Dark and Dystopian Entertainment

Dystopian and utopian stories come and go in popularity. But this present moment is dominated by the dystopian variety, for understandable reasons.

As GenXers, we grew up on post-apocalyptic movies along with other dark and demented entertainment-visions. It was the slowing down of the Cold War during our childhood. But fears of nuclear war were in still in the air. And the sense of doom lingered. The End of History with the end of the Soviet Union simply ramped up anxiety further. It led into a decade of school shootings and homegrown terrorism, such as the Oklahoma City bombing and the the last killing spree of the Unabomber, with a new threatening crisis following after that about every decade: 9/11 terrorist attack, 2008 recession, and now 2020 pandemic.

In the childhood of Generation X, there was an innocence to the idea of civilizational collapse. Even war was something that happened elsewhere, as no foreign power had yet attacked the United States mainland. The dark bent of public imagination mired in a post-Vietnam malaise did make for a less than optimistic mood in that era, but those post-apocalyptic movies were often playful and over-the-top, like The Road Warrior (1981) and Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome (1985). It was letting off steam that had built up from decades of Cold War paranoia and anxiety. Besides, the American imperial hegemony stood all-powerful, as the Soviet regime wound down into irrelevance and then disappeared. Amidst American greatness, doomsday entertainment could be taken as safe escapism.

Nonetheless, it may have led to a demented fantasy life for children growing up in it, an entire generation often thought of as cynical in adulthood. There was the beginning of a sense of decline back then, that America was somehow no longer as great as it once had been. The post-world war new car smell had faded. The economy was heading downward in the 1970s, as violent crime shot upward. This led to moral panic involving weird conspiracy theories embraced by the mainstream — like child molestation rings operating out of childcare centers and satanic cults abducting children for sacrifice. Some innocent people got caught up in the hysteria and were prosecuted and imprisoned based on the manipulated testimony of children. The line between fantasy and reality became blurred.

It was a strange time. Besides post-apocalyptic movies, there were all kinds of violent Vietnam War movies and horror movies featuring children as victims, demonically-possessed, monsters, psychopaths, violent punks, and devil worshippers. Even superficially patriotic movies like the Rambo movies (First Blood, 1982) gave expression to a sense of rot in America, that the government had failed. And as late as 1984, a movie like Red Dawn could still be made about the Soviet Union invading the United States. This is the entertainment GenX grew up on.

It felt different as American society moved into the 1990s, even if new fears replaced the old, such as a focus on technology in stories like The Matrix (1999). For the younger generation, the partisan culture wars were tiresome and posed no existential threat, no matter how shrill the right-wing screamed. Because real threats were hard to find, the Christian right turned to End Times fantasies, such as the first Left Behind movie in 2000. That turned out to be perfect timing with an Evangelical as president when Islamic terrorists attacked the United States — President Bush declared a “Crusade” and that gave a boner to fundies all across the land. Rather than fear apocalypse, many of these Christian lunatics have longed for the end of the world. Even their support for Israel has been inspired by the belief that the Temple must be rebuilt so that Jesus can return with a flaming sword of destruction.

The reality of American decline, though, is less dramatic. Even now in this global pandemic, the average person’s experience is boredom as we wait it out. It’s hard to imagine this as the first of the Four Horsemen, named Pestilence. As pandemics go, it is rather minor. It was the same with the 2008 recession, as the federal government intervened to bail out big biz and big banks in order to prop up the economy once again, albeit the economic problems were merely delayed and have been growing worse. Fear has been muted, even when the threats are real and looming. This era of gloom is hard to put one’s finger on, a general sense of unease or what some call floating anxiety. Even President Donald Trump as aspiring dictator and emperor is rather pathetic as compared to previous authoritarian leaders in the Western world, although his being elected at all is disturbing.

There is growing anxiety and it is seen in our entertainment choices. Dystopian novels were rising in popularity with the election of Trump. And that probably boosted Trump’s ego knowing that many Americans thought so highly of his prospects. There was already an interest in dystopian visions of America with The Hunger Games movies (the first in 2012), and that interest is even more intense now. Over the past years, numerous highly watched television series have come out that portray dark visions of alternative Americas: Amazon’s The Man In the High Castle (2015-2019), Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale (2017-2020) with a planned second series based on the novel Testaments, and HBO’s Plot Against America (2020-).

As for alternative Americas, there is also the recently released Motherland: Fort Salem from the Freeform network. In that world, the persecution of witches ended several centuries ago and the result was a matriarchal society. Still, it’s not exactly a utopian narrative. There are central themes about conflict and exploitation. And it has plenty of violence, including horrific terrorism. It might turn out to be a decent addition to the rest, but so far it’s not clear it’s of the same high quality.

They keep making this kind of entertainment giving voice to a troubled society. Apparently, there is a large audience for it. In another genre, there are also other less-than-happy portrayals of alternative Americas such as The Dark Knight (2008) movies and the X-Men movies (2000-), or even bleaker the Watchmen movie (2009) and HBO series (2019). More generally speaking, the Harry Potter movies (2001-2011) along with USA’s The Purge (2018-) and HBO’s Game of Thrones (2011-2019), Westworld (2016-), and His Dark Materials (2019-) also give hint to underlying fears in our society about authoritarianism, corruption, political failure, and impending doom. Another series HBO almost made was Confederate about the South having won the Civil War and so probably would have been another story of a fascist America.

There is a theory that, during hard times, people are attracted to escapist fantasy. Some famous examples of this during the Great Depression were Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), King Kong (1933), The Invisible Man (1933), and The Bride of Frankenstein (1935). That isn’t what we are getting right now, particularly not  The Wizard of Oz (1939). There is no present equivalent to a movie like that. There is no sense that we can click our heels and return home.

There is something else that is different right now. It’s not only the large number of dystopian entertainment, from post-apocalyptic to alternative history. It is increasingly mainstream. There have always been lots of movies in this genre, but we are seeing more and more series than was the case in the past. Some of these series are prestige shows with large financial backing. There is noting schlocky about them and they aren’t being presented as niche genre entertainment. They are popular shows that are being watched by people who don’t necessarily otherwise seek out speculative fiction.

This is a different historical moment. These shows are being made in a highly realistic manner and they are ambitious. Their intention is to be taken seriously and, in the times we find ourselves, they are being taken seriously. But it isn’t only about President Trump as an aspiring tyrant. Consider that the first seasons of The Man in the High Castle came out under the Obama Administration, as did the initial entry in The Hunger Games film series. A sense of dread about where society is heading has been growing for decades now. It’s now hitting a fever pitch, but that fever is a symptom of the disease, not its cause.

The infection began long ago and the disease has progressed without notice. The danger of dystopias is that they can be self-righteously comforting in making us think we know who the bad guys are. And as with white middle class feminists unconsciously wielding privilege, we can too easily learn the wrong lesson from a show like The Handmaid’s Tale, in not recognizing our own complicity. It’s not like being bottlefed on dystopian nightmares helped GenX to fight the system and stop the slow but methodical authoritarian takeover. If anything, it more powerfully inured our minds to the worsening conditions, not only with cynicism and apathy but moreso a numbed disconnection from the banality of evil, the creeping nature of worse becoming worse — such as being led along by the chains of lesser evil voting that made greater evil inevitable.

Dystopian entertainment, in its exaggerations and caricatures, can blind us to the evil already around us. It makes one wonder what it all means. The growing popularity of dystopias may not mean the public is waking up, no matter how nice it would be to believe we finally might begin to groggily open our eyes to the morning light piercing our nightmares. New generations are being raised on this mainstreaming of dystopia, not only in summer flicks but hyper-realistic dramas that go on for years and so becoming deeply embedded within the psyche. It forms the background of the collective imagination, for good or ill.

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Let’s explore some further historical background to entertainment in the horror and dystopian genres.

As the Second World War came to an end, there was the baby boom and so a renewed focus on the young. The cover article of Parents’ Magazine, in January 1950, declared that, “Because in the next 10 years the United States will have a record child population, we are now entering upon what can well be termed the Children’s Decade” (quoted in the abstract of Andrew Scahill’s It Takes a Child to Raze a Village: Demonizing Youth Rebellion). A new generation of children offered not only hope but fear as well. “During the Cold War crisis, children’s bodies became the primary symbolic battlegrounds for political ideology” (Andrew Scahill, The Revolting Child in Horror Cinema). In both the United States and the Soviet Union, children were seen as targets of propaganda and so entry points of alien or corrupting forces.

There had been concern about youths gone wrong far back in history with moral panic rising in reaction to the mass urbanization and technological changes in the late colonial era (Technological Fears and Media Panics). So, children had increasingly become symbols of uncertainty and anxiety. Along with an emergent idealization of childhood, there was an ideological motivation to control children, as the ideal clashed with harsh realities. This underlying tension finally boiled to the surface with the under-parented Lost Generation of children working in factories and roaming in street gangs, although juvenile delinquency didn’t became a society-wide obsession until the 1940s and 1950s. The concern grew worse in the following decades. “Dixon notes that Rhoda in “The Bad Seed” was the first mainstream demon child, but the trope really took off with the 1960 British science fiction film “Village of the Damned” and the sequel “Children of the Damned,” in which a mysterious force impregnates all the women villagers simultaneously” (Douglas J. Rowe, Evil children chill moviegoers).

By the 1970s and 1980s, as another generation was coming onto the scene, it felt like the world was going to hell. Besides the peak of a violent crime wave, it was the period of economic recession and austerity, of farm crisis and AIDS crisis, of the final clashes of the Cold War and the lingering threat of nuclear catastrophe. “I’m a child of the ’80s,” writes David Sirota, “and I was deeply impacted by that decade and that pop culture — and for many reasons, that pop culture is back in a lot of ways. So I started thinking about why it’s back — and some of it is Hollywood laziness, some of it is coincidence — but it’s really kind of eerie, too, with the crisis at the Japanese nuclear power plant happening; you know, the last time that kind of thing was happening was at Chernobyl and Three Mile Island, in the ’80s. So there’s a real zeitgeist of the ’80s returning” (from Jef Otte’s interview, David Sirota on Back to Our Future, Ghostbusters and the decade of “me”; see Back to Our Future: David Sirota on the 80s). There is also the fact that GenXers and their older siblings, the late Boomers, who were shaped by that era are now the majority of parents of youth and producers of entertainment.

