How to Survive this Election

Photograph Source: Sharon Mollerus – CC BY 2.0

Having closely followed the 2016 Election, from the clear signs of manipulation and potential fraud in the earliest Primaries to the finger-pointing and hysteria over alleged Russian “election hacking” after one of the most unpopular US Presidential candidates in History beat another of the most unpopular of the US Presidential candidates in History, I resolved to stop following the media circus that passes for “politics” in our country. I thus managed to steer clear of what promised to be a remake of the 2016 Election – until last week when the CNN attack on Sanders finally drew me in.

Moved by a morbid curiosity, I soon found myself rubbernecking in this slow-motion train wreck, as the ensuing onslaught by Warren, Clinton, Biden and the usual DNC corporate media suspects rolled out, including the NYT’s wink-and-nod endorsement of Warren and Klobuchar (lucky for them there were still three women in the race so that they could ignore Gabbard).

But lending one’s neurons to the cynical machinations of our faux politics is highly corrosive for the soul: it’s difficult not to be tainted by the sheer insincerity, hypocrisy, mendacity and negativity of the spectacle, even as one seeks to deconstruct and expose it.

The current lamentable state of US electoral politics is not an aberration that can be blamed on anyone individual or political party. While Trump is both its product and poster child, he is not its cause but merely an example of the sort of person who naturally who thrives on it. Our electoral and legislative system runs on money the way our economy runs on debt, our industry runs on oil and our campaigns run on petty personal drama and distraction. The reality TV that Trump mastered before entering politics was the perfect preparation for the meaningless spectacle of US party politics and we will not beat him – or stop the emergence of something even worse – until we root out the deeper culture from which he emerged; a culture that, whether by chance or design, prevents us from seeing the true roots of our problems.

The division of our population into “Liberals” and “Conservatives” and the near-total erasure of the rest of the political spectrum; the ever-mounting mutual demonization of these two groups via identity politics, emotionally-charged buzz issues (Gun Control, Abortion, Gay Marriage…), and an obsessive focus on personalities rather than policies all mask the deep structural similarities between the two “sides”: support for Endless Imperial War, the unchecked expansion of corporate power, the dismantling of our civil liberties, the transfer of wealth to the economic elite and rising social inequity, the deepening of the Surveillance State, the War on Whistleblowers and increasingly, journalists, to name a few.

The greatest single obstacle to change at this point are the media information ecosystems that create our normative political identities, catering to and reinforcing the “Liberal-Conservative” divide and help to prevent their readers, listeners and viewers from focusing on the very need for change, let alone the potential forms it might take. Those who plug into these echo chambers of consent manufacturing have their concerns defined for them and anyone who tries to call attention to the true structural causes of our increasingly disastrous situation is invariably marginalized. Above the constant media noise of these discursive bubbles, voices of reason are not heard, vital information is not shared, and critical discussions are not held. Nor are we properly informed on the political activities of the owners and sponsors of our news sources and the political conflicts of interest they might generate. It is quite literally a “pay no attention to the man behind the curtain” moment.

Rather than simply expressing opinions, however, it can be helpful to make predictions that can be verified based on one’s observations and assumptions, so here are a few predictions:

1) The attacks against Sanders will get increasingly ugly and transparent as his popularity rises;

2) We can expect more cheating of the kind we saw in 2016, but this time there are likely to be quicker responses, including possible lawsuits;

3)The attacks are likely to have the effect of bringing more media attention to Sanders and thereby ironically increasing his support;

4) If the DNC are forced to deploy Super Delegates to shut down a Sanders win, it will trigger a crisis not see in the Democratic Party since 1968;

5) If Biden gets the Nomination, he will name Warren as his Running Mate;

6) A Biden-Warren ticket (or a Biden-Anyone ticket for that matter) will result in a second Trump Term in November;

7) A Sanders Nomination will mean a Trump defeat in the General.

With these predictions on record, I will now return to my former strategy of ignoring the corporate media electoral noise. Still, there is one positive thing in this Election that we can focus on: the Sanders campaign and its potential as the launchpad for a truly transformative popular movement of national renewal.

Sanders is the only candidate who stands not for himself but for an idea. He is the only one who has galvanized grassroots support to the point of regularly filling stadiums, breaking fundraising records, and mobilizing a huge volunteer base. Reports from the ground in Iowa testify to the emergence of an extraordinary spirit and momentum there not seen since Occupy. It is this sort of movement and community building, and not the election of any one individual to the White House, that we should look to at this moment as our greatest hope for meaningful change. For those who see defeating Trump as the main goal of this election, the latest polls are also showing Sanders topping his rivals in General Election matchups (just as they did in 2016, when they also showed Hillary in a dead heat with Trump). There is thus absolutely no reason that we have to choose between desperately needed policy change and beating Trump.

What we really need in this country – if there is still any chance left of saving it – are three things: (1) the birth of a broad popular movement for structural change; (2) the development of a serious program for Election Reform to take our democracy back from the banks and corporations that both major parties currently serve; and (3) a mass popular rejection of Corporate Media with its management of the political debate and manufacturing of consent. The Sanders campaign is the best vehicle we have for achieving these things. Not only can we have a positive politics in 2020 but, from the looks of what’s happening right now in Iowa, we already do.


Peter Cohen holds a Ph.D. in Applied Anthropology from Columbia University and has worked in International Development in more than twenty countries. He has taught, lectured, organized and delivered training events, and authored publications ranging from articles on the historical spread of African religions through the Atlantic Slave Trade to guides to working with informal recyclers, as well as essays on politics and social change.