaunted Trump base – unless, of course, Trump starts to look to them like the loser he is. Promoting policies that make them worse off won’t do it, at least not until their impact is felt in ways that even they cannot deny.

The problem is not exactly “false consciousness.” Many of them already know that they are more likely to be harmed by Trump’s policies than helped by them, but they don’t care.

Outside comparatively tiny plutocratic circles, greed is not a major motivator. Rightwing Evangelicals are on board because, in their pathologically benighted condition, they look to Trump to give them the theocratic judges they yearn for, and because, as Christian Zionists, they see him as an instrument of God’s will. Racism and resentment motivate the rest.

Even so, if the gods would just bring on the next economic downturn in time to register in the minds of the forty percent or so of Americans who are still standing by their man, or rather their teenage boy in an old man’s body, some of them might finally realize the error of their ways. More often than not, self-interest ultimately does trump values, especially transparently ridiculous ones.

Cycles of boom and bust are inevitable in capitalist economies for reasons that have been generally understood for at least the past century and a half. The next downturn is long overdue; the question is not whether, but when.

When the next downturn finally does come, it is likely to be brutal, thanks in large part to the policies Trump has championed. If anything can knock the scales off the eyes of Trump supporters, it will.

That is a big “if,” of course, but unless Democrats flub an eminently “teachable moment” monumentally, at least some hardcore Trumpians should at last take consciousness of what has always been clear as can be – that his tax cuts for the rich, his trade wars, and his assault on already feeble welfare state institutions will not only have made life worse for them and everyone else who is not rich and heinous, but also made America anything but “great again.”

However, the gods are mean-spirited, sadistic, and unreliable, and so, for Democrats who think that winning is all or, at the very least, that defeating Trump should take priority over everything else, it is important not to succumb to the temptations of meretricious common sense.

Over the years, many heart patients managed to survive restricted exercise regimens, and quite a few Democrats have pulled their punches and won anyway. In both cases, though, the best assessments of the pertinent evidence suggest that such success as there has been came despite of, not because of, the dictates of commonsense.

In politics today, with a public way out ahead of the less bad duopoly party, moderation is more often than not a cause of trouble, if not outright defeat. Moderates do sometimes win but, as a path to victory for Democrats now, the best one can say for moderation is that it leaves much to be desired.

It is additionally problematic as a way of ridding the body politic of Trumpism because, like the Democratic Party generally since even before the Clintons came on the scene, it is associated with the kind of politics that made Trump possible and Trumpism, or something like it, all but inevitable.

That would be Wall Street and Pentagon friendly politics, the neoliberal and liberal imperialist politics demanded by the movers and shakers of our almighty military industrial complex, our foreign policy establishment, and the institutions that comprise our national security state.

Clinton lost in 2016 mainly because she ran a poor campaign. In retrospect, though, in view of all the nefarious things she stood for and all the political currents she embodied, it was bound to be tough going for her even with an opponent as preposterous as the one she had.

Democrats ought to take that lesson to heart. But Democrats will be Democrats and so many of them are hellbent instead on doing just the opposite.

Their moderation has become so extreme that Clinton, along with some of her unreconstructed supporters, have lately been floating feelers about her running again. Seriously!

Worse by far – not just because it is far more likely to happen — leading Democrats and their toadies on the cable news networks are still pushing the idea that only Joe Biden, the doddering dufus himself, can guarantee a Trump defeat.

Biden very likely could defeat Trump, even if the economy next year is no worse than it now is; at this point, anybody the Democrats might think to nominate should be able to win, despite the unrelenting flood of dire warnings issued by Democrats in search of contributions. After all, the man has spent the past three years demonstrating how mistaken it was to give him – the businessman, the new guy — a chance. That was not just a bad idea; it was a catastrophically awful one.

However, the passage of time has made this consideration nearly irrelevant. With Trump decomposing in full public view, causing befuddlement everywhere and making a mockery of the office he holds, it is impossible to say even how things will look tomorrow, much less in a year’s time.

But Democrats should still take heed. In 2016, the election was between Trump and the conditions for his possibility. Why redo that? Why, in other words, give Biden even a moment’s thought?

In Clinton’s tenure as Secretary of State, she got nearly everything about the Arab Spring and much else too wrong. This was true to form; there is not much that she has worked on throughout her life that came out well. In the Middle East, the consequences were especially dire; they have been reverberating, indeed intensifying, ever since.

But bad as she is, Biden is worse. In the zillion or so years he has been in public life, has he ever gotten anything right?

It is worth recalling that when Obama was running to become the Democratic nominee in 2008, only two Democrats ran to his right – Clinton, of course, and Biden. Biden even ran to Clinton’s right.

It was therefore not surprising, at least to people in the know on Wall Street where he had been well vetted, that those two would be the rivals he would go on to empower after he became president, making Biden his running-mate and Clinton his Secretary of State.