Still, it’s the Fifties that must be given credit for giving birth to a particular strain of filmographic fear, and there were social circumstances to explain what went wrong. “While the media frequently portrayed teens as a monstrous threat to the stability of American society, these films show the teen as monster to be a creation of a corrupt adult world. If the teenager is vindicated in many horror films, mom does not come off so well” (Cyndy Hendershot, I was a Cold War Monster, p. 5). Yet, “In many of these films, the father is absent or bamboozled by his precious prince or princess; it”s left to the mother to come to the slow, horrifying realization about her offspring” (Douglas J. Rowe, Evil children chill moviegoers). In either case, it was a failure of adult authority figures, often the parents but also a sense of societal corruption in general.

Even when children were portrayed as dangerous, they often were also framed as victims and casualties of post-war changes or Cold War dangers. “With strong antecedents in the late 1950s (The Bad Seed, Village/Children of the Damned, The Lord of the Flies), the figuration of the revolting child—and specifically the child collective—is best understood as a Cold War monster. Indeed, […] public investment in the “good democratic child” and public outrage over the “juvenile delinquent” loomed large on the U.S. consciousness” (Andrew Scahill, It takes a child to raze a village: demonizing youth rebellion, p. 2). From a Fifties newspaper article, in reporting on the “Children’s Decade”, it was argued that all of society’s resources needed to be invested in children, as much out of fear as of loving concern: “The disturbed, hostile and rebellious child is a danger to himself and to the community, and a poor risk as a future citizen” (George Hecht, Today Is Termed Children’s Decade; Their Needs Cited, Madera Tribune, Number 75, 29 April 1952). “Beneath the insistence on creating a positive and healthy environment to foster children’s individual growth and social development was a concern over the nation’s future” (Daniel Gomes, “Sissy” Boys and “Unhappy” Girls: Childrearing During the Cold War). Childhood was the site of existential crisis.

There was something different, though, in the late Cold War era when horror movies fully went mainstream. Instead of the sins of the father and mother falling upon the next generation, it became more common for fictionalized children and youth to be made into something else entirely, ever more monstrous and alien. Youth culture was becoming its own force that diverged further and further from the adult world. This led to unsettling movies like the 1979 Over the Edge about juvenile delinquents running rampant and turning violent that shaped many minds of that generation of youth. “While somewhat raw and certainly not without imperfections, it’s easy to understand why Kurt Cobain claimed that the movie “pretty much defined my whole personality,” and why it so heavily influenced Richard Linklater in making his own ode to restless youth, Dazed and Confused” (Mike Sacks, Over the Edge).

Even so, most horrifying movies of that era didn’t put on a pretense of realism. That is what feels different about present entertainment. Movies and shows are so much higher quality in terms of special effects, script writing, and acting. It’s much bigger business these days and the profits are so much higher. Oddly, this has led to an increased popularity of gritty realism. Even alternative histories like The Man in the High Castle are made to be quite compelling in creating a plausible world that is fleshed out in great detail. Another difference is that the obsession with youth culture has completely changed in tone. In present speculative narratives of the dark bent, the younger generations are no longer demonized and made into scapegoats. Instead, when not simply ignored, they are heroes on a hero’s journey, rebellious fighters against oppression, and saviors of humanity.

We fantasize about the younger generation undoing our failures and making the world right again. At least, there is an acknowledgement of something being amiss and that someone had better do something about it. But what is our society supposed to do as GenZ reaches adulthood and they no longer are innocent children upon which we can project our failed aspirations? How are the young supposed to reverse centuries of damage to the environment, worsening inequality, and growing authoritarianism? Anyway, isn’t this rather convenient? Instead of doing the hard work right now, we can simply make and watch entertainment about alternative worlds and future worlds where fictional people do what needs to be done in fighting for a more just world.

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Other examples of dark entertainment from the past couple of decades:

  • Children of Men (2006)
  • The Road (2009)
  • Dark Angel (2000-2002)
  • Jeremiah (2002-2004)
  • Battlestar Galactica (2004-2009)
  • Jericho (2006-2008)
  • The Walking Dead (2010-)
  • The Leftovers (2014-2017)
  • The 100 (2014-)
  • Colony (2016-2018)
  • 3% (2016-)
  • Black Mirror (2011-)
  • The Twilight Zone (2019-)

Articles of interest:

The US writers who imagined a fascist future
by Sarah Churchwell

Uneasy About the Future, Readers Turn to Dystopian Classics
by Alexandra Alter

Field Notes on Fascism: Four Novel Revivals, One Theme
by Harvey A. Schwartz

The creeping fascism of American literature
by Adi Robertson

Dystopian novels are dominating best-seller lists
by Michael Miner

Dystopian Fiction Finds New Meaning In The Age Of Trump
by Ben Barna

Why Even the Worst Alternate Universes Can Feel Like Safe Spaces
by Liz Shannon Miller

The Plots Against America
by Matt Gallagher

The Handmaid’s Tale TV Series Isn’t Revelatory, But Unfortunately It Doesn’t Need to Be
by Katharine Trendacosta

A Cunning Confection, and Some Food for Thought: A Review of The Hunger Games
by Gary Westfahl

Dear Television: I Can’t Handle Another Prestige Drama About America as a Fascist Dystopia
by Chelsea Steiner

The Future Ain’t What It Used To Be
by Evan Kindley

Disaster Capitalism Causes Disasters

Many have wondered why some places have been hit hard by the pandemic (Spain, Italy, New York, etc) whereas others still are barely affected. Some likely factors are public transportation, population density, and multiple generation households. Socioeconomic conditions and probably inequality also is involved, as poverty correlates with higher rates of immunological compromise and dysfunction because of stress, food deserts, parasite load, lack of healthcare, and such.

Air pollution, for example, increases asthma which is a major comorbidity of COVID-19. And, of course, poor areas tend to have far worse air pollution, not to mention heavy metal toxicity from old paint and pipes, toxic soil from old factories, and toxic waste dumps. But it turns out that the virus SARS-CoV-2 can also be carried by air pollution particles: Ron Brackett reports that, “Air samples were collected at two sites in Bergamo province in northern Italy’s Lombardy region, the area of the country hit hardest by the pandemic. Testing found a gene highly specific to COVID-19 in multiple samples from the province, one of the most polluted in Italy” (Researchers Find Coronavirus on Pollution Particles). That might be another explanation for why dense urban areas like New York City could worsen infection and death rates.

Consider the example of Italy (Conn Hallinan, How Austerity and Anti-Immigrant Politics Left Italy Exposed; & John Buell, Disaster Capitalism and the Real Culprit in the Italian Covid-19 Catastrophe). Since the 2008 recession, the number of Italians in extreme poverty has doubled which no puts it at more than 10% of the population (Eva Pastorelli & Andrea Stocchiero, Inequalities in Italy) with another 6.8% barely above poverty (Federico Razetti, Poor, scarcely poor and almost poor: what’s going on in Italy?) — combined together, that equates to around 10 million Italians, which is more than the entire population of New York City. Bergamo province is in northern Italy. Even worst poverty is found further south, the location of 70% of the poor (Michael Huang, 10 Facts About Poverty In Italy That Everyone Should Know).

Two of the countries most devastated by COVID-19 are Italy and Spain, both of which have suffered from high rates of poverty combined with economic austerity. As in the United States, it’s the most impoverished and underprivileged who bear the brunt. Shockingly, in New York City, almost half the population is at or near the poverty level with one in five fully in poverty (NYC Opportunity, Poverty in NYC). Although NYC poverty has dropped slightly, inequality remains as high as ever (Elizabeth Kim, NYC Poverty Level Drops To Record Lows, But Income Inequality Persists). It’s unsurprising that such immense poverty and inequality crippled the public health response in such places and specifically harmed those worse off, such as seen in Spain (Guy Hedgecoe, In Spain, austerity legacy cripples coronavirus fight; Brais Fernandez, Spain’s Hospitals Have Suffered Death by a Thousand Cuts; & Stephen Burgen, Poor and vulnerable hardest hit by pandemic in Spain). Such pandemic inequality has been seen all across the United States with poor minorities hit the hardest.

For a combination of reasons, the poor are hit hardest and specifically where poverty is concentrated and exacerbated by high inequality. And this pandemic will only worsen poverty and inequality, unless we demand reforms that are both democratic and progressive. But if we let disaster capitalism run rampant, it will bring on further disasters.

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Austerity in the Age of COVID-19: A Match Made in Hell?
by Paul Rogers

The Impact of COVID-19 Is All Down to Inequality
by Mariano Aguirre

How austerity measures hurt the COVID-19 response
by Cristina Fominaya

As Coronavirus Deepens Inequality, Inequality Worsens Its Spread
by Max Fisher and Emma Bubola

The coronavirus pandemic is already increasing inequality
by Steve Schifferes

Covid-19 shows why tackling inequality benefits everyone
by Han Fook Kwang

The pandemic strengthens the case for universal basic income
by Ishaan Tharoor

The Pandemic Now And Going Into The Future

“I think people haven’t understood that this isn’t about the next couple of weeks. This is about the next two years.”
~Michael Osterholm, infectious-disease epidemiologist at the University of Minnesota

“Everyone wants to know when this will end. That’s not the right question. The right question is: How do we continue?”
~Devi Sridhar, public-health expert at the University of Edinburgh

A week ago, the highest daily Covid-19 death count for the US was more than 2,000. Now it reached over 4,500 over the past day. That is an expected exponential increase. And that is with strong measures like lockdowns taken place across the country. When doing a recount by adding in all deaths now known, China increased their Wuhan deaths by 50%. That is probably true in many places where hospitals were overwhelmed and many died without medical care.

This isn’t to imply China was necessarily being deceptive in covering up the real numbers. For a while now, medical staff in the US have said the same thing about hospitals here underreporting Covid-19 deaths. Healthcare worker deaths may also be higher. In another article, there was shared the photographs and stories of some of these people who died while helping others. I noticed that all of them looked overweight, indicating metabolic syndrome which is one of the main comorbidities.

By the way, one expert talks about five stages for the pandemic. We are in the second phase which is mitigation following the initial containment. After that will be another period of containment while we wait for a vaccine, other treatments, and improved lab testing. That could take us into next year, but the economy will begin to restart during this time.

As communities begin to open up again, the government will have to become very strict, systematic, and targeted in quarantining the infected. Cleaning and disinfection of public places will become a priority, as will the use of protective gear. The fourth stage comes when we have a vaccine, assuming we get one in the relatively near future. The hope is to be in a more advanced situation of containment before a second wave of infections might hit in the fall.

