Thursday, June 9, 2016

A Trump Win the Best Possible Outcome?

I'm definitely an odd choice to be writing a piece like this, which departs somewhat from the usual focus of this blog. This article makes the case that a particular outcome in the presidential contest could yield results that strengthen and thus preserve the two-party system and I'm one who doesn't believe in either the two-party system or liberal democracy or the state. It wouldn't be right to call this devil's advocacy, since I'm not really advocating anything. This is more in the nature of a counterargument to a popular narrative being pushed throughout the press by supporters of Hillary Clinton's presidential candidacy, a narrative I expect will only become more prominent as the presidential race proceeds. Anyway...


The two-party system in the U.S. is, like much of American "democracy" itself, a farce but while that joke is often a cruel one for those who naively believe in it, history makes crystal clear that one of the things that's even worse than a two-party system is a one-party state. Within the battered, degraded framework of liberal democracy, parties with power don't just need a strong opposition party, they need a credible one to act as a persistent challenge and a genuine threat to their continuing rule. Without this, they become stagnant, intellectually lazy, remote from people and their concerns--exceedingly bad qualities for rulers--and liberal democracy itself starts to topple over into something much worse. And since entirely throwing off rulers--my own preferred course of action--doesn't, at the moment, appear to be in the cards, one should consider what would produce the best possible outcome from the unfortunate alternatives immediately before us.

The general election in November is going to be a Donald Trump vs. Hillary Clinton contest. Democrats engage in an extraordinary amount of fear-mongering regarding Trump and, indeed, there's much to fear in the short term. Trump is an incompetent clown, an unbalanced, even dangerous authoritarian who doesn't know anything about anything and has all the wrong impulses. Whereas Clinton is a conventional corrupt politician whose administration would be marked by divisiveness, bad decision-making, cynical political triangulation, stagnation, a Nixonian level of secrecy and an enthusiasm for foreign adventurism, Trump promises an administration full of torture, the crushing of civil liberties, international belligerence and perpetual hubris by the leader. No one could responsibly vote for him and no one of good conscience will. But in spite of all this, the best possible outcome of a Clinton/Trump contest, from a long-term perspective, would still arguably be a Trump victory.

Nationally, the Republican party has become the Fox News/Limbaugh/Beck/Breitbart party. In blunt talk, a cancer on the nation. Trump's success is the latest culmination of trends that have been brewing for decades; in the most powerful liberal democracy in the world, a protofascist strongman character has now been chosen as the standard-bearer for one of the major parties. Trump isn't, to be clear, the problem. He's just a symptom. Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio, the other two major candidates in this year's crowded Republican field, were playing to the same crowd, trying to out-reactionary the front-runner. The conservatives in the race--Jeb Bush, John Kasich, etc.--couldn't get the time of day, though they were the ones who actually represented the larger Republican voting bloc. This Republican party is no longer a credible opposition party. It's a party that, in its present form, needs to die and be replaced, either by a new party or by a risen-from-the-ashes-radically-reformed Republican party, a party that doesn't resemble the one Trump currently leads.

Fortunately, its demise is already underway. The GOP is currently looking at a demographic tsunami that, in the coming decades, threatens to wash it away for good. The days of a major national political party gearing its appeal only to to old white male reactionaries are likely very nearly over. Without major reform, including a radical shift to the left, the party is facing reduction to a regional player, a pair (or more) of irrelevant third-parties at the national level. And on its current course, that's exactly the fate it has earned.

But in politics, as in life (don't you love how I hit those cliche's?), it's sometimes a bit more complicated than population trends.[1]

It isn't exactly news that there's very little popular support for the far-right policies presently embraced by the Republican party. The amount of polling to which Americans are subjected is extraordinary and shuffling through it, one is hard-pressed to find a single issue of major import on which an overwhelming majority  doesn't hold a liberal view. It's a liberal nation. The Republican party tries to hold on to what power it has by gaming the system--gerrymandering congressional districts, attacking campaign finance reform efforts, voter suppression schemes, etc.--but it has amassed a ridiculously disproportionate share of power in the first place merely by virtue of being the only game in town when it comes to expressing dissatisfaction with an incumbent. If people hate an incumbent enough but are, on election day, given only one alternative, they're willing to grant that alternative an extraordinary amount of leeway, sometimes supporting candidates they wouldn't, under normal circumstances, even consider. For the moment, the GOP's nut-right-ness and the public distaste for same isn't, in itself, enough to reliably lead to significant reform of that party.

