After decades of manifest incompetence, we find ourselves at a junction. Our political parties, two of any consequence, are quivering – but not for the reason popularly cited in the left-liberal press.
Our parties have no reason to be afraid of, say, self-styled Democratic Socialists, a ragtag group comprised of disillusioned Obama millennials and stowaways from the Occupy movement. No reason in particular to be afraid of the spiritual successor to the Tea Party, the MAGA folks, either. Not yet at least.
The parties have no reason to be afraid of these nominally reformist forces, because they’re merely nominal. Both may give very good speeches and attract a large crowd, but when you look to policy, what’s actually being done, it’s underwhelming.
Some figures in these populist sects are just pathological. Trump’s the self-evident case, so it’s worth pressing on to the Democratic Socialist darling (or progressive, so many words, who can even tell the difference?) Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx.
From the very beginning, she served as a kind of folk hero for no particular reason beyond having been a waitress for a couple years, one among over two million other Americans. She did utter several nice words and platitudes, staged a couple of brilliant photo ops in front of buildings holding migrant children. She also boycotted a furniture company for delivering mattresses to the facilities; presumably she did so for a reason.
Now she takes pictures and records videos of herself on Instagram and TikTok. She plays video games with her constituents – by which I mean her small donor benefactors, i.e., stylish American youth in general, not the people who reside in New York’s 14th congressional district. One might respond that a politician who develops parasocial, and even parasitical, relationships with ordinary people is demonstrating their commitment to public life, to fulfilling their service as the Tribune of the Plebs. Indeed it can be very exciting to meet a celebrity, particularly a younger one with unmistakeable zeal, even if it’s only through social media. In fact it may be more exciting through the virtual medium: You can share clips, click ‘like’ and ‘subscribe’, post memes, and donate. Besides, online is where all your other friends are anyway.
Crucially, Ocasio-Cortez is not much older than her audience, perhaps she reminds them of a close friend. And she exploits this deformed relationship to channel money into unaccountable private coffers, variously called “bail funds”, “mutual aid funds”, “food pantries”, and so on.
Beneath the nice-sounding rhetoric, these serve a few purposes, perhaps one of which ostensibly “benefits” some other person. The “mutual aid fund” may in fact deliver on their promise of supplying someone’s grandmother with a few rolls of toilet paper. The “bail fund” does what it says on the tin: It bails out people who are arrested at various Democratic-adjacent sanctioned events (calling them “protests” is gratuitous). Of course, none of the messaging lays out what it’s actually for. Contrary to illusions, protestors who are arrested are typically released without bail, unless they commit assault, burn something down, steal something, and so on. Very little of the money dispensed was even recovered; once released from jail and having been refunded their bail, her beneficiaries didn’t return it to the fund but simply pocketed it. Some mutual aid there.
It’s worth taking a step back to look at the broader picture. A politician, or perpetual activist if you like, is raising money primarily from people who she does not represent. For one, as her district is fairly upscale, her ‘more radical than thou’ vernacular just doesn’t quite fit in. It’s not clear just who in her district was demanding a Democratic Socialist. Indeed her ascendence may have only been possible faced with a very particular opponent: a feckless party machine Democrat serving much the same role that Sanders’ foil, Hillary Clinton, did. For another, her fanbase is distributed across the country and across the globe, and is fundamentally unmoored to city or country. Each is then administered by some unaccountable private group, whether it’s an bonafide NGO or a few kids with dreadlocks and a GoFundMe page. These are essentially charities, and often deeply incompetent ones at that.
By using charities to provide services to (some small portion of) her constituents or admirers, she abdicates her responsibility as an elected official whose ostensible sole function in government is to advocate for and ensure an appropriate allocation of government resources to meet her constituents’ needs.
It’s a savvy move, given the partisan gridlock that is sure to frustrate progressive ambitions for the next century or so. Why bother with it, when you can play-act giving people stuff and collect the praise. And it’s perfect because since you’re not working through Congress, you won’t upset Nancy Pelosi (or “Mama Bear”). In fact, you can take play-acting to a new level by engaging in minor, typically frivolous public disputes with Democratic leadership to signal to your supporters that you’re fighting the good fight.
Look beneath the surface, however, and you quickly realize that Ocasio-Cortez and “the Squad” are the best thing to ever happen to the establishment Democrats in decades. The party can develop apolitical talent, celebrity politicians in the most literal sense, send them all the youthful attention they desire, give them a bit of verbal free reign, and cultivate them as shepherds leading disaffected young Democrats (or Democratic Socialists or Progressives or Communists or whatever the label du jour may be) back to their home in the Democratic Party.