With everything reasonably under control, we end with the last stage where we assess the situation, determine successes and failures, and then prepare for the next pandemic. That means making pandemic preparation central to national security.

This situation, of course, has long term consequences. Donald Trump being president exacerbates this. Even before the pandemic, his actions as leader were driving a wedge between the US and its allies. Many foreign governments were seeing the US as no longer trustworthy and reliable. Trump’s attacking and defunding the WHO, if somewhat deserved, has further undermined US authority — specifically among the G7. The US might never recover its position in the world. This might be the end of US hegemony.

Now most likely Trump will be re-elected. So four more years of more of the same, precisely at the moment when confidence has been shaken in national leadership and the federal government. The main promise Trump made was that he would make the American economy great again, but now it will be in shambles. All his scapegoating will only go so far. While Americans suffer, people will want actions and reform, not snarky blame games for political gain.

For years and maybe decades to come, we might not only be recovering from the pandemic and all that is related to it but a more general sense of decline and malaise, if not further catastrophes that become existential crises. If we are to enter a re-building phase, it’s going to require entirely new leadership in both of the main parties. We can hope for an era of large-scale reform that will transform our society, but it’s hard to see hope at the moment.

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Some articles of interest:

Some Thoughts On Thinking Critically In Times Of Uncertainty, And The Trap of Lopsided Skepticism: Coronaspiracy Theory Edition
by Denise Minger

In case you didn’t notice, the cyber-world (and its 3D counterpart, I assume, but we’re not allowed to venture there anymore) is currently a hot mess of Who and what do we believe? This is zero percent surprising. Official agencies have handled COVID-19 with the all grace of a three-legged elephant—waffling between the virus being under control/not under control/OMG millions dead/wait no 60,000/let’s pack the churches on Easter!/naw, lockdown-til-August/face masks do nothing/face masks do something, but healthcare workers need them more/FACE MASKS FOR EVERY FACE RIGHT NOW PLEASE AND THANK YOU/oh no a tiger got the ‘rona!; on and on. It’s dizzying. Maddening. The opposite of confidence-instilling. And as a very predictable result, guerrilla journalism has grown to fill the void left by those who’ve failed to tell us, with any believability, what’s going on.

Exercising our investigative rights is usually a good thing. You guys know me. I’m all about questioning established narratives and digging into the forces that crafted them. It’s literally my life. Good things happen when we flex our thinking muscle, and nothing we’re told should be immune to scrutiny.

But there’s a shadow side here, too—what I’ll henceforth refer to as “lopsided skepticism.” This is what happens when we question established narratives… but not the non-established ones. More specifically, when we go so hog wild ripping apart The Official Story that we somehow have no skepticism left over for all the new stuff we’re replacing it with.

And that, my friends, is exactly what’s happening right now.

The dangerous conservative campaign against expertise
by Michael Gerson

Motivated reasoning is usually just tiresome. At its worst, it can be dangerous. Sometimes drawing the wrong lesson badly obscures a right and necessary lesson. Sometimes the interpretation of a crisis is so dramatically mistaken, so ludicrous and imprudent, that it can worsen the crisis itself.

Such is the case with conservatives who look at the coronavirus outbreak and see, of all things, the discrediting of experts and expertise. In this view, the failures of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have brought the whole profession into disrepute. The judgments of health professionals have often been no better than the folk wisdom of the Internet. The pandemic is not only further proof of the fallibility of insiders; it has revealed the inherent inaccessibility of medical truth. All of us, scientists and nonscientists, are walking blindly on the same misty moor and may stumble on medical insights.

This argument assumes an intellectual fog that is just lifting. Though we are still relatively early in the pandemic, this much seems clear: The medical experts recommended aggressive social distancing to bend the curve of infections and deaths downward. Americans generally trusted the experts. By all the evidence, aggressive social distancing is bending the curve of infections and deaths downward. And places that were earliest and most aggressive in this approach have seen the best results.

This outcome doesn’t strike me as murky. It is difficult to see how experts whose advice clearly saved tens of thousands of lives can be called discredited. It is easy, however, to see how making this false claim might undermine public adherence to their advice, which still matters greatly in the crisis.

Our Pandemic Summer
by Ed Yong

If it turns out that, say, 20 percent of the U.S. has been infected, that would mean the coronavirus is more transmissible but less deadly than scientists think. It would also mean that a reasonable proportion of the country has some immunity. If that proportion could be slowly and safely raised to the level necessary for herd immunity—60 to 80 percent, depending on the virus’s transmissibility—the U.S. might not need to wait for a vaccine. However, if just 1 to 5 percent of the population has been infected—the range that many researchers think is likelier—that would mean “this is a truly devastating virus, and we have built up no real population immunity,” said Michael Mina, an epidemiologist and immunologist at Harvard. “Then we’re in dire straits in terms of how to move forward.”

Even in the optimistic scenario, a quick and complete return to normalcy would be ill-advised. And even in the pessimistic scenario, controlling future outbreaks should still be possible, but only through an immense public-health effort. Epidemiologists would need to run diagnostic tests on anyone with COVID-19–like symptoms, quarantine infected people, trace everyone those people had contact with in the previous week or so, and either quarantine those contacts or test them too. These are the standard pillars of public health, but they’re complicated by the coronavirus’s ability to spread for days before causing symptoms. Every infected person has a lot of potential contacts, and may have unknowingly infected many of them.

The Pandemic Will Cleave America in Two
by Joe Pinsker

When someone dies, there are three ways to think about what caused it, according to Scott Frank, a professor at Case Western Reserve University’s School of Medicine. The first is the straightforward, “medical” cause of death—diagnosable things like heart disease or cancer. The second is the “actual” cause of death—that is, the habits and behaviors that over time contributed to the medical cause of death, such as smoking cigarettes or being physically inactive. The third is what Frank refers to as the “actual actual” cause of death—the bigger, society-wide forces that shaped those habits and behaviors.

In one analysis of deaths in the U.S. resulting from “social factors” (Frank’s “actual actual” causes), the top culprits were poverty, low levels of education, and racial segregation. “Each of these has been demonstrated to have independent effects on chronic-disease mortality and morbidity,” Frank said. (Morbidity refers to whether someone has a certain disease.) He expects that the same patterns will hold for COVID-19.

To begin with, the physical effects of COVID-19 are far worse for some people than others. There are two traits that seem to matter most. The first is age. Older people are at greater risk of experiencing the more devastating version of the pandemic, in part because the immune system weakens with age. Early data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicate that, in the U.S., the risk of dying from the disease begins to climb at around age 55, and is especially acute for those 85 and older. “I think the pattern we’re going to see clearly is an age-related pattern” of mortality, Andrew Noymer, a public-health professor at UC Irvine, said. (Younger people aren’t invulnerable to the disease, though; the CDC found in mid-March that 20-to-54-year-olds had accounted for almost 40 percent of hospitalizations known to have been caused by the disease.

The second trait that puts someone at increased risk is having a serious health condition such as diabetes, heart disease, or lung disease. These conditions seem to make cases of COVID-19 more likely to be severe or fatal, and the risks rise considerably for older adults who have any of these conditions, Frank told me.

But while everyone ages, rich and poor alike, these health conditions are not evenly distributed throughout the population. They’re more common among people with less education, less money, and less access to health care. “We know these social and economic conditions have a profound effect on chronic disease,” Frank said, “and then chronic disease has a profound effect on the mortality related to COVID.”

We Need a Left-Wing Understanding of Fake News

The subtitle of HBO’s documentary After Truth is “Disinformation and the Cost of Fake News”. It’s a worthy topic, but this was not a worthy take on it. Many well known examples of fake news were covered and that was fine as far as it went. Right-wingers complain that it was biased, even that it was fake news. I’m a little more sympathetic to the selection of news stories used because it is simply a fact that the political right has gone crazy in recent decades. Nothing detailed in After Truth was entirely false, something even many critics of the documentary admitted. The focus simply was narrow and intentionally so to hew closely to the ‘mainstream’ narrative.

That isn’t to say the corporate media giants don’t push their own fake news, but I’d simply point that just because the corporate media is to the left of far right extremist bullshit does not mean they are left-wing propaganda. The likes of CNN and MSNBC, NYT and WaPo regularly defend the interests of corporations, beat the war drums for the military empire, and openly attack anyone who is even moderately progressive. If that is left-wing propaganda, God help us! I might be fine with calling all of the corporate media fake news, if not in the way that most reactionary right-wingers would be comfortable to admitting.

In being superficial, the documentary was deceptive more by omission. Historical context, as always, is needed. First off, some of the leading lights of the American founding generation were masters at fake news. Benjamin Franklin stands out and he was devious, a role model for propagandists ever since. Fake news is not a new phenomenon. More recently, there is the FBI and CIA pushing propaganda campaigns over the past century, such as simultaneously promoting conspiracies to muddy the water and attacking alternative views as “conspiracy theory” — as shown in publicly released government documents (see last linked post below).

Left-wingers have analyzed fake news for a long time. Fake news isn’t a false accusation because the news media does lie, distort, and propagandize. Other corporations and private interests sometimes even pay news outlets to produce series of stories with a particular spin. The main political parties have operatives in the corporate media that they use to attack opponents, control public perception, and win elections. Intelligence agencies around the world have a long history of using news media, as with entertainment media, to propagandize.

None of that is mentioned in After Truth, not even in passing. There is a good reason so many Americans are paranoid, a good reason so few Americans trust the government and media. There has been generations of betrayal by those in positions of authority, power, and influence. It’s not only that some right-wing fringe has fallen into the Dark Triad for the shadow of this moral failure and corrupt complicity has fallen upon the entire ruling elite and their minions. The reason conspiracy theories proliferate is because conspiracies dominate and everyone knows this is true, even if in our discomfort we pretend otherwise.

Here is the thing about conspiracy theories. They typically have a kernel of truth. That is what makes them compelling. This is true even of the most crazy of stories spun in the paranoid mind. In After Truth, Pizzagate is prominent and the conspiracy behind it was all about pedophiles ruling the world. But the fact of the matter is that the past decades have shown how widespread is pedophilia among the those who hold power over us, from Catholic priests to the major figures connected to Jeffrey Epstein, or go back to the pedophile ring covered up by British politicians and police over a period of decades. Rather than a kernel of truth, that is a several hundred ton boulder of truth with an avalanche following behind it.