A presidency led by Clinton--for a quarter-century, one of the right's major hate-figures--certainly wouldn't spur any reform. It would just serve as yet another rallying-point for the reactionaries, a boon to the Breitbarts, Fox Newses, Rush Limbaughs. Because Clinton is, at heart, a rightist, her rule would also divide Democrats in the face of that rally. "Party loyalty" bullshit would come into play and we'd have some Democrats actually defending an array of indefensible rightest policies carried out or attempted by Clinton while Repubs rage against them, siding with the public.

Theoretically, this could become a hook on which Repubs could hang that shift to the left they so desperately need and if that happened, it would be a positive development. History, unfortunately, hasn't been very kind to the prospects for that. To cite but one example, those of my age grew up with the GOP as the hardcore warmonger party, one that scorns diplomacy as the work of pathetic wimps and appeasers and who wishes to turn to military force as the first, last and nearly only solution to any international problem. And that's still pretty much what it is but when the Bill Clinton administration bombed the Balkans, those same Repubs elites suddenly became born-again peaceniks. Then when Bush Jr. became president, they reverted right back to warmongering savages. That leads into another prominent example: during the Bush Jr. administration, Republican  elites seemed ready to simply flush the Bill of Rights in the name of the War On Terror[tm], denouncing as vile traitors anyone who expressed any misgivings about the repressive authoritarian state being constructed by the regime. Then when Obama, the Democrat, became president and continued many of those same policies, they dramatically reversed course and started denouncing them--exactly the same policies--as fundamental threats to the liberties of the republic (some of the footage of these sorts of reversals by Fox News hosts is particularly hilarious). In these and more other cases than can be easily counted, these Repubs elites were never really opposed to the questionable policies; they were just opposed to those carrying them out. Rather than simply conceding they were delighted that the policies they favored were being continued by the other party, they made a cynical show of opposing said policies just to try to monkeywrench that other party. The odds of the current leading voices in the party using the rightist policies of a Hillary Clinton administration as a hook around which to make a genuine, rather than merely feigned, pivot to the left have to be ranked alongside the odds of a Beatles reunion. But they would play at it and doing so would benefit them and help keep the current party alive without any actual reform, while the policies of a Hillary Clinton administration would, by association, only further tarnish the Democratic brand.[2]

No one worthy of being taken seriously could deny a Trump presidency would be much worse than a Clinton one. The checks and balances worked into the federal government would box in many of Trump's worst excesses, a point that is, shall we say, underemphasized by many of those who fear-monger over the prospect of such a presidency. Still, a president is extremely powerful--in the U.S., the single most powerful man in the world--and it would be a mistake to too severely minimize one's estimate of the amount of mischief he could cause. No matter who ultimately wins though, the next president's reign will be short-lived--almost guaranteed to be one-term-and-gone. Both candidates are already hated by most Americans. Clinton's favorability ratings have been in decline for years. People know Clinton. They don't like her. That isn't going to change. Trump hasn't been in politics for long but his favorability ratings have, with the exception of his initial boost when he rose to Repub front-runner, stayed both flat and in the cellar--hated by a large majority since the second he threw his hat into the ring. Neither he nor Clinton have a popular presidency in them. Or a good one. Among other things, the next chief executive will preside over an economic recession. Nothing can be done to stop it--that's just the boom-and-bust cycle of capitalism--and despite this, the public will, as usual, blame the party in office for it. It would be better to let the current Republicans take the fall. Clinton is of the 8-year incumbent party then stretched, if she's elected, to a 12-year one, with all the negative consequences I've been describing. She would, of course, run for reelection and Demo voters would back her, locking out the left again and virtually guaranteeing a win by the Repub party--the unreconstructed Repub party, probably led by something even worse than Trump (as difficult a task as it can be to get a third term for an incumbent party, a 4th one simply wouldn't happen except under some extraordinary circumstance).

The fate of congress will also be decided by who wins this presidency. Republicans hold the House of Representatives today solely because of massive gerrymandering in several blue states. The party in the White House always suffers losses in both the U.S. congressional midterm cycles and in elections at the local level. The Democratic party has been utterly devastated at the local level during Obama's tenure, a trend that would continue under Clinton.[3] It's better if it's the GOP running the executive branch and losing that ground, particularly in 2020, because that's when the census will be held and the officials elected that year will be the ones responsible for the subsequent redistricting in the states. If they're Democrats, they can undo the Repub gerrymandering. If Clinton win the White House this year, it will almost certainly be Repubs doing the redistricting, locking themselves into a gamed majority in the House right on through at least 2032 (while, by 2020, Demos will be having trouble electing dog-catchers).[4] That gamed majority is a major impediment to reform in the GOP. Republicans are ensconced in safe districts and don't have to fear challenge by the other party. Instead, they fear being primaried by some reactionary in their own party who thinks they aren't reactionary enough. All the pressure is being applied against reform and toward going as hard-right as possible at all times.

