A Letter From Iowa

Photograph Source: Phil Roeder – CC BY 2.0

“Sanders is a Threat”

I rode back out to Iowa to observe and even participate on behalf of Bernie Sanders’ progressive-populist candidacy in this state’s pivotal first-in-the-nation presidential Caucus. It’s a pivotal moment. A recent Des Moines Register poll has Sanders in lead among Iowa Democratic Party Caucus-goers. CNN just released a poll showing Sanders to be the national Democratic front-runner, three points ahead of ridiculous right-wing Joe “Never Called me Boy” Biden, whose corporatism Bernie has been politely calling out.

The corporate-Democratic Party leadership is in something of a panic. If Sanders wins Iowa and/or New Hampshire, then, under one possible scenario that frightens the party’s capitalist managers, he might well break through the bumbling, deeply conservative mediocrity Biden’s Black voter “firewall” in South Carolina and then roar towards the nomination through Nevada and the “Super Tuesday” (March 3rd) primary states.

Just today (I am writing on Thursday, January 23rd) the arrogant New York Times published an article on how Sanders is a real “Threat” to win the nomination. Times correspondent Nate Cohn notes that Sanders is considerably more popular with nonwhite voters this time around and that the establishment Democratic field is dangerously split between Biden, Butiggieg, and (possibly relevant on “Super Tuesday”) Bloomberg. “The breadth of opposition to Sanders among Democratic elites,” Cohn writes, “increases the likelihood of a vigorous attempt to halt his momentum.” Still, the Times reports that Sanders is in a far better position than in 2016, when the party establishment coalesced around Hillary Clinton (N. Cohn, “Now Sanders is a Threat,” NYT, 1/23/2020, A19).

Sanders, though, is ironically missing from the battlefield. He’s not around to fight back while the depressing neoliberal corporatists Joe Biden and Pete Butiggieg run around the state denigrating and slandering Sanders’ elementarily civilized progressive agenda – Single Payer health insurance, free public college, a doubling of the federal minimum wage, and a Green New Deal – as “too radical,” “too expensive,” “impractical,” and “unrealistic.”

The Iowa Caucus takes place in two weeks. Then comes the also critical first-in-the-nation presidential primary in New Hampshire, where Sanders is also polling among the leading contenders.

Sanders is also missing in action in New Hampshire, nowhere to be seen

“Nobody Likes Him”

Consistent with the Dem establishment’s panic, the arch-corporatist Kissinger fan and lying neoliberal warmonger Hillary Clinton recently re-spewed swivel-headed vomit in Sanders’ face by telling The Hollywood Reporter that she still stands behind her following nasty reflection on Bernie: “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he’s got nothing done. He’s a career politician. It’s all just baloney and I feel so bad that people got sucked into it.” Mrs. Clinton even declined to say if she would endorse Sanders in the general election if Bernie wins the Democratic nomination.

Wow. Sanders campaigned his ass off for this dismal, dollar-drenched and demobilizing ruling-class uber-bitch from Hell – “Nasty Woman” is far too mild for Hillary – in the summer and early fall of 2016. Bernie did everything he could to try to breathe some life into her depressingly conceited, uninspiring, elitist, corporate and imperial campaign. “We have to do everything we can,” Bernie intoned again and again, “to elect Secretary Clinton.” The New Yorker described Sanders as “one of the real champions of the [Clinton] campaign.”

This is how Hillary repays Sanders, adding some recycled genderized shots at all those supposed chauvinistic “Berniebros” who backed him. Shameless! (What are the odds that Hillary was behind her friend Elizabeth Warren’s and CNN’s recent vicious hail-Mary attempt to slander Sanders as a sexist?)

Too Iowa Nice

I was a little taken aback by Bernie’s cheek-turning response to Mrs. Clinton’s repugnant provocation the other day. “Secretary Clinton,” Sanders respectfully intoned, “is entitled to her opinion. My job is to focus on the impeachment trial.”

Talk about “Iowa nice” – and Bernie isn’t even in Iowa!

