Twelve Takes on the Mid-Terms

Image by Element 5.

It was so nice NOT to be writing about contemporary United States politics – an ugly topic, to say the least – last week. I will be making more and more of a habit of focusing on other subjects going forward.

But the mid-term elections were hard to avoid, and I naturally paid attention to the news and commentary regarding them.

Here are my top twelve takes on the whole mess:

+1. The official song of the 2022 mid-terms should be Jimi Hendrix’s Purple Haze. The widely expected “red wave” did not emerge but neither did the Democrats’ promised “blue tsunami.” Something different or in-between took place, full of mixed messages that have provided opportunities for both of the two sadly dominant US capitalist-imperialist parties to claim victory.

+2. David Brooks continues to be a statistically illiterate moron. In his New York Times column and on his election night television commentary on “P”BS, this ridiculous blowhard saw the mid-terms as yet another opportunity to claim against all evidence that the Trump and DeSantis (see below)-era Republicans are a party of “populism” and “the working class.” This childish narrative, widely shared across the chattering skull and pundit class, is based on extreme false conflations between the lack of a college degree and rural residence on one hand and working-class status on the other hand. It leaves out people of color to a shocking degree and naturally deletes the racism, sexism, fundamentalist Christianity and general related authoritarianism (indeed neofascism) that by far and away trump economic anxiety as the driving force behind Republi-fascist voting (including the votes of actual working-class Republi-fascists). It helps the militantly elitist and fascist Republicans falsely and ludicrously brand themselves as the party of everyday working people.

+3. The Democrats’ claim of victory is weak tea. Yes, they avoided a complete shellacking at the hands of the Republi-fascists (Rfs). Revanchist Trumpian reptiles like the open Christian white nationalist Doug Mastriano, the Oath Keeper who wanted to take for the Arizona election system (Mark Finchem), the noxious far-right television quack Mehmet Oz, and perhaps (fingers crossed) the AR-15-toting maniac Lauren Boebert went down to humiliating defeat. There was no big red wave. Great, but the fact of the matter is that the January 6th Party of Fascist Insurrection is about to take over the gavel and agenda in the US House of Representatives and still has a chance of controlling the absurdly powerful US Senate. If the fake-“populist” Rfs get Congress, that puts them in charge of two of three branches of the federal government: the legislative branch and the judicial branch, currently topped by a 5-4/6-3 far-right majority well to the starboard side of the populace.

+4. Another election cycle goes by where the US pretends to have a democratic system despite: the absurd right-leaning partisan gerrymandering of the US House and state legislatures; the preposterous right-tilted malapportionment and absurd power of the US Senate; the ridiculous undemocratic Electoral College; the extreme power of the absurdly lifetime-appointed Supreme Court; the toxic and ongoing anti-democratic horror that is “states’ right;” the openly arch-plutocratic power of the nation’s campaign finance and corporate media systems.

+5. The plutocratic corporate tool and geriatric imperialist Joe “Burn Pit” Biden – an open agent of potential nuclear Armageddon – will likely decided to run again in 2024 on the basis of his party not getting its head as completely caved-in as was widely expected. Super! If he wins again, he can be 86 years old at the end of his second term, assuming that he and Putin don’t blow up the world over Ukraine in the meantime.

+6. “Burn Pit” Joe will dig Republi-semi-fascist control of the House (and perhaps Senate). It will give him a welcome excuse for his and his dollar-drenched neoliberal party’s failure to win and advance even semi-progressive policies (“we don’t have the votes”) and for him to pursue his beloved pastime of “reaching across the aisle” (since “we have no choice” and must “find common ground” to “get things done”). It worked for Bill Clinton and Barack Obama.

+7. Potential global nuclear war and global warming – two grave existential menaces both rooted in the anarchic madness of capitalism-imperialism – were largely if not completely absent from the mid-term elections. With all due respect, what in f*#k are we supposed to make of a “democratic” elections and party system that pushes the two biggest issues of our or any time to the margins of public debate and consciousness?!

+8. Also missing from the mid-terms: the rest of the world. This deletion is nothing new of course. As the most powerful oppressor state and empire in the history of humanity, the United States has been sucking up the wealth and health of much of the rest of the world for at least the last 77 years (the global Pax Americana was born at the end of World War II). It is by far and away the leading force behind numerous forms of planetary misery, with the climate catastrophe now in the lead. As usual, the notion of the United States having any core responsibility to nations and people outside its borders was completely missing in electoral action.