Until fairly recently, Repubs, as the conservative party, have enjoyed another structural advantage: they serve America's entrenched Big Money interests. This kept them well-financed for decades but more recently, Democrats, faced with, among other things, the decline in unions (and consequent decline in union dollars for Democratic campaigns), have started playing in that same rancid sewer, many of the party's elected officials moving well to the right of voters in order to suck up to those same interests. Hillary Clinton was one of the "New Democrat" vanguard when it came to this. It has proven fairly successful too, if one measures "success" only by how much Big Money can be hoovered up. The most extraordinary development of the current presidential cycle is that the Bernie Sanders campaign has dramatically put a stake through the basic lie at the heart of that entire way of doing business. Running a campaign fueled almost entirely by small donations from ordinary people, Sanders was not only able to remain competitive against a candidate who had the support of the entire party Establishment, the Democratic donor base and, I'd, add, most of the corporate press, he actually outraised Clinton through much of the race. The lesson: Democrats don't have to walk all over liberal principles and wallow in that sewer in order to electorally survive. Support is there if they want it and are willing to represent people instead of Big Money. Let the Repubs suck up all that corrupt money and ask people which they prefer.

Trump gears his appeal almost entirely to a hard-right faction that is a minority even within the Repub voting bloc. His protofascism genuinely divides conservatives, which is another of those extraordinary phenomena of this campaign. When it comes to seeming inevitabilities, death and taxes have been joined, for years, by Repub leaders lockstepping on nearly everything of any real significance. Trump breaks that and divides them. A Trump presidency would be like rocket-fuel in accelerating that party's immolation.

Democrats, on the other hand, would, upon losing, finally have to face the fact that Clintonism, "New Democrat"-ism and all the rest of these move-Democrats-to-the-right-isms are finally and for all time dead.

Well, one would hope. Democrats have proven remarkably resistant to learning the proper lessons from their defeats. Their party Establishment, which guides them in such things, is a corrupt gang of self-interested incompetents and grafters--politically, a bunch of lazy, fear-mongering pussies who, when they do anything besides trying to hold on to their own cushy positions, stick to halfheartedly defending past accomplishments instead of advancing any agenda for a future. They need to be gone. Yesterday. A Clinton loss isn't necessarily a magic bullet that will break them but it would be a step in the right direction. They certainly aren't going anywhere soon if Clinton wins. In that scenario, that disgusting Establishment clique, those who did everything they could to foist that weak horror-show of a candidate on America, will see all their dirty dealings to that end vindicated, their rule of the party confirmed at a time when it least deserves to be and the lessons of the Sanders campaign will be cast aside as quickly as possible if they have anything to say about it.

It doesn't have to be that way. The constituency Sanders tapped and the movement that coalesced around his candidacy is still out there. It could move into the vacuum created by a Clinton loss and take over the Democratic party. Democrats could take matters into their own hands and simply remove from the equation the party Establishment, which would already be badly damaged and discredited. Instead of abandoning the public and moving ever rightward in order to sell themselves to Big Money, Democratic candidates can cultivate a constituency of regular folks and serve it. If Clinton should go down in flames in November, all the pieces are there.

So taking the long view, one could certainly argue the best possible outcome of a Clinton/Trump general is a Trump win. A Trump presidency wouldn't be a lot of fun to endure but it would become the rock upon which the Republican party in its present form is finally broken and provide the impetus for both its rebirth and a major reform of the Democratic party.

Heaven help us. Now, I need a shower.

--j.

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[1] And sometimes--big caveat--it isn't.

[2] When I point that out, it's strictly by way of noting the likely public reaction to the party. My opinion of both the party apparatus and its elected officials could theoretically be lower but that would take some work.

[3] A strong presidential candidate can have electoral coattails that aid downballot Democratic candidates. Unfortunately, Clinton as the presidential standard-bearer this year will likely mean Demos lose even more ground in elections around the U.S. in November.

[4] It's also quite possible that Republicans could capture enough state legislatures to begin adding all sorts of horrors to the constitution itself. Democratic losses in recent years have meant they're already well on their way to the 38 needed for this.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Associated Press Tries To Decide the Democratic Contest [Updated Below]

June Surprise Dept. - As the presidential primary season winds down, the corporate press just couldn't resist giving Hillary Clinton one more gift. Last night, the Associated Press, in an exercise in journalistic malpractice that stands out as extraordinary even for this campaign, chose the eve of the last six big Democratic primary contests to declare Clinton the "presumptive nominee" of the Democratic party. The AP reached this conclusion by canvassing the party superdelegates and finding a sufficient number of them willing to express an initial preference for Clinton to put her over the threshold for victory. The tv news channels dutifully plastered the story all over the airwaves last night.