There is another kind of truth that gets lost in all of the arguments and counter-arguments. It’s not simply about objectively provable facts. What conspiracy theory touches upon is the entire system of lies and deceit in how it affects us psychologically and sociologically. This is the deeper truth that conspiracy theories touch upon. Consider a different case from the documentary, the Jade Helm 15 training exercise the military conducted in some Texas small towns.

From a purely factual perspective, the conspiracy theories about Jade Helm 15 were pure lunacy and some of them really far out there. One amusing angle had to do with closed Walmarts, about which there was much wild-eyed and fearful conjecture. The military was using them to stockpile weapons for Chinese troops who would disarm Americans. Maybe they were guerrilla-warfare staging areas, processing facilities, and FEMA camps. Or what about the tunnel systems connecting the empty Walmart buildings for covert movements of who knows what. Why doesn’t the Soros-owned Zionist media ever tell you about the tunnels?

This is the reactionary right-wing fantasies that fill the vacuum of the ignorance created by our society, by the failed (or, depending on the purpose, successful) education system, corporate media, and all the rest. It’s also been a failure of the political left that has the knowledge and analysis to explain what has gone so wrong in our society, but has failed to communicate this to those who most need it. Instead of seeking to inform those who have been intentionally deceived, the righteous left has instead too often attacked and mocked them.

What happened to the strong political left that spoke to the working class? Earlier last century, a leftist understanding of social and economic problems was much more widespread among the masses, even in the Deep South. The loss of that kind of understanding has left a vacuum that has often been filled by the worst kind of conspiracy theory. In the past, leftist critique and conspiracy theory went hand in hand, as it was understood that corrupted power regularly conspired. Respectable leftists used to take it as their purpose and responsibility to explain those very much real conspiracies.

Think about the military exercise and Walmarts. It intuitively captures an important truth, that the neocon war machine and the neoliberal corporatocracy are two sides of the same threat to a free society, that they are joined through deep state and inverted totalitarianism, and that this threat is not only statist but global. We shouldn’t be so quick to dismiss the conspiracy mentality as dark and demented fantasizing. The underlying intuition needs to be respected, acknowledged, and affirmed. Ridiculing people does not help, especially as the corporate media really is gaslighting them and gaslighting us all. What we need more than ever is a meaningful left-wing response, in offering the insight and meaning that people so crave after a lifetime of being deceived and disinformed.

As a society, we have yet to seriously talk about fake news and where it comes from. Until we do, the likes of Alex Jones and Donald Trump will take advantage of this failure and they will use it to push dangerous agendas. We on the political left need to find a way to be heard more widely, to speak in a simple and compelling way. We need new narratives that capture the imagination and make sense of what everyone intuitively senses as true.

* * *

Related to fake news, see my previous posts on conspiracy theory and propaganda:

Conspiracy Theory And Fact
Skepticism and Conspiracy
Powerful Conspiracies & Open Secrets
A Culture of Propaganda

Pick Your Poison

“‘We are the United States of Amnesia,’ said Gore Vidal in 2004. These days, it’s more the United States of Dementia. In 2020, the country seems determined to choose between two elderly men who, it is fair to say, are some distance from sanity.”
~Freddy Gray, Biden vs Trump: may the craziest man win!

“A top Democrat with a prior presidential campaign predicted last year to me that the general would pit “the nice old guy with Alzheimer’s against the mean old man with dementia.””
~Marc Caputo, Twitter

“Voters are going to see Joe Biden in what I think can only be called mental decline and they are going to wonder if he should be in charge of the nuclear arsenal. And the fact that Trump is also in clear mental decline, that’s not exactly reassuring.”
~Jeremy Scahill, We Need To Talk About Joe

“The two people most likely to control the U.S nuclear arsenal, and with it the capacity to blow up civilization, through January 2025 are both well into their 70s and facing pervasive public speculation that they are becoming senile.”
~John F. Harris, 2020 Becomes the Dementia Campaign

Here we are. The presidential election has come down to two main candidates, Donald Trump and Joe Biden. They are white guys, filthy rich and very old*. They’ve spent their lives as corrupt plutocrats and now, as rapidly aging senior citizens, they are not only holding onto power over society but grasping for even more power.

Even if they weren’t morally unfit, no one could honestly argue that they’re not mentally unfit. Each has clear signs of cognitive decline, possibly dementia. I’m not being mean-spirited or ageist. There are many old people who maintain their full cognitive abilities. Elizabeth Warren, for example, comes across as someone decades younger. And Bernie Sanders, even with other health problems, remains mentally sharp. I’ve listened to old interviews and speeches of Biden and Trump. Both of them used to be capable of speaking coherently and intelligently — yes, even Trump.

If that wasn’t bad enough, each has a history of racism, calls for authoritarian law and order, and accusations against them of sexual assault — to name their greatest sins. These older generations are becoming ever more reactionary and right-wing with every passing year, and these two old white guys were already pretty damn far right decades ago — consider their support of tough-on-crime laws (Political Super-Predators). This at a time when for decades the majority of Americans has turned hard left, leaving both parties far to the right of public opinion. How do we call this representative democracy? How do we not call this insanity?

“In this upcoming election, women are very likely going to find themselves with a choice of voting for either Joe Biden or Donald Trump. Both of those men have been accused of sexual assault.”
~Jennifer Wright, When Will We Get To Vote For A President Who Hasn’t Been Accused Of Sexual Assault?

“Three years after the #MeToo movement told survivors our experiences were speakable, we now have the right to choose between two men accused of sexual assault and harassment — and the rumored carrot for the Democrats’ guy is that he might choose an alleged workplace abuser … who is a woman!!!! Girl power!!! Forgive me if the roars of support I’m now obliged to affect get stuck in my throat.”
~Melissa Batchelor Warnkey, Opinion: I will vote for Joe Biden in November. And it will kill me

“It looks like the only non-, sort of heavy socialist, he is being taken care of pretty well by the socialists. They got to him. Our former vice president. I was going to call him — I don’t know him well. I was gonna say, ‘Welcome to the world, Joe. Are you having a good time, Joe? Are you having a good time?’”
~Donald Trump, speech at a National Republican Congressional Committee dinner

About politics as a horse race, which of these old nags will drag itself across the finishing line first? Earlier, we would’ve said that Trump had the advantage over someone like Biden, as the economy was doing well at the time. Like many others, we assumed it all rode on the economy, as Trump bet everything on that issue. But also like many others, we knew the economy was weak and unstable, ready to take a tumble at any moment.

Eventually, the economy would fall into a depression and there would be a reset. It could happen tomorrow or years from now. The plutocrats in both parties have been trying to delay the inevitable. Even Democrats don’t want to face the economic reality, even it meant a massive slump that would hand them the election. But at some point, it will be irrelevant what anyone wants.

That is where the Covid-19 pandemic comes in. It’s also something experts have been predicting for a long time, yet another inevitability. It is hitting at an interesting time, right at the height of campaign season in the year leading up to the election. A third of the economy has shut down with a likely result of massive number of small business bankruptcies and closures, even if another great depression doesn’t hit right away. Also, among the lower class and lower working class, more than half of that population is out of work.

Suddenly, the message of the political left has more traction than ever before. Going by the polls, most Americans have long wanted major political, economic, and healthcare reforms. But the ruling elite had managed to shut down public debate with both parties working together to attack the political left. The silencing is no longer effective and the demand for change is undeniable.

Yet we are stuck with two right-wing candidates in a one-party state. It’s a strange situation. Lesser evil voting becomes more meaningless with every election, as somehow the supposedly lesser evil keeps getting more evil. How are we supposed to be certain which evil is lesser? And how is any evil supposed to inspire victory and somehow magically lead to the greater good? Promoting evil, even lesser evil, muddies the water and simply further strengthens evil — imagine that!

This helped Trump win the last election. But now he is flailing with the public health crisis. As someone who knows how to manipulate situations to his advantage, he seems to have entirely lost the narrative. And he just went on a lunatic tirade declaring himself emperor of America (Stephen Collinson and Maeve Reston, Trump rages at criticism while governors craft their own plans to reopen the economy). For all of his impotent decrees, he has no way to get the economy back up and running again. So, his favorability rating was predictably dropping. It’s likely to get even worse for him over the coming months as the full consequences of the situation become clear.

On the other hand, he is running against the weakest Democratic candidate in recent history. For all of president Cheetoh’s severe mental health issues, Sleepy Joe’s senior moments are far more extreme. For this entire campaign season, Biden has been a political non-entity, an empty suit on stage. In the middle of a pandemic and retired from public office, he has no role to play nor any way to campaign in a normal fashion.

It’s unclear if Biden will be able to remain coherent in a one-on-one debate with Trump (Catherine Armecin, Donald Trump Will Beat Joe Biden, ‘Eat Him Alive,’ Joe Rogan Predicts). If nothing else, Trump is brilliant in going after someone’s weaknesses. He also has a talent for handling the media. As for Biden, his handlers have mostly been hiding him from the public and media, afraid of what words might come out of his mouth. Eventually, Biden will have to come out of hiding and it won’t end well. Given half a chance, Trump will eat Biden alive.

To make it even more interesting, Covid-19 will further spread into the political class. One or both of these candidates is likely to become infected over this next year. Neither is close to being at peak health. Even if Covid-19 didn’t kill one or both of them which it could, they might still suffer serious health deterioration and ongoing health concerns, as is common among patients who recover from severe bouts. If nothing else, it would exemplify the risk of putting up for office the oldest candidates in American history.

It’s a complete gamble of what could happen at this point. This election might as well be decided by a coin toss. Both Biden and Trump are politically out of touch with the American people and mentally disconnected from shared reality. No matter which candidate wins, it will be a loss for the American public and American society. And in our country having become a banana republic, the political system is so rigged that more capable leaders can’t rise to the top. The demand for progressivism, kissing cousin of populism, is coming from the bottom-up and this actually gives Trump the advantage.

Strangely, Trump is more likely to offer progressive reforms than Biden, even as he is also more likely to push authoritarian measures — the two historically haven’t always been opposite and I might add that the economic nationalism, a pillar of old school progressivism, has been a position held by Trump for decades as evidenced in videos of him from the 1980s and 1990s. Biden, on the other hand, will simply be a puppet for his fascist masters, as both a war hawk and a deficit hawk. This is what has made it easy for Trump to attack Biden from the political left, in criticizing Biden for his tough-on-crime policies and his repeated attempts to cuts Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ benefits. It was by running to Hillary Clinton’s left on key issues that he beat her.