In giving the more consequential, if not the more honorific, position to Clinton, he chose well; however awful Clinton was, Biden would have been worse.

***

Better any of the Democrats now seeking the nomination than Trump, but the only ones worth considering at this stage are Sanders and Warren. How instructive it would be were those two to debate one another, without a gaggle of moderates attacking them and trying to score points against one another.

If not from them directly, then from the discussions their debates would encourage, the public might learn a thing or two about what socialism is and is not, and about the prospects for liberty, equality, social solidarity, and democracy in capitalist and socialist societies.

Sanders and Warren could discuss questions of war and peace, inequality and the problems it causes, and the ways that actually existing capitalism is exacerbating the environmental catastrophe our planet is facing.

To be sure, some of the other contenders have worthwhile things to say too: Tulsi Gabbard on military and foreign affairs, Andrew Yang on basic income, Tom Steyer on equality and the responsibilities of billionaires, Marianne Williamson on whatever it is she is talking about.

From time to time, some of the more standard issue moderates have worthwhile things to say as well. But the last thing we need now are Biden understudies, and that is what they all ultimately are.

At first, Trump ran not to win, but to enhance his brand. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite work out that way.

Perhaps the moderates running now for the Democratic nomination have some ulterior motive too, or perhaps they think that lightening will strike for them as it did for the Donald.

To the extent that they do, they are, for now, just hangers on, awaiting the day when Biden goes back out to pasture so that they can break out of the pack and take his place – as the chosen defender of the Democratic Party of the Clintons and of Joe’s bestie, the corporate Democrat, and mastermind of extra-judicial killing, whom he never misses a chance to call “Barack.”

Any one of them would be better than Biden, but not one among them would do nearly as much good — building a post-Trumpian world – than Sanders or Warren would. Our politics would be in a better place if all those damn moderates would just go away.

As long as Biden is still around, there is little point in discussing the comparative merits or shortcomings of any of the moderates who might take his place.

For what it’s worth (not much!), I’ll just say that the ones I like least are Mayor Pete – I struggle not to call him “Mayor Buttcrack” — and Corey Booker, that I kind of like Kamala Harris, not so much for president as for Grand Inquisitor, and that, although she is more up front with her moderation than most of the others, I do like Amy Klobuchar. It must be the “Minnesota nice” thing.

Of greater interest, though, than their suitableness for taking on the Donald, is the way they are treated in the press.

Corporate media never dismantled the cordon sanitaire they drew around Sanders in 2016. No matter how newsworthy his campaign may be, and no matter how many genuinely enthusiastic supporters he has, they still ignore him or downplay his efforts or disparage them any way they can.

Now that Warren is as much of a horserace “frontrunner” as Biden, expect more of the Bernie treatment to fall on her as well.

If we come out of this alright, expect books and dissertations to be written about these matters, and about how corporate media have been trying in vain to work up enthusiasm for someone, anyone, corporate America can live with.

This is a job only for those more able than most to suffer fools. Count me out. Ever since I developed an allergy to Rachel Maddow – I blame it on overexposure, waiting for her to make her point – I find nearly everybody on the cable networks and most of the opinion writers at The Times and The Post extremely hard to take. For me, researching the topic would be cruel and unusual punishment.

I have noticed, even so, that whenever I do lapse, I see the face of Klobuchar, right there amidst the fossil fuel and Big Pharma ads on MSNBC. Other venues seem to prefer Harris, though she has had a terrible time getting traction. Needless to say, they all look kindly upon Mayor Pete, the boy wonder and goody-goody extraordinaire.

But who needs any of them! Certainly, not anyone seriously concerned with de-Trumpification.

Time spent picking winners in a popularity contest between moderates would be better spent thinking about how best to undo the harm Trump and his minions have done – to the federal judiciary, to the environment, and to the black, brown and white working class.

Now is a time too to think about how best to advance liberty, equality, and social solidarity, not pre-Trumpian normality.

To that end, it is urgent not just to think beyond impeachment, but also to think about impeachment in a new way.

Because his being in the White House poses such a clear and present danger to the entire world, it is urgent that Trump be removed from office as quickly as our institutions allow – even though all that would bring us, for at least the next thirteen months, is Mike Pence.

But if proponents of bipartisanship and moderation want to get there by making some Obama-Holder style let-the-past-be-past-while-we-look-forward deal, then shame on everyone who goes along.

That was the Obama-Biden administration’s Original Sin, the first of many greater and lesser sins to follow. It was what enabled them to go on to do all the harm they did, including all they did to make the Trump presidency a reality with which humankind will have to contend in the years ahead.

A similar failure of nerve in the current electoral cycle would likely be even more detrimental. This is why, it is not enough just that Trump be removed from the office he is so plainly unfit to hold. It is also crucial that, once he is finally disgorged, that he end up where he rightly belongs, in a (color coordinated) orange jumpsuit at one or another Club Fed.

More articles by:

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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