That’s going too far in politely swallowing ruling-class crap for my taste. Enough with this “high road” stuff. Has Bernie learned nothing from the brutish Donald?

Which reminds me: did Bernie really need to apologize to the abjectly corrupt corporate politician Biden because one of Sanders; campaign surrogates wrote an online article correctly described Dollar Joe as a “corrupt politician”? Seriously? Why? “Corrupt politician” is putting mildly. Joe Rusty Chain Biden is a pathetic running dog lackey of the corporate and financial bourgeoisie – and a blood-drenched war criminal to boot!

Too Soon for Sheepdog Pledges

In a related vein, Sanders should stop advance-pledging support (as his did in the recent Des Moines Democratic presidential candidate debate) for Joe “Record Players for the Poor” Biden, Wall Street Pete Butiggieg, Amy Klobuchar, Mike Bloomberg, Elizabeth Warren, and Hillary Clinton (I’m not kidding: Mrs. Clinton may be angling for a backdoor nomination at a brokered convention next summer) or whatever other capitalist Democrat garners the nomination if Bernie is defeated in the primary race. It’s clear that much of the Democratic media-politics establishment will either sit out the general election or quietly back Trump if Sanders overcomes the plutocracy’s multiple hurdles to secure the nomination. (Where would Rachel Maddow, Stephen Colbert, Anderson Cooper, and the rest be without Trump to drive their ratings?)

I get it that Bernie dreads a second Trump term. He should. We all should. A return Trump engagement would be a great “tragedy,” very possibly a “death knell for the species,” as Noam Chomsky says. Trump is an (at least) instinctual fascist. This is clear from many developments, including now Trump’s openly absurd “perfect call” response to his impeachment (more on this below) and his arch-criminal, reckless, and transparently dog-wagging assassination of Iran’s top military commander.

Much of the Orange Menace’s Trumpenvolk base is fascist, including many if not most among the many thousands of heavily armed white-supremacists who just marked the holiday honoring the great civil rights, social justice, and peace activist (and democratic socialist) Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by holding a giant Trump-approved “gun rights” march in Richmond, Virginia. It was a very heavy scene.

(We will learn more about just how fascistically inclined Trump really is if and when he managed to lose the 2020 presidential election despite the advantages he will garner from racist voter-suppression in key battleground states and the over-representation of the nation’s most white, rural, and reactionary regions under the nation’s anti-democratic Electoral College system. As the right-wing Trump administration official “Anonymous” recently warned, Trump has been telling us from day one that he may well refuse to honor an Electoral College count that does not go his way. Trump is particularly likely to do this if he is defeated by a self-declared “socialist.” Recall how Trump got most of the U.S. Congress [“left” candidate Liz Warren included] to stand up and applaud when he called [in fine fascist form] for the nation’s elected representatives to pledge one year ago that the U.S. will “never be a socialist country.” )

Trump is also an open agent of accelerated Ecocide (the biggest issue of our or any time), as are many of his backers (including an affluent relative who tells me that “there’s nothing wrong with fossil fuels”), reminding me of Hungarian philosopher Istvan Meszaros’s warning: “it’s socialism or barbarism if we’re lucky.”

Still, it’s just January. The general election is more than ten months away, so why can’t Bernie hold off on the sheep-dogging promise to herd voters for a corporate Democrat until after the “Democratic elites” defeat him in the primary election (if they can)? This is no time to be promising obedient service to the party’s reigning neoliberal wing. Better now for Sanders to show he has the guts to take on Mafia boss Herr Donald by manfully wielding the threat to go third-party independent (like Trump did in 2016, by the way). How does Bernie expect to influence the Democratic Party’s policy platform (something that he seems to see as a big deal) if he doesn’t win the nomination when he has already pledged to back the eventual Democratic nominee without preconditions?