This comes just as Clinton was facing the prospect of ending the primary season with an embarrassing loss to challenger Bernie Sanders in massive California. The initial single-paragraph AP story was released at 5:20 p.m. Pacific time--just in time to make the evening news in California and the prime-time news shows in the East--with the full story appearing at 8:24 p.m. Pacific and its effect can only be to suppress the pro-Sanders turnout in California and in the five other states voting today. The AP's language is celebratory pomposity:
"Striding into history, Hillary Clinton will become the first woman to top the presidential ticket of a major U.S. political party, capturing commitments Monday from the number of delegates needed to win the Democratic nomination.

"Clinton's rise to presumptive nominee arrived nearly eight years to the day after she conceded her first White House campaign to Barack Obama. Back then, she famously noted her inability to 'shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling.'

"Campaigning this time as the loyal successor to the nation's first black president, Clinton held off a surprisingly strong challenge from Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders. He mobilized millions with a fervently liberal message and his insurgent candidacy revealed a deep level of national frustration with politics-as-usual, even among Democrats who have controlled the White House since 2009.

"The former secretary of state, New York senator and first lady reached the 2,383 delegates needed to become the presumptive Democratic nominee on Monday with a decisive weekend victory in Puerto Rico and a burst of last-minute support from superdelegates."
All hail the conquering queen, eh? The wording of that last paragraph is misleading; Clinton actually won Puerto Rico on Saturday, not Monday, and it didn't put her over the top.

And neither did anything else. Clinching the Democratic nomination requires 2,383 delegates; as of now, Clinton only has 1,812 to Sanders' 1,521. The party insiders designated as superdelegates--the ones the AP now asserts have put Clinton over the top--haven't, in fact, voted yet and won't until the Democratic convention at the end of July. They're free to change their mind at any point between now and then. News Reviews has covered the corporate press's ubiquitous practice of including the superdelegates in nearly every accounting of the Democratic race. As this writer noted in March,
"Regardless of their initial preferences, the supers have always come to back the candidate who wins the primary process and, indeed, practically speaking, they simply have no other choice; if voters chose one candidate and the supers chose, instead, to make the loser the nominee, the party would implode."
The supers represent the party Establishment. Including them in the delegate count is not only a case of pro-Establishment bias, it seriously distorts the state of the race and, by extension, the race itself. Clinton was represented as already having a lead of hundreds of delegates before a single vote had even been cast. Throughout the process, the press applied the supers to the delegate count to make her lead, which has actually been rather small, appear insurmountable. Bombarding the public with this on a daily basis has made it look as if Sanders has no chance of winning, with all the accompanying effects of this perception on the ongoing election. It's the corporate press acting as an arm of the Clinton campaign, pimping that campaign's carefully cultivated narrative of her inevitability. The AP story from last night is the culmination of this sorry trend, one last intervention to help the conquering queen stride into history.

This superdelegate nonsense is, of course, only one of the infinity of ways in which the press has kept its collective thumb on the scales on Clinton's behalf. The coverage has, by and large, been a scandal, so one-sidedly pro-Clinton and anti-Sanders as to be comical. At first, Sanders' candidacy was almost entirely ignored. What coverage he did receive ranged from dismissive to openly hostile. The New York Daily News reflected the general tone when it called Sanders "a fantasist who's at passionate war with reality." When interviewed by the New York Times Magazine, he was asked, "Do you think it's fair that Hillary's hair gets a lot more scrutiny than yours does?" ABC News was running "news reports" on the Democratic race every night that were practically indistinguishable from Clinton campaign ads. In 16 hours leading up to the ever-important Michigan primary, the Washington Post ran 16 anti-Sanders stories. When they realized a positive story about Sanders' legislative record somehow made it onto the New York Times website, Times editors took it down, rewrote it in order to turn it into an anti-Sanders hit-piece then republished it, without ever indicating they'd made any changes at all. The Post ran a hard-hitting piece of investigative journalism wherein Philip Bump asserted that Sanders was lying when he was forever saying the average donation to his campaign is $27. Bump crunched the numbers and discovered that the actual average contribution is--wait for it--$29.14. Only yesterday, as Sanders took questions in California, a New York Times reporter actually asked if Sanders was "sexist" for running against Clinton, thus perhaps getting in the way of her becoming the first woman elected president.[1] While entirely consistent with the narrative offered by Clinton and her surrogates--that virtually any criticism of the candidate amounts to "sexism"--that ain't journalism. That particular (and particularly scurrilous) charge has only gotten worse as the campaign has continued (if there was another month to the primary season, Clinton's surrogates would be accusing Sanders of being a sexist for merely existing).[2] And on and on and on.