We are stuck with a choice of bad and worse with it not being clear which is which. Pick your poison, if you feel you must, but do so with open eyes. In either case, America will continue to be poisoned. As previously argued, we will get progressivism, one way or another. But will it be a genuine progressivism of hope or faux progressivism of reaction? Democrats can block the strong demand for justice and fairness from the progressive left. What they can’t deny, though, is the surge for progressivism across the political spectrum. Attacking the political left, as they’ve done, will only further strengthen the far right.

“There is only one choice in this election. The consolidation of oligarchic power under Donald Trump or the consolidation of oligarchic power under Joe Biden. The oligarchs, with Trump or Biden, will win again. We will lose.”
~Chris Hedges, If It’s Biden vs. Trump, This Year’s One-Choice Election Will Be for Oligarchy

“If I go out today and advocate electing as U.S. president the neocon, corporatist, safety-net slashing, longtime racist, private health insurance promoting, war mongering, emoluments taking, opponent of public college education, enemy of major wealth taxes, champion of job-destroying corporate trade agreements, opponent of any serious green new deal, . . . the first question has to be: Yeah? Which one? Which of the two?”
~David Swanson, Why You Should Never Vote for Joe Biden

“To Democrats, it may be self-evident that Joe Biden is far better than Donald Trump, and so they assume that all the bad things he has done will not matter to anyone. Any Democrat in the White House is better than Trump, I hear a lot, and I agree with it. But if you are going to make a clear and powerful case against Trump, you need to be free of the kinds of dirt that are going to muddy your case. If we’re going to point out that the president has been accused by dozens of women of inappropriate touching, we don’t want that message to come from someone who themselves has been accused of inappropriate touching (and who said they are “not sorry” for it). If we’re going to accuse the president of being reckless and warlike, we don’t want the argument being made by a candidate who pushed the most reckless war in the last several decades. If we’re going to accuse Trump of being corrupt, we don’t want a candidate who has done the bidding of the credit card companies while his son took a cushy job with them. If we’re going to call Trump out for separating families, we don’t want a candidate who deported hundreds of thousands of people themselves, and if we’re going to call Trump a racist, we don’t want a candidate who was best friends with segregationists and helped build modern racist policing and imprisonment regime. As with Hillary Clinton, Joe Biden’s record is so bad that he’s unable to effectively attack Trump on the areas where Trump is most vulnerable. This is one reason Biden has to resort to simply attacking Trump’s “character” and his “malarkey”—but as I’ve pointed out, Biden himself is of poor character and half of what comes out his mouth is malarkey! He’s exactly the sort of corrupt, sleazy insider politician D.C. is full of, and who we need to get rid of if we’re going to advance the cause of justice.”
~Nathan J. Robinson, Democrats, You Really Do Not Want To Nominate Joe Biden

“So as of right now it’s Trump versus Biden. An incompetent plutocrat president selling himself as an anti-establishment people’s champion while simultaneously advancing garden variety Republican sociopathy, versus a warmongering authoritarian who is too demented to string a coherent sentence together and who is looking more and more credibly to be a rapist.
“Needless to say, this is absolute bullshit.
“How did we get here? How did we get to the point where the electoral contest to run the most powerful government on the planet is between a racist demented right-wing authoritarian warmongering rapist and another racist demented right-wing authoritarian warmongering rapist? How in the hell did this bullshit happen?”
~Caitlin Johnstone, This Absolute Bullshit Would Not Be Possible Without Propaganda

—–

* Some argue that there has never been a president from the Silent Generation. The generations before them had members elected to the presidency. Boomers have had presidents. And even GenXers arguably had Barack Obama, although it depends on where one begins GenX and, even then, barely as he was right on the edge.

We’re not sure we’d agree with this assessment. Trump was born in 1946 and the supposed last year of Silents was 1945. But those cut-off points are arbitrary. His life experience overlaps much with younger Silents. Our father is a Silent and our mother is so close to it that she identifies as a Silent. For those who spent most of their youth in the 1940s and 1950s, it doesn’t make sense to call them Boomers.

Biden is only a few years older than Trump and he is definitely a Silent. These two, Trump and Biden, were born and grew up in the same basic historical moment. It’s probably why they have so much in common, such as their law-and-order, tough-on-crime support of a military and police state. They also both exhibit the casual racism and obtuse white male privilege more typical of that generation.

In that case, the Silents did finally get themselves into the presidency. And it is Trump who represents them. But then again, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush were also born in 1946. It’s interesting that all of these first wave Boomers, first year actually, have so much in common with late wave Silents like Biden. As with Trump’s similarities to Biden, Clinton and Dubyah also were white males with that old school assumed privilege and casual racism, not to mention the whole law-and-order schtick.

Despite being from different parties, all four of these rich old white guys have more in common than not. But whatever generation one wants to call them, they came from a drastically different world than the youngest Boomers who mostly grew up with GenXers in the same post-60s culture, violent crime wave, and high childhood lead toxicity rates. So, if we accept this breakdown, the Silent Generation already has had three presidents with one more now hoping to get his chance.

—–

Biden vs Trump: may the craziest man win!
by Freddy Gray

Joe Biden is Demented Racist Shark Food
by Paul Street

Biden’s Delusion About American History
by Miles Howard

Will Joe Biden’s political record come back to haunt him?
from BBC

Joe Biden’s history of austerity
by Ryan Cooper

Joe Biden’s Long Career as a Deficit Hawk Will Come Back to Bite Him
by Jordan Weissmann

WATCH: Joe Biden Once Boasted About Wanting to Cut Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and Veterans’ Benefits
by Walker Bragman

Why Joe Biden’s Social Security Record Matters
by Nancy Altman

Joe Biden falsely claims he never called for Social Security cuts
by Hunter Walker

Joe Biden Can’t Outrun His Record on Social Security
by Alex Lawson

Biden Says He Won’t Cut Social Security, but His Track Record Shows Otherwise
by Sean Williams

The burden of a 40-year career: Some of Joe Biden’s record doesn’t age well
by Janet Hook

Fact Check: Joe Biden Has Advocated Cutting Social Security For 40 Years
by Ryan Grim

Joe Biden Tried to Cut Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for 40 Years
by Branko Marcetic

Biden Says He’s the Workers’ Candidate, But He Has Worked To Cut Medicare and Social Security
by Branko Marcetic

Biden’s record on social security and Medicare is a big liability
by Subir Grewal

Campaign season means ‘law and order.’ Can we break the habit?
by Mary C. Curtis

Before He Was America’s Wacky Uncle, Joe Biden Was a Tough-on-Crime Hardliner
by Patrick Caldwell

Biden Won’t Say If He Still Stands By His Crime Bill’s Ban on Pell Grants for Prisoners
by Madison Pauly

Would Joe Biden Put His Son In Prison For Doing Coke?
by Shane Bauer

On Criminal Justice, Biden Has No Moral Standing Over Trump
by Zak Cheney-Rice

Trump Attacks Biden on Drug Policy From the Left
by Jacob Sullum

Trump Was Tougher on Crime in His 2000 Book Than Biden Was in 1994
by John A. Tures

Will Black Voters Still Love Biden When They Remember Who He Was?
by Eric Levitz

Joe Biden’s Greatest Strength Is His Greatest Vulnerability
by Clare Malone

Joe Biden is losing his glow
by Roxanne Jones

Joe Biden Is Not Helping
by Jamil Smith

Where Is Joe?
by Nathan J. Robinson

Does Anyone Remember Joe Biden?
by Dan McLaughlin

Poll: Biden’s National Lead Over Trump Disappears
by Jazz Shaw

Why did a Social Democrat make himself a target by calling himself a Democratic Socialist?

In 2016 Bernie Sanders declared himself a Democratic Socialist, and in doing so assured he’d never be president. The issue, then as now, was the “S-word.” Why would you label yourself a Socialist if you want to run for office in America?
Especially – and this part is key – if you aren’t one?
~Winter Smith

My suspicion is that Bernie Sanders never planned on winning. Either he didn’t think he could win or didn’t want to win. So, he purposely created a self-defeating campaign. Even when attacked, he would not attack back in kind or even strongly defend himself. He simply placed himself on the altar as sacrifice to the DNC gods.

Maybe he figured he never had a chance and that, no matter what he said, he was going to be attacked as a socialist. So, he decided to embrace it as rhetoric to push the Overton Window back to the left. To be fair, if not for his last campaign, there would be now far less political and public debate about many of the issues and policies he ran on.

If that was his only purpose, he succeeded on some basic level. But succeeded to what end? In a political situation where ideological rhetoric is already fairly meaningless, he further added to the confusion of labels. I’m not sure how that was clearly a net gain for society, particularly for the political left.

The Covid-19 pandemic, for example, has pushed us far closer to healthcare reform than Sanders could ever hope to accomplish in all of his halfhearted campaign rhetoric. And calling it socialist healthcare reform probably wouldn’t be helpful. Most Americans already supported it. The problem was the political elite that Sanders is part of and the stranglehold of the two right wings of a one-party corporatocracy.

Sanders’ ultimate accomplishment, intentional or not, has been to act as a sheepdog to bring large segments of the political left back into the neocon fold. Did his doing so pull the Clinton Democrats from the precipice of the reactionary right-wing? Has the lesser evilism become less evil? Not that I can tell.

Now Sanders has thrown his weight behind Biden, a right-wing corporatist and deficit hawk, what could be called soft fascist, and certainly the complete opposite of socialist and (small ‘d’) democrat. You can dismiss the distinctions of social democracy and democratic socialism, as Biden is the enemy of both.

Anyway, what does this accomplish? Barring Trump dying from Covid-19 or the economy collapsing, Biden is almost guaranteed to lose bigly. For what gain did Sanders sell his soul? It might help Sanders’ career in getting favors from the DNC elite, but it won’t oust Trump from power, much less give a foothold to socialism or even moderate progressivism.

