The Manchurian Candidate in 2020

The Manchurian Candidate is a fascinating backdrop for current political theater best evidenced by the Democratic National Convention right now. Many liberals became very worked up about Russiagate—the obsession over Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Similarly, The Manchurian Candidate captures a fear about interference from a menacing communist force propping up the right-wing in a horseshoe theory coalition against centrist liberal patriotic democracy.

Unlike the current version of Russia, the 1962 film explicitly targets communism as right-wing. The current state of affairs in the Democratic Party have evolved as their left-wing opponent has. The point of the Hollywood propaganda film was not to smear conservatives as communists but to smear communists as conservatives. Conservatives after all were already smearing communists but the liberal centrists wanted to present themselves as the legitimate opposition to the left.

Likewise, the current goal of the Democratic National Convention seems to be entirely about presenting the Democrats as the bipartisan corporate alternative to insurgent “populism” vaguely represented in both Trump and fascism as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Black Lives Matter. Joe Biden says he decided to run for President after Donald Trump absurdly claimed there were “good people”’on both sides during a white nationalist confrontation in Charlottesville. However, isn’t the “good people on both sides” exactly the argument being made by the Democrats as they continue to prop up the non-existent “Never Trump” wing of the fascist Republican Party.

By promoting this fringe group and ignoring the populist progressive demands of their own base the Democrats create a false narrative about a reasonable Republican Party and signal that since no such party exists they are going to create it. This same false “two sides” narrative is promoted in the liberal press as they debate about how real the existential threat of climate change is, as they hurl alienating economic theory back and forth while ordinary people go bankrupt from getting sick and most recently as they try to navigate between the murder by police (called bias) and the compassionate, militant and non-violent protests by Black Lives Matter (called violence).

The key turn of hand in The Manchurian Candidate is that the real enemy is never the legitimate conservative opposition but the secret underbelly of Marxism that operates underneath them. How many liberal commentators used exactly the same tone for Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump and exactly the same tone for white nationalists and Antifa? This is the whole point of the link to Russia, this conservative link between Trump and Putin that can become the grand leftist conspiracy that also is funding all opposition to the Democrats.

For the Democrats fail to see the difference between taking from the rich who have too much and who loot for a living and taking from the poor who have too little and are looted to the bone. The Democrats fail to see the difference between a health care system that robs poor people of the right to live and one that undergoes a transition to being affordable. Both sides of this debate means “losing healthcare” for Democrats. Disturbingly Democrats also fear that a total transition away from fossil fuels must factor in the totally untrue fear manufactured by conservative think tanks that this will be a loss of jobs and therefore worse than a loss of life itself. The Democrats fail to see the difference between a drone strike or police murder that is above the law and peaceful protests that like the beautiful ideology of communism takes power by taking over property (see recent communes and yes even very effective and completely just takeovers of private property).

Thus our interest is exactly the opposite of the Democrats: just as they need the Republicans to survive as a party, Republicans will kill millions of us while in office. Rather than choose between either/or politics whether that be Democrat vs. Green, class vs. race, or reform vs. revolution, let’s insist on universalist hope by pointing out that fear can be obscured into various scapegoats (communists, homeless, immigrants, women, LGBTQ, blacks, Muslims, etc.). However, there is no obscuring hope. Hope is the concrete desire we have. Hope can be co-opted but when we let hope drive our actions rather than fear we tend to come up with political answers (universal health care, world peace, living wage) rather than political questions (whose fault is it? How will we pay for it? How will I be punished?).

If there is one concrete lesson of The Manchurian Candidate it is that those whose only political agenda is fear tend to be enablers of the very fear they are stoking. Just as George Bush was the world’s biggest 21st century terrorist, corporate NeverTrumpers rely on Trump for their illegitimate plutocratic rule. Trump relies on something even more threatening than the threat of Trump: the threat of turning over all political power to white nationalist police and crony oligarchs when democracy no longer cuts it. Likewise, Trump’s inaction on coronavirus can safely be linked to his desire to suppress the vote this November and stir further political and economic anxiety in an increasingly reactionary American public.

Just as the resistance to the corporate duopoly must be intersectional in both the groups it represents and the tactics it employs, so too must we make the link between the forces of Democrats, Republicans, capital and the military-industrial complex. Fascism may be on the rise but so too is a vibrant protest movement in Black Lives Matter, a persistent group of democratic socialists and perhaps even a coalition begging for an authoritarian communist state that seizes property and wealth from the rich.

Meanwhile, Democrats remain caught in the middle, supporting misogynists like John Kasich to smear Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as a Trump doppelgänger. This is done in an effort to return to a corporate liberal totalitarian technocratic normalcy that is only truly desired by a slice of the professional class who happily has block parties with fascist suburban neighbors and who happily calls the police on “suspicious” people of color as soon as the class war becomes explicit.

Therefore the paradoxical hope of ousting Trump is that the Democrats can no longer pretend to be essential workers against fascism and therefore ousting Trump also ousts the Democrats. The fear of Trump then is the same paradoxical one: the Democrats can happily maintain a hostage situation and not even have to be held accountable for it. However, the planet and many individuals on it are not guaranteed any book deals if Trump wins and many rightly see him as an existential threat not just to liberal democracy but to the future of the planet. In other words the intersectional class war remains in full session no matter what happens in politics.

Regardless of people’s political fears and strategies to combat them we can remain united in our hope for a better world. Those who shout down our rational democratic political demands with fear are the very people we should be fearing. The specter of democracy is alive and well as Democrats run for their lives, hoping that an oligarchy of law and order “civility” politics can further suppress the democracy that has been shot down in the streets and in the ballot box.

However the trans feminist multiracial globalist  Marxist underbelly is looming and while communism might not be hiding underneath Donald Trump’s corporate authoritarianism it is revealing itself in a far more powerful place: the hearts, minds and bodies of the American people.

As police pile up bodies, the billionaire class makes a fortune off of coronavirus death and America’s opposition party remains opposed to all things except its opposition, the stampede of democracy rumbles onward with a return of socialism and militancy on the streets. Just as Trump’s desperation leads him to martial law, the corporate Democrat’s last legs are built on fear. We should be scared of Donald Trump, the coronavirus, and many other things but we should also recognize this flimsy posture against populism employed by the Democrats is a sign of their decay. The political life of not only Donald Trump but all the corporate forces that benefit from him are running on empty. A new communist world order is coming—if we have enough hope to make it so.

Nick Pemberton writes and works from Saint Paul, Minnesota. He loves to receive feedback at