Transparent Idiocy and Cynically Wishful Democratic Party Thinking: Reflections on a Poll and its Reporting

Image by Mirah Curzer.

Two weeks ago, the leading mainstream political journal The Hill ran a story titled “Threats to Democracy Top List of Issues Facing US: Poll.” The lead ran as follows:

Threats to democracy clocked in as the most important issue facing the country for a plurality of registered voters, according to an NBC News poll. The poll found that 21 percent of respondents ranked threats to democracy as the most important issue, followed by 16 percent who indicated the cost of living and 14 percent who said jobs and the economy. When respondents were asked to choose their top two issues, threats to democracy tied with cost of living as a top concern for 29 percent of respondents. Jobs and the economy clocked in at 28 percent, followed by immigration and climate change.”

The NBC poll has been cited over and over by liberal cable news talking heads claiming that the main thing driving voters today is the danger to democracy posed by the Donald Trump “MAGA Republicans,” who were recently described by Joe Biden as “semi-fascists” – an understatement from a semi-liberal.

A Brazenly Moronic Sleight of Hand

Notice anything completely idiotic here? If not, look again: the NBC poll and The Hill moronically separate “the cost of living” from “jobs and the economy.”

Hello? What is more economic than “the cost of living”?!

An obviously more accurate reading would combine “the cost of living” at 16% and “jobs and the economy” at 14% to report that “the economy” was “the most important issue facing the country” for a plurality of voters at 30%, followed by “threats to democracy” at 21%.

What’s going on here? Simple: the poll, the story, and the reporting are aligned with the Democrats’ mid-term election strategy. The Dems are hoping to break the pattern of the US president’s party almost always having a bad mid-term election by exploiting the Supreme Court’s unpopular cancellation of women’s half-century constitutional right to an abortion (see below) and by (accurately) painting the Republicans with the brush of extremist authoritarianism. They have been encouraged to play the authoritarianism card (Biden has even said “semi-fascism” to Democratic donors) by the recent FBI search of the orange-hued fascist’s Mar a Lago estate, which has revealed that Trump feloniously absconded from the White House with a sizeable slew of classified top secret documents he had no right to possess. There’s also the ongoing US House January 6th committee’s next public hearing on Trump’s attempt to cancel the 2020 presidential election and conduct of a coup – an effort that included the commission of at least ten felonies.

The Threat is Real, to be Sure…

The Democratic Party and liberal talking heads who keep repeating the purported NBC survey finding on “threats to democracy” being voters’ top concern are not wrong to see the Republicans as a dangerously authoritarian force in US politics. The GOP is now a fascist (there’s nothing “semi-” about it) party, as I have argued on numerous occasions (see here, here, and here for starters). The Orange Fascist Reptile (OFR, hereafter short for “Trump”) has recently said that when it returns to power it will offer presidential pardons and government apologies to the frothing “fascist traitors” who physically attacked the US Capitol to prevent the certification of Joe Biden’s victory. The OFR has specified 6 drastic plans it will implement if it can steal the White House back with help from his Republi-fascist friends in state legislatures and the state and federal courts: execution of drug dealers; forcing homeless people into “tent cities” (concentration camps); deploying the US military to crush crime, social unrest and protest; stripping job protections from federal workers and staffing thousands of federal positions with (his own) fascist appointees; eliminating the Education Department; restricting voting to one day.

The Republi-fascists have already succeeded in nominating Big Election Lie candidates likely to try to steal the 2024 presidential vote for the OFR (or his fellow fascist Ron DeSantis or some other revanchist monster) for offices that oversee elections in five key battleground states that the OFR lost in 2020:

+ Pennsylvania: the openly Christian fascist gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, who as a state senator led the effort to overturn his state’s 2020 presidential election results. If he wins, Mr. Mastriano will appoint Pennsylvania’s top elections official.

+ Nevada: Jim Marchant, the new Republican nominee for secretary of state. Marchant claims he would have refused to certify the 2020 election and wants more “sheriffs at the polls” to stop mythical “voter fraud.”

+ Michigan’s Republi-fascist election-denier nominees include Tudor Dixon (who falsely contended that the OFR won the state in 2020) for governor, Kristina Karamo (who “has called the 2020 election fixed and baselessly claimed that Dominion voting machine software flipped votes to Mr. Biden” for secretary of state), and Matthew DePerno (“a central player in 2020 election challenges”) for attorney general.