In the far less organized Republican Party, we see a similar fissure expanding that threatens to separate the populist Trump base and the generic corporatist GOP hobbling and bobbling forward since Ronald Reagan. Perhaps Josh Hawley represents the future of the former sect, while a Marco Rubio fits within the latter category, hanging on by a thread until he joins neoconservatives like Bill Kristol in the Democratic Party. The populist flavor may become authentic and realized, or it may serve as the counterpart to the Squad, a mere exercise in branding. It’s too soon to say.
Within that context, it’s important to recognize the challenges facing the Democratic Party and its very foundation. Foremest, minorities are leaving the Party, which is disastrous given their central tactics require patronizing minority voters as if they are owed them, and leaving them empty handed. It remains virtually keaiavm that Trump lost support from white men in 2020, and made up a nice chunk of the balance by recruiting new minority votes. Given strong Latino support, it’s believed to be the most diverse Republican Party in seventy years. The progressive narrative simply does not account for this, and indeed predicts the opposite.
This shake-up is also reflected in the substantial hollowing out of working class support, Democratic leadership being more than willing to trade workers for easier constituencies. Senate Leader Chuck Schumer was proven correct in essence when he observed that “[f]or every blue-collar Democrat we lose in western Pennsylvania, we will pick up two moderate Republicans in the suburbs in Philadelphia, and you can repeat that in Ohio and Illinois and Wisconsin.”
It didn’t pan out in 2016, but it did most recently, and will help them remain competitive moving forward. Any discussion as to whether they “should” do this, and so on, is largely besides the point. The lines are drawn, even if faintly, and the neoconservatives and their liberal allies who advocated a policy of perpetual warfare for decades, resulting in the deaths of perhaps two million people, have a welcoming home within the latest iteration of the Democratic Party.
These political realignments have again perhaps broken through the surface, requiring some media management, and reared their heads during this pandemic, which has been an absolute boon for corporate interests and the political and media elites.
A veritable project of massive income stratification has transpired: a robbery of the sick and depleted. Trillions of dollars have been distributed upwards, and what’s more, you can’t blame Trump. It’s the bipartisan Washington consensus.
That last bit is important. We all witnessed Trump pushing for a $2,000 stimulus check, well above the $600 proposed by Congress, and pushing to cut pork. He even threatened to effectively defund the military and bring our troops home.
He was thwarted in all this by Senate Republicans (a different party from House GOP and Trump) and, despite pretenses, by Nancy Pelosi and the Squad. The $2,000 “stand-alone” bill excitedly promoted by the latter, among others, was predicated on the passage of the prior pork-infested bill, quite explicitly rebuffing Trump’s request for a simple bill. A bill that’s actually stand-alone as professed.
And even independent of its content, its merits or demerits, Pelosi attempted to pass the poison pill bill with unanimous consent, effectively dispensing two poison pills in one. One vote against the bill would kill it, so naturally it was set it up to fail. When it did fail, leadership and the new Democratic Socialists turned to Twitter and a feckless news media to launder the story that Republicans killed grandma, thereby activating the base and turning them out for the mission critical Georgia run-off elections.
The sole reason for these complications and delays, the expiration of crucial financial benefits, all of it, is that Democrats won with a senile old man that no one particularly likes and it would be deeply embarrassing to have an earth-shattering repeat of 2016. You can’t give Trump a win like that right before an election.
The plan forward from all this is unclear. Democratic voters are largely in total denial concerning a variety of issues: fantastic tales of Russki infiltration of the Executive, the reason for Trump’s victory, their likability, and future prospects. Beyond mere ignorance, they seem to have taken a suicide pact.
They have minimal power across the country at local and state levels of government. Erstwhile celebrity politician, Barack Obama, enabled these losses, completely gutting the Party for quick cash. And in any case, the Democratic Party did so little of note during those golden years, beyond increasing the real costs of healthcare to the average American and kicking people to the curb under the financial crisis.
Similarly the utopian left or progressive faction of voters, again understood as little more than than a branding exercise, seem intent on self-destruction. After spending several months marching, destroying property, burning down poor minority neighborhoods, and turning public opinion against police reform — substantially under the banner of police abolition — the gas tank ran empty and prospects of significant reform seem slim. If there’s one thing that the left does well, it’s to render unpalatable perfectly popular and uncontroversial political positions as police reform.