“What I really knew where Bernie, I think, has really overstepped his ground here is when his own staffers are not saying that they’re on board. Briahna Joy Gray openly tweeting, all respect in the world to Bernie Sanders, but I don’t endorse Joe. Same with David Sirota. And so my question is this. If Bernie Sanders can’t even get his own staff to vote for Joe Biden or endorse Joe Biden, what are they gonna do in the election? They don’t even have that personal loyalty and fealty to Bernie the way that his staffers do right.”
~Saagar Enjeti, co-host of The Hill’s Rising

* * *

Democratic Socialism, Social Democracy, and Bernie’s Big Mistake
by Winter Smith

Who can say what he was thinking as he tattooed the S-word on his forehead? Maybe, as Merelli suggests, he wanted to shock us – and we’re certainly a nation that could do with a little shocking. And given the practical concerns of reforming the American system it mattered not whether he called himself a Social Democrat, a Democratic Socialist or an ambisexual Martian. But from the perspective of winning, though…

In c. 2016 it would have been challenging enough to win by drawing a line to your candidacy from the New Deal, but it would have been considerably easier than dealing with the line your opponents were going to draw from Stalin. This is ‘Merica and labels matter a lot more than realities, more than policies, more than voting records, and Sanders had to know this.

For the love of Roosevelt, man, just call yourself a Social Democrat!

I was baffled in 2016 and still am, and despite my support for his candidacies I have to admit to a healthy dose of frustration. Sanders is a smart guy, so why would he do something so patently self-defeating? Is he playing eight-dimensional chess and I just don’t get it? Did he want to reframe the agenda and saw a Quixotean run at the White House as the best way of doing it? To be sure, much, if not most of what defined this cycle’s Democratic campaign revolved around issues he put on the table.

But … did he ever really want to be president?

I don’t have answers, but I suspect he did more damage to his bids than his opponents did.

Et Tu, Bernie?
by Chris Hedges

Sanders, who calls himself an independent, caucuses as a Democrat. The Democratic Party determines his assignments in the Senate. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, who oversees Wall Street campaign donations to Democratic candidates, offered to make Sanders the head of the Senate Budget Committee if the Democrats won control of the Senate, in exchange for the Vermont senator’s support of Clinton and the hawkish, corporate neoliberal Democratic candidates running for the House and Senate. Sanders, swallowing whatever pride he has left, is now a loyal party apparatchik, squandering his legacy and his integrity. He routinely sends out appeals to raise money for party-selected candidates, including the 2016 Democratic senatorial candidates Katie McGinty in Pennsylvania, Maggie Hassan in New Hampshire, Ted Strickland in Ohio and Catherine Cortez Masto in Nevada. Sanders made a blanket endorsement of every Democrat running in the 2017 election, including the worst corporate Democrats.

There was about $6 million left from the Sanders campaign, and it was used to form an organization called Our Revolution in August 2016. The organization was set up ostensibly to fund and support progressive candidates. It was soon taken over by Weaver, who ensured that it was not registered as a political action committee (PAC), a group that can give money directly to campaigns. It was set up as a 501(c)(4), a group prohibited from having direct contact with candidates and giving donations directly to candidates. The 501(c)(4) status allowed it to take and mask donations from wealthy donors such as Tom Steyer. Sanders’ decision to quietly solicit contributions from the billionaire oligarchs who funded the Hillary Clinton campaign and control the Democratic Party betrayed the core promise of his campaign. Yet, even as he created a mechanism to take money from wealthy donors he continued to write at the bottom of his emails “Paid for by Bernie Sanders, not the billionaires.”

Eight of the 13 staffers of Our Revolution resigned in protest. The organization is now adding a PAC.

* * *

Here is another piece worth looking at. It’s by David Sirota, a speechwriter and senior adviser of the Sanders’ campaign. Even though Sanders took on the strong label of ‘socialist’, he did not fight strongly — not only having not fought hard for socialism but even for moderate progressivism; he simply did not fight. Sirota gives some reasons why. But more importantly he explains the negative consequences.

The Tyranny of Decorum
A look back on the 2020 primary
by David Sirota

Even though Biden at times pathologically lied about some of these facts (at one point he actually insisted he didn’t help write his own bankruptcy bill!), this record is verifiable, it is not in dispute. A group of us believed it was important for this record to be spotlighted — because it was good strategy and good for democracy.

We didn’t push Bernie to “attack” Biden in some sort of vicious way. We pushed him to instead simply and very explicitly cast the primary as a choice between a vision of progressive change, and Biden’s promise to his donors that “nothing will fundamentally change.”

To his credit, Bernie at times worked with us and embraced the strategy — and when he did, it was successful (see his Social Security contrast with Biden in Iowa, and see his contrast with Wine Cave Pete in New Hampshire).

At other times, though, the campaign backed off and did not seize opportunities to explicitly and continually spell out big differences between the candidates.

Ultimately, Biden was able to avoid having to constantly try to explain his offensive record. Instead, he was allowed to depict himself as a safe, electable “unity” candidate.

Was it fun to always be one of the people pushing the campaign to be more aggressive, and also eating shit on Twitter for supposedly being “toxic” for simply tweeting a few videos of Biden pushing some grotesquely retrograde policy? No, it was not fun. I have more gray hair and less stomach lining because I pushed. I’m no hero or a martyr, but I can tell you it was awful, excruciating and heartbreaking.

But it was necessary. […]

I am confident, however, that a stronger contrast would have at least put us in a better position to survive when Beto, Klobuchar, and Wine Cave Pete all fell in behind Biden to help him seal Super Tuesday.

In absence of a tough critique early on and with no day-to-day focus on his record, Biden was able to solidify an “electability” argument he didn’t deserve or earn.

According to exit polls, Biden was able to win the largest share of Democratic voters in 15 states who said health care was their top priority, even though a majority of Democratic voters in those states said they support replacing private insurance with a government run plan — a position Biden opposes.

Biden won Midwest states that have been ravaged by the trade deals that he himself supported.

Biden even won the most Democratic voters in 11 states who said climate was their top issue, despite his far weaker climate plan.

By the time our campaign was finally comfortable consistently making a strong case against him, it was after Super Tuesday and it was too late. […]

This attempt to scandalize policy criticism supposedly reflected heightened concerns about “electability” — the idea promoted by Democratic politicians and pundits being that sharp contrasts might weaken the eventual Democratic nominee against the existential threat of Trump.

And yet, history argues exactly the opposite — tough, brutal primaries often end up battle-testing nominees and making them stronger (see President Barack Obama). In the same way the minor leagues can prepare players for the major leagues, brutal intraparty contests subject the eventual standard-bearers to training, and they also suss out potential weaknesses at an early point when a party can still make a different nomination choice.

By contrast, primaries dominated by demands for “good decorum,” “unity” and “decency” create coronations — and coronations run the risk of creating nominees who are not adequately road-tested, and who are only publicly vetted in the high-stakes general election, well after the party could have made a different choice.

That is where we are now — a tyranny of decorum has given us a presumptive nominee whose record hasn’t been well scrutinized or challenged. […]

We’re in the midst of unpleasant, uncivil and impolite emergencies that threaten our country and our planet. A global pandemic won’t be stopped by niceties. The corporations profiting off the health care crisis won’t be thwarted with good manners. The fossil fuel giants intensifying the climate cataclysm won’t be deterred by gentility. And elections will not be won by prioritizing good decorum over everything else.

In short: preventing a real contrast and a real conflict over ideas only serves the establishment and its politicians who know that scrutiny will weaken their power to decide nomination contests and control the future.

But winning nomination contests without real vetting not only serves corporate power, it also jeopardizes that much-vaunted quality that parties claim to care so much about: general election “electability.”

jlalbrecht commented:

I enjoyed this long debrief, but you ignored the elephant in the room. Bernie constantly saying that any of his opponents – particularly Biden – could defeat Trump.

I don’t work in politics, but I’ve had my share of relationships in my not-so-short life, I’ve been running my own business and negotiating with clients for 25+ years, and I went through a 14-year VERY contentious child visitation/custody battle (that I won). No one in their right mind tells the girl they are trying to woo or the client they are trying to win that their competition can get the job done too. Bernie made a lot of tactical errors (IMHO) in his two presidential runs, but this was one of the biggest. In this primary, it would have been simple to point out that in 2016 everyone thought Clinton would win, and we saw how that turned out. Everyone except Bernie, and especially Joe Biden was running one version or another of Hillary 2.0.

I could list many other tactical errors, but will limit myself to one. Joe lying to Bernie’s face in the last debate, and Bernie not calling him out, made Bernie look weak af because it IS weak af. Saying people should look it up on YouTube and decide for themselves is not what people look for in a leader. Anyone who knew about their records had to think, “Is this how Bernie would handle Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi if he wins the WH?” Most of the viewers who didn’t know about their records would side with the guy who was lying confidently rather than the guy who was sheepishly deflecting to a third party (YouTube) and the viewer to decide for themselves if Biden was lying.

Political Super-Predators

Let’s travel back to the wondrous age of the early 1990s. The Cold War had ended and the culture wars replaced it. It was the End of History and this entailed a sense of anxiety, even moral panic. Change was in the air. One of the changes was seen in the 1970s and even more in the 1980s. A decade after that, it felt like a crisis. There had been a wave of violent crime. That led to a number of crime bills being proposed in the 1990s, although by that point the violence was on the decline, not that anyone was paying attention to such minor details.

We now know it was the result of a twenty-year lag of lead toxicity rates from the rise of post-war mass industrialization and car culture. Basically, lead fucks up brain development of the young. This results in stunted IQ combined with problems of impulse control and aggressive behavior. But the lag time comes from the results not being fully seen until the brain-damaged children reach adulthood. None of this was understood at the time, though. There was simply a sense that something had gone terribly wrong and something must be done about it.

Listen to the fear-mongering of Joe Biden from back in 1993 in his talking about criminal ‘predators’ and realize that Republicans sounded far worse at the time. It was an era of ruthless scapegoating. And reactionary authoritarianism had become bipartisan. Maybe the lead toxicity was impairing the brain functioning of old people too. Such cruel, ignorant words do sound a bit aggressive and lacking in impulse control. Here is Biden ranting:

“We have predators on our streets that society has in fact, in part because of its neglect, created…they are beyond the pale many of those people, beyond the pale. And it’s a sad commentary on society. We have no choice but to take them out of society….a cadre of young people, tens of thousands of them, born out of wedlock, without parents, without supervision, without any structure, without any conscience developing because they literally … because they literally have not been socialized, they literally have not had an opportunity….we should focus on them now….if we don’t, they will, or a portion of them, will become the predators 15 years from now.”

It was far from limited to Biden. Ignoring Republicans, other Democrats were talking this way. Bill Clinton gained power through racist dog whistles, such as his giving a public speech about the racist crime bill with black convicts chained up behind him and a Confederate/Klan memorial in the background. Even more famously, Hillary Clinton as first lady was just as dehumanizing and demonizing as Biden:

“But we also have to have an organized effort against gangs. Just as in a previous generation we had an organized effort against the mob. We need to take these people on. They are often connected to big drug cartels, they are not just gangs of kids anymore. They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators — no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first, we have to bring them to heel.”