+ Arizona: Open fascist Oath Keeper Mark Finchem, a January 6th insurrectionist, for secretary of state, the top election official in the state; Trumpist Abraham Hamadeh, for attorney general; gubernatorial candidate Trumpian Kari Lake, who says she would have refused to certify Biden’s 10,000-vote victory in her state.

+ Wisconsin Republicans last Tuesday nominated for governor the OFR-backed construction magnates Tim Michels. During his primary campaign, Michaels “contemplated the prospect of trying to overturn” Wisconsin’s 2020 presidential election result once he is in office.

If any of these election-denying freaks wins statewide office, they could very well tip the 2024 election to the OFR, DeSantis or whatever other hate-mongering, paranoid-style late-fascist fiend the rightmost major party vomits up in two years.

And, by the way, it seems likely that the OFR-stocked Supreme Court next will rule in favor of giving Red State legislatures unfettered authority to practice popular vote election nullification if required guarantee a Republi-fascist Elector slate in the 2024 presidential election. The horrific Moore v. Harper case will be argued after the fall mid-terms and likely decided (badly) by the CFSC (the Christian Fascist Supreme Court) in the spring of 2023.

…But the Reporting Contains Four False Premises

Still, the notion that concerns for “democracy’s” survival have risen to the head of voters’ issue priorities is simply not supported by the NBC poll. The poll, showing that economic concerns trump democracy concerns for voter, is consistent with suspicion that most of the corporate-managed US citizenry qua electorate has been ideologically and materially conditioned to value perceived economic self-interest and atomized consumerism and identity over an ideal of democracy and the common good long made hazy and suspect by capitalist power and ideology in the US. And, to repeat what ought to be obvious: breaking out “the cost of living” as an issue separate from “the economy” is ridiculous. It is part of a transparent effort to sell the Democrats’ mid-term election strategy.

“We Live in a Democracy”

There are three additionally false if unstated false premises lurking behind the progressive neoliberal love being given to the NBC poll at “left” CIA- and FBI-friendly places like MSNBC (“MSDNC”) and the Democratic Party. The first such unstated premise is that the United States is a “democracy.” It is no such thing: a vast swath of empirical literature shows that majority public opinion is consistently trumped by concentrated wealth and power – and by an elections, party, and policy system that is tilted far to the right of the citizenry – on one issue after another in “the world’s greatest democracy.”

“The Democrats are a Party of Democracy”

A second false unstated premise holds that the Democratic Party is a party of democracy. It is no such thing, as is demonstrated in a substantial literature on how the supposed onetime New Deal “party of the people” became the neoliberal party of Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Stanley, Boeing, Silicon Valley and Microsoft over the last half century. Coupled with its recurrent and ever more transparently disingenuous claims of democratic passion, the not-so leftmost of the nation’s two major viable political parties’ longstanding control by authoritarian big business – and the underlying material and class dictatorship of capital – has contributed significantly to the deadly, fascism-encouraging discrediting and delegitimization of democracy in the United States.

Just one of the nation’s two dominant parties – the GOP – has crossed into fascist space, rejecting previously ruling class-normative civic decency, formal human and civil rights, bourgeois electoral democracy and rule of law. Still, both of the parties represent “threats to democracy,” and the not-so “leftmost” of them is deeply complicit in the rise of the fascist menace.

“Without Some Nutjob or Menacing Villain on the Other Side”

In a broadened reprise of the Hillary Clinton campaign’s “Pied Piper” strategy of promoting the supposedly more beatable OFR as the Republican’s presidential nominee 2015-16, moreover, Democrats, are investing heavily in the most horrific “MAGA Republicans” – “the brownshirts of the Trump movement” as one Democratic strategist puts it – running in the 2022 Republi-fascist primaries. How’s that for a commitment to democracy? The strategy reflects the Democrats’ sense that they have little positive to offer voters. As Chris Smith writes at Vanity Fair:

“What’s connecting and driving the playing-with-fire strategy is a pervasive pessimism. For all the sound logic of maneuvering to run against a weaker opponent, there’s also a dispiriting sense that without some nutjob or menacing villain on the other side, Democratic candidates can’t win on their own. ‘I watch focus groups, and Democratic voters are totally checked out and depressed,’ one [Democratic] strategist says. ‘They’re just so sick of everyone involved in politics. Yes, the Supreme Court’s Roe decision enraged them. But some of that ire is directed at their own party: Why the fuck did you guys not codify this when you had the chance? Instead of righteous indignation, it’s more like righteous resignation. So anything that would light a fire under Democrats in November is welcome’” (emphasis added).