+9. “It was Roevember.” I have on social media seen numerous liberals and even progressives claim that the mid-terms showed the “brilliance” of the Democrats’ campaigning against the Supreme Court’s June 24th, 2022, Dobbs v. Jackson decision – the horrific ruling that killed Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Court decision that had established women’s constitutional right to an abortion. This exaggerates the extent of Democrats’ mid-term success and grants undeserved cover to the Democrats’ refusal to meaningfully mobilize masses against the well-telegraphed Dobbs decision – a decision partly rooted in the cynical calculation that the abolition of a basic human and women’s right would work to their advantage in the mid-terms. But worst of all, it strikes me as a big raised middle finger to the many millions of childbearing-age females stuck in the 22 or so states that have essentially banned safe and legal abortion following Dobbs. Wtf did the mid-terms do for women and girls with current or future unwanted pregnancies in Republi-fascist prohibition states like Ron DeSantis’s and Greg Abbot’s Florida and Texas? Is Joe Biden now about to wake up and (as Rise Up for Abortion rights demanded on the date of the Dobbs ruling) properly declare the war on abortion a national public health emergency and issue an executive order granting women and girls access to safe and legal abortions without apology on federal lands and military bases across the whole United States? No, he isn’t.

+10. Democrats are crowing about how many of Trump’s preferred MAGA candidates went down, reveling in his potentially waning chances of coming back to the White House in 2025. Okay, but they might want to reflect on the rising star of Ron DeSantis, who might be a more dangerous fascist than Trump. DeSantis rolled in Florida, making big incursions into the Miami-Dade Latino vote. He is one evil motherfucker and a force to be reckoned with. (How far is DeSantis’ “political stunt” of deceiving Latin American migrants onto an airplane and dumping them like human garbage in a northern liberal enclave from packing people into boxcars and shipping them to concentration camps?) On the other hand, and on the positive side for the Dems, they have reason to hope for a Trump-DeSantis war inside the Republican Party. If Trump goes all out with narcissistic rage against DeSantis’s ascendancy, he could help sabotage the party heading to 2024.

+11. Issues vs. Parties and Candidates. Notice how much better US humanity sometimes does when it gets to vote on specific issues instead of for manipulative and partisan ruling class parties and their dollar-drenched candidates? As in Kansas earlier this year, voters given the opportunity to decide on behalf of defending and/or entrenching women’s right to an abortion in state constitutions did the decent thing in Michigan, Kentucky, and California. In far-right white reactionary South Dakota, voters given the opportunity to choose Medicaid expansion for people did so. Illinois voters backed a useful referendum that makes it a state-constitutional right to join a union. (But let’s not over do it: in fascist Iowa, an extreme gun rights amendment to the state constitution passed 65-35% and in fascist Tennessee 70% of voters chose to back a measure enshrining the state’s anti-union “right to work” bill in the state constitution.)

+12. Bourgeois-democratic American Style election outcomes, even decent ones, don’t achieve very much for the people without mass mobilization in the streets and public squares beneath and beyond the election cycle. I know I quote this passage from Howard Zinn too much but I’m going to do it again because nobody has ever said it better:

“The Election Madness…seizes the country every four years because we have all been brought up to believe that voting is crucial in determining our destiny, that the most important act a citizen can engage in is to go to the polls and choose one of the two mediocrities who have already been chosen for us…No, I’m not taking some ultra-left position that elections are totally insignificant, and that we should refuse to vote to preserve our moral purity. Yes, there are candidates who are somewhat better than others, and at certain times of national crisis (the Thirties, for instance, or right now) where even a slight difference between the two parties may be a matter of life and death…I’m talking about a sense of proportion that gets lost in the election madness. Would I support one candidate against another? Yes, for two minutes—the amount of time it takes to pull the lever down in the voting booth…But before and after those two minutes, our time, our energy, should be spent in educating, agitating, organizing our fellow citizens in the workplace, in the neighborhood, in the schools. Our objective should be to build, painstakingly, patiently but energetically, a movement that, when it reaches a certain critical mass, would shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress, into changing national policy on matters of war and social justice. Let’s remember that even when there is a ‘better’ candidate (yes, better Roosevelt than Hoover, better anyone than George Bush), that difference will not mean anything unless the power of the people asserts itself in ways that the occupant of the White House will find it dangerous to ignore…Historically, government, whether in the hands of Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals, has failed its responsibilities, until forced to by direct action: sit-ins and Freedom Rides for the rights of black people, strikes and boycotts for the rights of workers, mutinies and desertions of soldiers in order to stop a war. Voting is easy and marginally useful, but it is a poor substitute for democracy, which requires direct action by concerned citizens.”

(I have two problems with this passage: bourgeois governments’ only real responsibility is to capital and its empire; we desperately need to overthrow such governments via popular socialist revolutions, not just “shake whoever is in the White House, in Congress.” Still, this is a useful starting point for seeing and organizing beyond the quadrennial and biennial major party candidate-centered corporate-managed electoral extravaganzas that are sold to us as “that’s politics,” the only “politics” that matters.)

Let me conclude with two quotes from the great German communist playwright Berthold Brecht. Send them to anyone you know among that vast and underestimated group of people who are understandably but nonetheless dangerously disengaged from any and all political struggle:

“If you fight you might lose; if you don’t, you have already lost.”

“Those against politics are in favor of the politics inflicted upon them.”

And this from Dr, Martin Luther King, Jr.: “The ultimate tragedy is not the oppression and cruelty by the bad people but the silence over that by the good people.”

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