So, who were they talking about? In early 1990s, I was in high school. That label of predators or superpredators was describing my peers, Generation X. Many people may have forgotten that time or else are too young to have any memory of it. Millennials and Zoomers might be shocked by the kind of language used about the youth back then.

They think they have it bad these days because old people make accusations that they are poor because of eating avocado toast and that smartphones have made them socially stunted. That’s nothing. Back in the day, old people thought my generation was the spawn of the Devil, ridden with soulless sociopaths. Watch some of the movies from that era. Children and youth were commonly portrayed as not only violent criminals but also as monsters, demonically possessed, and other dark fantasies.

Those old white people, Biden a Silent and Clinton a Boomer, were not only yelling at kids to get off of their lawn but to get out of their society and locked away in prisons. That is exactly what followed. It was mass incarceration that targeted the young. The United States prison population was already the largest in the world and it then grew larger still. The schools went into lockdown with security guards and metal detectors. No tolerance policies were put into place and the school-to-prison pipeline was established. Young people were enemy number one.

Here we are still ruled by these hateful neocons, cranky old white people who have become even older and crankier. They won’t just go away and die. Hillary was the last Democratic nominee for presidential candidate. And now it’s creepy Uncle Joe. Of course, Clinton lost to Donald Trump, yet another hateful neocon and cranky old white person, not to mention an old family friend of the Clintons. In that same era during a rape case, Trump pushed for the death penalty of the Central Park Five, the young minorities who turned out have been innocent.

In projecting their own sociopathy, these heartless assholes attacked others as being threatening social deviants. In the decades since that time, these narcissistic authoritarians have done far more damage to our society than all the incarcerated poor and minorities combined. If we wanted to improve the world, I have an opinion about which super-predators should be locked up. Instead, we are discussing which one of these corrupt plutocrats is the lesser evil to be put into the ultimate position of power, president of the United States. So many decades after history supposedly ended, that dark era of history still haunts us.

Generations and the Post-Pandemic World

In less than three decades, the first wave of Millennials will reach their seventies and the first wave of Gen Z will reach their fifties. That will mean the surviving GenXers will be the wise elders — a scary thought. Time moves on quickly.

Millennials have been part of the adult world for a long time at this point. And Zoomers are heading into adulthood with some of those born after the 9/11 terrorist attack now in college or already out in the workforce. Most of them don’t have any memory of the 2008 recession and those that do only vaguely. This pandemic is the first major event in GenZ life experience.

We are entering the era of the younger generations that are quickly becoming not so young. Millennials and even some older Zoomers are a significant part of young parents right now, beginning to raise the next young generation that will begin to reach teenagehood before long. And the former young generations are quickly becoming a force in politics. The age of rule by Silents and Boomers is coming to an end, if slowly.

It’s still uncertain what role GenXers will play in this transition: X = unknown quantity*. People we know in our generational cohort, GenX, have GenZ kids. One of our nieces is about to enter college and the other is still in young childhood. GenX is well into middle age and more than a few have reached the lower edge of senior citizen status, such as AARP eligibility.

As for Millennials, the first wave has already reached their early forties and will soon follow GenX into middle age. Our culture has been obsessed with Millennials, but GenZ as with their Silent forebears will probably pass into the adult world with little fanfare. It will be a gradual change, until finally the entirety of GenZ is out of high school and then out of college.

All of a sudden, there will be the newest young generation on the scene of youth culture, what a researcher for a marketing firm has called Generation Alpha** — you got to start marketing to them before most of the generation is even born. To these kids, all of the events of these past decades, even this pandemic, will be history as seen in future documentaries and movies.

In the decades to come, the aging GenXers, Millennials and Zoomers will talk about what they were doing during the Great Pandemic of 2020. And they’ll wax nostalgic about the time before it all. Donald Trump could be the last Boomer to be elected president (or is he he first and last Silent to be president?). The tragedy of the Trump administration will forever be conflated with the tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the last moment of failure that will forever taint the legacy of the older generations.

This moment we are now living through will be remembered as a turning point, after which nothing was ever the same again. To all the generations following, post-pandemic existence will be the only world they shall know.*** We are entering the new normal.

—–

* We GenXers are such an unknown quantity that some might question if we exist at all. It’s kind of Taoist to not exist, to not be noticed as significant enough for public acknowledgment. GenX is like an old gnarly tree that is useless and so isn’t worth cutting down.

The Disappearing of Generation X
by Ted Rall (text below from linked article)

Now, the internet is talking about a CBS News infographic that says zero Americans were apparently born between baby boomers and millennials. CBS listed four generations:

— The Silent Generation: Born 1928-1945 (73-90 years old)

— Baby Boomers: Born 1946-1964 (54-72 years old)

— Millennials: Born 1981-1996 (23-37 years old)

— Post-Millennials: Born 1997-present (0-21 years old)

(The so-called cusp kids born between 1961 and 1964 are demographically boomers because of high birth years. But culturally, they’re Gen X, as they share cultural touchstones with younger Americans.)

That’s right, Gen Xers: To CBS News, you’re less real and alive and important than someone who is 0 years old. So much for Gen X culture — “Reality Bites,” “Slacker,” “Singles,” “Clerks,” anything by Quentin Tarantino or Richard Linklater, pretty much all indie rock ever, alternative cartooning — oh, and the Douglas Coupland book called, um, “Generation X.” To CBS, that stuff matters less than the pee and poo and puke and drool emanating from a 0 year old.

The disappearing of Gen X is a genuine widespread trend. A New York Times op-ed by David Leonhardt discusses “The Fleecing of Millennials” by Boomers. Leonhardt attributes not only declining living standards but also the “burnout” slur as being brand-new to millennials while, in fact, both of these characterized Gen X first, decades earlier.

When you read it, it’s downright bizarre that the phrase “Generation X” never appears anywhere. Online commenters were baffled.

These days, all the conversation in the media is about the supposed stylistic differences and economic clashes between the baby-boom and millennial generations. Generation X is ignored; we don’t even get caught in the crossfire. In a recent SNL skit called “Millennial Millions,” millennials are offered prizes like free health care if they manage to shut up for 30 seconds while a boomer talks trash about them. The game show host says: “I’m Gen X. I just sit on the sidelines and watch the world burn.” I’m Gen X, so I laughed.

Being deemed irrelevant is bad enough. What will it do to our already close-to-nonexistent self-esteem to realize that everyone else in the country doesn’t even know we’re alive? […]

Anyway, Anna Sofia Martin writes, “a whopping 55 percent of startup founders are part of Gen X.” So much for slacking. Anyway, who can afford to? We Gen Xers, not millennials, were the first generation to get crushed by student loan debt. Even so, we have “31 percent of U.S. income, but just 25 percent of the population.” So latchkey kids really are having a sort of revenge.

“Masters of self-deprecation,” Martin calls us. She’s right. So, when millennials and Baby Boomers insist us on pretending that 66 million people simply don’t exist, we’re like …

What-ever.

—–

** Generational identities, in a natural sense rather than imposed by marketers, aren’t defined by outwardly observed features and polled opinions. Rather, a generation in a given society is defined by some shared experience, an experience that shaped an entire cohort early in life, that predisposes them to a mindset and pattern of behavior for the rest of their lives.

In this time of rising right-wing authoritarianism, disease pandemic, and worsening climate change, the common experience for the youngest demographic will be crisis and catastrophe. All of the problems will be exacerbated by worsening inequality of wealth, power, and resources leading to corruption and conflict.

We are entering an era of tumultuous and sometimes devastating change, likely resulting in another great depression or world war or both. The disease pandemic is particularly relevant since it is the first truly and fully global event. The youngest generation will grow up in a post-pandemic world.

Maybe they will simply be called ‘Survivors’. Hopefully, they won’t be known as the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end.

—–

*** How will this affect the youngest?

Generation C Has Nowhere to Turn
by Amanda Mull

Will Present ‘Radicalism’ Become the Future’s Moderate Centrism?

According to the media and parties owned by the plutocracy, moderately liberal GenXers like us are radicals. Yet, going by public opinion seen in polls, we ” sit squarely in the center along all these dimensions; the perfect middle child tucked into the interior of the American range of opinion and demographics” (David Dunning, At this rate, Gen X might never get to be president of the United States of America). The younger generations are even further to the left, but politics hasn’t yet caught up and won’t for a while longer, maybe not until the next decade or so.

Once enough of the long-lived Silents and Boomers exit the sphere of power and their reactionary views go with them, Millennials and Zoomers will become ever more influential, even dominant. Then maybe the many moderately and mildly liberal GenXers could be the new standard-bearers of ‘conservatism’. The divide would not be between right and left but between liberalism and progressivism, the left and further left. But it would also become a generational culture war. The large generation of Boomers, although aging rapidly, are far from being down and out.

If the younger generations prevail through sheer numbers as their percentage of the voting public rises, anything to the right of GenX-style liberalism will be right-wing extremism. And what goes for conservatism now might become a fringe view represented by impotent third parties. As we sometimes wonder, the Democrats could become the new conservative party with the Republicans returning to their progressive roots of Abraham Lincoln and Theodore Roosevelt (heck, even Nixon was more progressive than the present Clinton Democrats).

The change might already have been signaled by Donald Trump winning the election with campaign rhetoric that was economically far more progressive than that of Hillary Clinton (Old School Progressivism), even if that rhetoric was empty. Ironically, the DNC, in blocking their own progressives, still lost to the progressive vision, albeit distorted by populist anger and fear. This hasn’t stopped young Democrats from their ongoing push leftward, as ever more geriatric oligarchs are ousted from power by more youthful voices demanding left-wing policies like universal healthcare that are wildly popular.

I wouldn’t mind living in a world where a demand for core liberal rights and freedoms is considered the non-negotiable starting point, not a luxury that we might get around to sometime in the future, the bait-and-switch that the old Democrats have been playing since the New Deal ended. Admittedly, I never felt like a radical in my valuing basic human decency and my egalitarian sense of fairness and justice. It would be refreshing to live in a functioning social democracy. What a pleasant dream and I want to pause a moment just to savor it…

But all of that said, my GenX cynicism is quick to offer a warning. As with Trump, earlier right-wing reactionaries such as Adolf Hitler have used progressive rhetoric to seize power and enforce authoritarianism. As we enter an age of crisis and catastrophes, there will be many opportunities for a right-wing takeover. And when an oppressive ruling elite gains control of the police and military, it is irrelevant what most people believe and value. This youthful movement of hope could be shattered in an instant. Then again, progressivism historically has always been messy.