Anything…like the OFR being the Republicans’ presidential nominee in 2024. As Smith ads:

Including—and especially—Trump making it official, sooner rather than later, that he’s running in 2024. ‘It would be a giant gift to everyone in the party, from Biden on down, to have that guy out there,’ another top Democratic consultant says. Trump has hardly kept his intentions a secret, but the reality of him as a threat, the thinking goes, would shift the conversation away from inflation and toward the existential threat to democracy.”

Hey: what could go wrong? Right?

Smith’s reporting is good but he of course says nothing about why the Democrats lack a serious positive and progressive program: its cringing subordination to what the late Princeton political scientist Sheldon Wolin called the “inverted totalitarianism” of neoliberal era capital/ism.

“‘Threat to Democracy’ Concern Means Democratic Voter”

The third false and silent premise (this one hit me across the face with a big “Duh!” after I started writing this essay) is that all the public opinion on “the threat to democracy” is on the Democratic Party’s side. That is incorrect. Bear in mind that more than two in three Republicans buy the OFR’s Big Hitlerian Lie that “the tyrant” Biden “stole” the 2020 presidential contest through various forms of voting and election fraud. It seems likely indeed that many of those who put “threats to democracy” at the top of their voting issue list do some from the “MAGA Republican” side.

Not Much Reported: Climate and Abortion as Low Priorities

Two other parts of the NBC poll have gone without much if any attention from liberal cable news and Democratic politicos: the percentage of US Americans who put “climate [change]” as their top issue is just 9% and the percentage who do so with abortion is just 8%. The first finding is of course extremely depressing. The ongoing and deepening climate catastrophe, well underway, is just the biggest issue of our any time. There’s no democracy, no cost of living, no jobs, no economy, no social justice, no anything on a dead planet. There’s no progress for liberty and justice when livable ecology is cancelled. That’s something to think about as the Democrats try to run also on declining gas prices. (Climate change is by the way an “economy” issue on numerous levels, including the unreported fact that it is an all too natural outcome of a capitalist economy, which is hopelessly addicted both to perpetual expansion and fossil fuels)

The second under-reported finding is something the Democrats especially want to keep quiet. Both before and after the well-telegraphed Dobbs v. Jackson ruling, the Democrats have refused to spark mass popular resistance to the Christian fascist Supreme Court’s June 24th reversal of women’s constitutional right to an abortion. Their surrender has smacked of insipid electoralist cynicism, reflecting the strategic calculation that the reimposition of forced motherhood in at least half the country would redound to the Dems’ political gain in the 2022 mid-term elections. But it’s dubious indeed to think that voter backlash against the killing of Roe v. Wade will provide the Democrats enough turnout to succeed with: a highly unpopular Democratic president sitting atop an inflationary economy; 74% of US-Americans saying “the country is on the wrong track;” just 8 in 100 US voters put abortion at the top of their list. And, of course, as with “threats to democracy,” the abortion issue cuts both ways: many of those in the 8% who make abortion their top voting priority are certainly anti-abortion.

It’s good that a solid US majority backs legal abortion across the land but the fact that less than one in ten USA-ers make it their top issue in relation to the coming candidate-centered major party mid-term elections raises serious questions about both the Democrats’ justification for their advance surrender of Roe (“we’ll ride it to victory in November”) and leading “choice” organizations’ elitist preference for top-down bourgeois electoral politics over mass direct action and social movement activism on the exemplary model of Rise Up for Abortion Rights (RU4AR), which counters the at once cynical and dreamy promises of a mind-term “blue wave” with the continuing consistent call for a Latin American-style “green wave” of mass protest.

My next report will go into significantly greater depth on the Democrats’ cynical and opportunistic approach to the abortion issue.

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