Under House/Senate Arrest

But back to the beginning: where the Hell is Bernie during this crucial time in Iowa? Yes, that is a rhetorical question. We know all too well where he is. He doesn’t merely have to “focus on the impeachment trial.” He has to be in it. He is being detained against his will. He is freaking stuck in the U.S. Capitol’s Senate chamber, sitting silently as a feckless fake “juror” during the fake trial of a man he likes to call “the most corrupt president in American history” – Donald Trump. Here Bernie is on the verge of progressive-populist electoral triumph in the opening Caucus and primaries and he and his fellow Senators and presidential candidates Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar are trapped, to quote today’s Times again, “in their Senate seats for many hours on end, under a vow of near-silence, unable to see and be seen by the hundreds of voters they would normally be courting” in the final two weeks before the Caucuses. “Mr. Biden and Mr. Butiggieg,” the Times ads, “have wasted no time angling for advantage, traveling across Iowa on Tuesday and Wednesday and making plans to devote precious time to campaigning later this week in New Hampshire and South Carolina. Candidates would normally never leave Iowa at this late stage…” (Lisa Lerer, “Whisked Away From the Stage,” NYT, 1/23/2020, A1).

That must be burning Bernie up. And trust me, Nancy “We’re Capitalist and That’s Just the Way it is” Pelosi (Net Worth $115 million), Charles Schumer, CNN, MSNBC, the Clintons, Obama (who has suggested he will come out to smear Sanders if it appears Bernie might actually be in a position to gain the nomination), Neera Tanden and the rest of the nauseating neoliberal Democratic establishment loves Bernie’s confinement during the critical final two weeks of the Iowa Caucus campaign. They richly approve the muzzle the impeachment process puts around Sanders and the next (not-so) leftmost presidential candidate Warren while Trump goes on a Twitter hate fest and Biden and Buttigieg are free to disseminate neoliberal nonsense across the playing field.

“Jury Nullification”

But it’s not just that Bernie is under political house – well, Senate – arrest, so to speak. It that’s the house/Senate in which he is wedged and muzzled is rotten to the core. He isn’t allowed to speak (“on the pain of imprisonment”) while the monumentally crooked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and other white-nationalist Republican Senators make a mockery of legal precedent and the U.S. Constitution by working hand-in-glove with the neofascist president’s legal team and political operatives to exonerate Trump for setting the U.S. Founding Fathers’ wigs on fire by trying to trade $40 million worth of imperialist military assistance and a White House visit to Ukraine in return for the promise of political dirt on a domestic U.S. political opponent (right-wing Joe Biden).

The president’s exoneration campaign is openly authoritarian and Orwellian. Trump’s legal squad is absurdly and falsely claiming that removal of the fascist-in-chief requires Don Trumpolini to have violated a specific criminal statute and that Trump broke no laws. In reality, presidential “abuse of power” is fully sufficient legal, historical, and constitutional ground for removal, as the comical-yet-lethal Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz argued during the impeachment of Bill Clinton (for lying about extramarital fellatio). Dershowitz is now part of Trump’s defense team, arguing precisely the opposite of his earlier position along with former top Clinton impeachment prosecutor Ken Starr (leading no less of a constitutional authority than Monica Lewinsky to tweet “WTF.”) Orwell would blush.

Trump did in fact violate a federal statute, by the way – the 1974 Impoundment Control Act.

The chilling authoritarian chutzpah of Trump’s team and its Republican allies is so boundless that they may well succeed in banning the testimony of witnesses and the presentation of new evidence (like the damning testimony of the Ukrainian Trump-Giuliani bag man Lev Parnas) from the “trial.”

Wow. Nothing upholds the “rule of law” like a trial without witnesses and key evidence! The Times today reported a leading defense attorney’s interesting phrase for the Trump-Republican strategy: Jury Nullification. (The attorney’s chilling phrase is quoted in an article bearing a curious title: “On One Side, Piles of Evidence. On the Other Side, Heaps of Scorn.”)

“The Appallingly Undemocratic Senate”

Absurd and Orwellian though Trump’s defense may by, all indications are that it will prevail. – at least it will prevail in the absence of a massive popular movement demanding Trump’s removal. The Founders’ vaunted republican checks and balances don’t mean all that much when:

+ The same neofascistic party that possesses the White House holds down a majority in the Senate and the Supreme Court.