As to abolishing the police – which might work for you if you’re a white kid in suburbia – it represents another abdication of their responsibility to those they profess to support. The vast majority of black Americans do not support police abolition, quite like every other demographic outside the collegiate aspirational elite. As it turns out, violence is a problem in many poor communities and cities, and people don’t want to be at the mercy of drive-by shooters and the like.
The prominent movements and organizations behind these efforts — whether it’s BLM, the left-liberal NGO complex, or guilty billionaires — are all bankrolled to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, substantially deriving from private organizations like the Ford Foundation, rather ironically the namesake of the famously anti-Semitic industrialist.
Beyond appearances, they’ve achieved very little materially, though it all functions well as an advertisement for Nike or McDonald’s or other ‘progressive and forward-thinking’ companies. It’s a wonderful distraction from politics, serving to propagate some sense of moral victory until we arrive back to planet Earth and Democratic votes are needed.
Prominent and well-funded activist organizations promote a distorted platform including such popular efforts as “abolishing the nuclear family”, which were it to transpire would constitute perhaps one of the most evil, polarizing, and eventually alienating acts in human history. Most people outside the fervent activist set, which is perhaps no more than five percent of the population, rightly perceive it as sociopathic.
Similarly, the orgiastic celebration of prostitution among the activist set – sanitized, as is their wont, using the obscene neologism “sex work” – consists largely of randy middle-class women shooting pornography on OnlyFans part-time. We used to smoke pot and go to punk shows for
The most vulnerable, the desperately poor women who work the streets, almost universally addicted to hard drugs, they’re the counterpart to Trump’s “forgotten people”.
More generally, the most fundamental principle in left or progressive doctrine is
identity politics, which functions much as “abolishing the family” might. Polarize people on the basis of immutable or protected characteristics like skin color, sex, religion, and sexual orientation, and organize them to take a trip to the polls in a single-file line. When Joe Biden proudly said with gusto, “If you don’t vote for me, you ain’t black”, the entire left-liberal apparatus either feigned ignorance, rolled their eyes, or became a little upset for a couple days.
There were no organized efforts to frustrate his candidacy or exact a penalty for a sentiment whose entrenched racism, the use of human being as a racialized instrument to achieve power, is well beyond the clumsy and often profane
, wherein privileged whites adopt the language of a Malcolm X or Angela Davis, who you will recall functioned as useful idiots for the FBI, in part COINTELPRO, to divide and neutralize the serious and effective civil rights movement.
And it worked.
King was assassinated, and never got to fulfill his ultimate dream of a cross-racial, cross-gender movement for working people. Now he’s routinely mocked for “respectability politics”, which means he wanted to prioritize justice over acting out some adolescent and idealist fantasy where no one cares how you dress or act.
Much of his work was simply destroyed in the process, and so-called “anti-racist” or “intersectional” doctrine (which is nothing but rebranded post-structuralism/post-modernism from the 1970s) provides a cover for corporate and state interests to keep the races at each other’s throats, as they look down upon us as if at a Gladiatorial match.
The narcissism of small differences is manifest in all this. As wage gap narratives, often totally reductive and mythological, emphasize that college educated white women make 90c on the white man’s dollar, Jeff Bezos amasses a fortune in which he can purchase 1.5 million average American homes any time he likes.
Any serious attempt to grapple with this — and secure meaningful and material gains for all Americans — will require a substantially pared down platform targeted universally, that is without resorting to profane identity politics. Ideally, it should be limited to demands for a $15 federal minimum wage, universal single payer healthcare, increases in social security benefits, and re-establishing and modernizing labor unions. It should also naturally include sane and almost universally supported police reform, including demilitarization, prosecution of crooked cops, and repealing qualified immunity to ease personal liability restrictions that protect dirty cops.
It will also involve, crucially, hiring more police officers not fewer. This would drive progressives apoplectic but after a few seconds of reflection, you see it would vastly reduce burnout and enable police to develop actual relationships with their communities.
Or you can say ACAB and subject vulnerable people to rampant crime while you’re in your ivory tower. Abolish them and we can have a totally unaccountable private mercenary force. Maybe Bezos will start AmazonCops.
The advantages of this simple platform? The issues with an exception or two are incredibly popular across the board: whites, minorities, Democratic voters, Republican voters, MAGA, DSA, Bernie Sanders voters, virtually everyone.
And they work.
So, which way will it be? Do we stick to a strategy that hasn’t worked, and has never worked? They’ve been trying since Berkeley in the 60s.
Or we can move beyond left and right — stick to what will materially benefit all workers, the poor, and the middle class — and go up.