If you're one who subscribes to the Cult of Objectivity in journalism and thinks the news media are supposed to present the news in any sort of unbiased manner, you're appalled by what the AP did last night. Likewise, if you're one who thinks it isn't the job of the press to decide our political contests, you find the AP's actions both deplorable and indefensible. This writer must admit to being of a somewhat divided mind on all of this. I'm a radical. I don't believe in liberal democracy, not the U.S. version or any other permutation. My view is that the entire ball of wax is, fundamentally, a preposterous fraud and watching things like this, I'll confess part of me just wants to sit back and laugh at everyone who takes it seriously and thinks they have any real say in the matter. I have little use for the Cult of Objectivity; I'm a strong advocate of a press that stands up for the public and afflicts the powerful, exactly the opposite of the corporate press that exists now. My view on this is arguably anachronistic, an at-best-quaint 18th century idealization of what a news media should be. Our modern press is just another Big Money interest. It doesn't just stand up for the powerful, it's among them. For this element, no left candidate will ever be acceptable and every measure to defeat and destroy any who appear will be. The actions of the AP are deplorable. The rest of the press in repeating them are deplorable. Part of me just laughs but another, that bigger part that reacts with disgust at powerful interests who manipulate people to their own benefit, often to the harm of the people themselves, is compelled to rage against it. All of it. Maybe I'm just a chump.

--j.

---

[1] Though it parroted the AP story, the Times did raise an eyebrow about it, noting that "the timing of the A.P. alert... was unusual, coming on the eve of six primaries, including the big states of New Jersey and California on Tuesday."

[2] Throughout the campaign, Clinton surrogates constantly deployed a noxious smear against Sanders supporters, portraying them as frat-boy misogynists--"Bernie Bros." This was debunked almost immediately but has continued to ubiquitously circulate in discussions of the campaign, despite being just a repackaged smear from 2008 (when Obama's supporters opposed to Clinton were accused of being the frat-boy misogynists and labeled "Obama Boys").


Postscript: This year, Bernie Sanders attempted something that, while always theoretically possible, isn't, from a practical standpoint, particularly doable, a successful presidential campaign that represented and was financed by the public, rather than a handful of powerful interests. I've been impressed with how far he's been able to get--it's extraordinary, really. Consider this: Sanders' views reflect those of not only the overwhelming majority of the Democratic party but the overwhelming majority of the public and even, on many issues, of Republicans. He has the highest favorability of anyone in the race. He does far better than his opponent against Republican candidate Donald Trump. Yet it's Hillary Clinton, presently despised by 56% of the public, who is on her way to becoming the Democratic nominee. Stepping back further, Clinton and Trump are two of the most despised presidential candidates on record, both hated by huge majorities of Americans, yet if they sew up their respective nominations and no independent candidate appears, one of them is going to be elected President of the United States in November. Can there be any worse an indictment of American liberal democracy than the fact that, with a far better outcome available, these are the results it yields?


UPDATE (Wed., 8 June) - The final California polls were all showing a statistical tie, with the trend being Sanders rising and Clinton falling. This attempt by the press to call the contest before it happened had the expected result. turnout in CA crashed and Clinton won the state by over 12%, a margin over twice what even Nate Silver's pro-Clinton weighting system predicted (Silver had Clinton winning by only 5.1%).

To put that 12+% margin in context, the Real Clear Politics polling average goes back to mid-March and at no point from then until yesterday did Clinton had that dramatic a lead. The best she'd ever managed was a hair over 10% way back in April. The final polls in RCP's database all had the race at 2%. Huffpost Pollster had it even tighter over the last few months--from mid-March until yesterday, it had been a single-digit race (Huffpost uses some of the same polls as RCP, so there's some overlap).

Google reports that 3,442,623 voters participated in the California primary. This compares with 4,794,846 who participated in the last contested Democratic primary in 2008. This primary season, it should be said, has regularly featured much lower turnout than the often-record-setting 2008. How much the early call contributed to this we'll probably never know--it isn't something the corporate press are going to be particularly interested in investigating--but the polling evidence certainly suggests the effect was dramatic.