+ Republican Senators are terrified of the electoral power of Trump’s dedicated white-nationalist Amerikaner cult-base.

+ The Constitution requires a two-thirds vote for presidential removal (so steep that even Andrew Johnson couldn’t be defenestrated after he vilely dishonored Abraham Lincoln and 360,220 dead Union Army soldiers by appeasing the Confederate aristocracy that launched a Civil War to save Black chattel slavery).

+ The apportionment of two Senators to every state regardless of their total population leads to the preposterous and grotesque over-representation of the nation’s most reactionary, white, and rural regions in the upper body of Congress.

Regarding this last point, the leading civil liberties lawyer Burt Neuborne has recently (in a book that hauntingly and brilliantly likens the Trump presidency to the early reign of Adolph Hitler) offered the following reflection:

“it’s hard to imagine a system of electoral representation more unfair, unequal, and distorted than ours that would have the chutzpah to call itself a real democracy…We start with the appallingly undemocratic Senate, where Wyoming, with fewer than 600,000 residents, elected the same number of senators as California, with 40 million residents – a one-person, one-vote distortion of sixty-five to one and where, in a worst case scenario, senators representing only about 18 percent of the country can cast 51 percent of votes in the chamber.”

How absurd.

This must be driving Bernie nuts. He has to sit mute under this structure while Biden and Butiggieg stink up the primary trail with their bottomless neoliberal bullshit about how we can’t do something so supposedly “radical” (not really) and “unaffordable” (nonsense) as make quality health care a human right for all Americans.

SenExit for Millions in the Streets

Considering all this, Senator Sanders should think about doing something remarkable, especially if the white-nationalist party succeeds in barring witnesses and new evidence. He could walk out of the rigged Trump-McConnell-Dershowitz mockery of “constitutional democracy.” He could remove himself from the non-removal! Imagine a Sanders SenExit. And imagine it being done for something bigger and more important than just resuming his constitutionally suspended campaign. Imagine Bernie departing the Senatorial “Jury Nullification” to also call for millions of U.S.-Americans to take to the streets demanding the immediately resignation and removal of the multiply felonious and neofascistic Trump-Pence regime. Imagine Sanders calling for the holding of a national constituent assembly to draft a new Constitution dedicated to embodying something that constituted (as liberal bourgeois Constitutional experts like Neuborne will never admit) the excessively venerated Founders’ ultimate nightmare: popular sovereignty. Such a constitution would among other things prohibit gerrymandering, abolish the Senate’s absurd apportionment scheme, and ban private money from public elections.

Bernie, it would be good for you and your friends like Michael Moore, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Noam Chomsky to join Dr. Cornel West, myself, and the group Refuse Fascism in trying to get the word out to the working-class citizen majority: we need thousands, then tens of thousands, then hundreds of thousands, and then millions in the streets, day after day, week after week demanding Trump and Pence “Out Now.”

We can’t wait for “appallingly undemocratic Senate” or the money-soaked oligarchic electoral process and the endlessly self-fulfilling nothingness of Lesser Evil electoralism to save us from the rising menace of an accelerating American shift to fascism.

Sanders probably doesn’t want to use the loaded word “fascist” to describe Trump and many of his backers, but it’s a critically accurate description of the president and much of his base. We caught yet another of many glimpses of how dark things may get on the streets and sidewalks of Richmond four days ago.

Just wait until Sanders defies the odds by getting the Democratic nomination and defeating Trump in the general election. See what happens then.

Recently I asked a left historian and journalist whose opinion I hold in high esteem for his take on the academic debate over whether Trump and Trumpism should be discussed in the same breath with “fascism.” My correspondent answered as follows:

“On that fascism debate, one of the conundrums we face is basically this: if and when we definitively know the Orange Malignancy is a bona fide US variation of fascism it will be too late. So it seems to me better to operate on the assumption, based on plenty of empirical evidence, that indeed he is at the moment aspiring and maneuvering to impose his particular version, and respond accordingly with a few million in the streets…”

Wise counsel, that.

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