Still, it definitely is interesting times. No one is likely to capture the future but through progressivism. Right-wingers now have no option but to hold up their own ethno-nationalist brand of progressivism, to make America great again. This is seen with the youngest Republicans who, on some issues, are more liberal-minded than the oldest Democrats, in supporting certain policies pretty far to the left. Even if the right-wing authoritarians take over, they won’t be the neoliberals, neocons, and theocons that have caused so many problems in recent times. The right-wing will be forced to redefine itself entirely to stay relevant.

Progressivism will almost certainly be victorious in the coming decades. The question is what kind of progressivism and to what end. Progressivism has had a mixed past going back to the Whiggish history of colonial imperialism. Never doubt that reactionaries can be brilliant in co-opting anything, even the radical left-wing dreams of the young. On the other hand, we shouldn’t forget we are a country founded on a revolutionary fight against oppression. With both parties ailing, something else is on the horizon (A New Major Party). I’ll hold onto my sense of hope for as long as I can.

—–

The Coming Generation War
by Niall Ferguson and Eyck Freymann

Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is often described as a radical, but the data show that her views are close to the median for her generation. The Millennials and Generation Z—that is, Americans aged 18 to 38—are generations to whom little has been given, and of whom much is expected. Young Americans are burdened by student loans and credit-card debt. They face stagnant real wages and few opportunities to build a nest egg. Millennials’ early working lives were blighted by the financial crisis and the sluggish growth that followed. In later life, absent major changes in fiscal policy, they seem unlikely to enjoy the same kind of entitlements enjoyed by current retirees.

Under different circumstances, the under-39s might conceivably have been attracted to the entitlement-cutting ideas of the Republican Tea Party (especially if those ideas had been sincere). Instead, we have witnessed a shift to the political left by young voters on nearly every policy issue, economic and cultural alike.

As a liberal graduate student and a conservative professor, we rarely see eye to eye on politics. Yet we agree that the generation war is the best frame for understanding the ways that the Democratic and Republican parties are diverging. The Democrats are rapidly becoming the party of the young, specifically the Millennials (born between 1981 and 1996) and Gen Z (born after 1996). The Republicans are leaning ever more heavily on retirees, particularly the Silent Generation (born before 1945). In the middle are the Gen Xers (born between 1965 and 1980), who are slowly inching leftward, and the Baby Boomers (born between 1946 and 1964), who are slowly inching to the right.

This generation-based party realignment has profound implications for the future of American politics. The generational transition will not dramatically change the median voter in the 2020 election—or even in 2024, if turnout among young voters stays close to the historical average. Yet both parties are already feeling its effects, as the dominant age cohort in each party recognizes its newfound power to choose candidates and set the policy agenda. Drawing on opinion polls and financial data, and extrapolating historical trends, we think that young voters’ rendezvous with destiny will come in the mid to late 2020s. […]

If Roosevelt was right, and demographics are destiny, then the Democrats are going to inherit a windfall. Ten years from now, if current population trends hold, Gen Z and Millennials together will make up a majority of the American voting-age population. Twenty years from now, by 2039, they will represent 62 percent of all eligible voters.

If the Democrats can organize these two generations into a political bloc, the consequences could be profound. Key liberal policy priorities—universal Medicare, student-loan forgiveness, immigration reform, and even some version of the Green New Deal—would stand a decent chance of becoming law. In the interim, states that are currently deep red could turn blue. A self-identifying democratic socialist could win the presidency. […]

It is therefore unsurprising that large majorities of young voters support economic policies that Ocasio-Cortez describes as “socialist.” According to a Harvard poll, 66 percent of Gen Z supports single-payer health care. Sixty-three percent supports making public colleges and universities tuition-free. The same share supports Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal to create a federal jobs guarantee. Many Gen Z voters are not yet in the workforce, but 47 percent support a “militant and powerful labor movement.” Millennial support for these policies is lower, but only slightly.

Younger voters are also far left of center on most other economic and social policies. They are particularly opposed to the Trump administration’s handling of immigration. Americans 35 and older are nearly evenly divided on the issue of President Trump’s border wall. Among voters under 35, this is not even a question. Nearly 80 percent oppose the wall. […]

When the question is posed as an abstraction, most Gen Zers don’t trust the federal government either. But they favor big-government economic policies regardless because they believe that government is the only protection workers have against concentrated corporate power.

Philosophically, many Gen Zers and Millennials believe that government’s proper role should be as a force for social good. Among voting-age members of Gen Z, seven in 10 believe that the government “should do more to solve problems” and that it “has a responsibility to guarantee health care to all.”

Young voters are also far more willing than their elders to point to other countries as proof that the U.S. government isn’t measuring up. Gen Z voters are twice as likely to say that “there are other countries better than the U.S.” than that “America is the best country in the world.” As Ocasio-Cortez puts it: “My policies most closely resemble what we see in the U.K., in Norway, in Finland, in Sweden.” […]

Even young Republicans have been caught up in this philosophical leftward drift. Gen Z Republicans are four times as likely as Silent Generation Republicans to believe that government should do more to solve problems. And only 60 percent of Gen Z Republicans approve of Trump’s job performance, while his approval among all Republicans hovers around 90 percent.

In short, Ocasio-Cortez is neither an aberration nor a radical. She is close to the political center of America’s younger generations. […]

However, on most other issues, the demographic trend lines are clear: By the mid 2020s, if a preponderance of young voters support an issue, the Democratic Party will probably have no choice but to make it central to the platform. Today, 43 percent of self-identified Democrats are either Gen Zers or Millennials. By 2024, by our calculations, this figure might rise to 50 percent. If the Democrats are not already the party of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they will be soon. […]

In the 2020s, the Silent Generation will fade from the scene. This will happen at precisely the same time that history suggests younger, more left-wing voters will start to vote at higher rates. To attract more Boomers, and some Gen X men, the GOP may paint the Democrats as radical socialists and do all it can to fan the flames of the culture war. To avoid splintering along generational lines, Democrats will likely redouble their focus on health care, a rare issue that unites the party across all age groups.

—–

* Progressives on the political right often don’t like to be labeled progressives. Instead, they call themselves populists. But there is a Republican leadership now pushing conservative progressivism and it couldn’t be called anything else. Their actions will most likely, at least in the short term, be co-opted by the corporatocrats and inverted totalitarians. Still, it shows a change is in the air.

This was seen earlier with Steve Bannon’s economic nationalism, a pillar of old school progressivism. And indeed the rhetoric was used by Trump to gain power and ultimately used to undermine this ideological vision. Nonetheless, many of Trump’s supporters took his lies seriously and so, even if unintentionally, Trump has altered the political terrain in preparing the soil for progressive policies.

This lends further support to leftist progressives. Alliances will begin to form across party lines, as it did during the earlier Progressive Era. The corporate media and corporatist politicians don’t like to talk about how progressive policies are wildly popular across the political spectrum. The controlling interests of the bipartisan hegemony, of course, will resist this ideological shift.

The New Populist Right Imagines a Post-Pandemic America
How a new conservative thought collective is responding to the pandemic.
by Matt Stoller (text below is from linked article and a comment)

Though I’m a Democrat, the people most interested in these ideas are on the right. In late February, Senator Marco Rubio’s staff invited me to a debate over industrial policy. The question was basically, how do we handle China and its control over technology and manufacturing capacity? At the time, I noted what has now become conventional wisdom, which is that “our hospitals are critically under-sourced for things like respirators and masks, as well as chemical inputs for drugs, most of which are made in China.” But I’m just one voice of many that Rubio-world has consulted, because it’s a problem that he’s been musing over for some time.

Since 2016, the Republicans, long a party supportive of free trade with China, began changing their relationship to both China and big finance. Trump is a protectionist who loves tariffs and closing down borders. But behind him, there is a notable new thought collective of populists who pay attention to China, which includes figures like White House advisor Peter Navarro, Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson, Senators Josh Hawley, Marco Rubio, and Tom Cotton, American Compass founder Oren Cass, Rising anchor Saagar Enjeti and United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. The shift is not party-wide by any means, but it is substantial enough to massively influence policy.

This new populist thought collective includes some of the first major political figures to really get the impact of the Coronavirus, and it also includes some of the more assertive influencers of the policy debate. There is a deep streak of raw nationalism here, with Tom Cotton almost seeking great power conflict and acting reflexively hostile to multilateral institutions. But the nationalist rhetoric and jingoism of Trump can obscure a more sophisticated recognition by some people in this new populist world that the core dynamic of the China-US relationship isn’t two nation-states opposed to one another, it is an authoritarian government in China that is deeply aligned with Wall Street, against the public in both nations.

One way Rubio has tried to deal with Chinese control in the American economy is through industrial policy, meaning the explicit shaping of industrial enterprises by state financing and control. One of Rubio’s initial goals was to meet the security threat from Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant that is threatening to take over the global communications apparatus. But he’s also gone more broadly into manufacturing in general, and small business, which is a more Brandeis-style frame.

Regardless, the intellectual ferment on the right is real, and fascinating. The first fruits of this philosophical discourse is the massive SBA Paycheck Protection Program, which is a $349 billion lending program to small business negotiated with Democratic Senators. So far, the program excludes private equity-controlled corporations, and though that may change, such legislative design implies genuine skepticism of the role of high finance. That’s a significant shift from traditional Republican orthodoxy.

Joe Loiacono commented:

Matt – I’m a very strong Trump-supporting conservative and until recently saw absolutely no common ground with progressives on any subject. However, recently I have. And I agree we might be the Populist Republicans (vs Establishment.) The common ground is Anti-Trust, which is really an umbrella that in addition to monopoly prevention extends into Federal Reserve shenanigans, deficit spending and protection of small businesses.

Together we could make some very quick and impactful steps starting with the Federal Reserve. I have found common ground with hte like of Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders I would never have admitted. See the letter they wrote (still unanswered I believe) to the Federal Reserve with salient questions with respect to the Repocalypse and the hidden bailout of large banks. Big thanks to Bernie for being one Democrat to oppose TARP and to create things like the Sunshine Act. It would be yeoman’s work to identify the Senators and Reps that got the waiver for the Sunshine regulation in the CARES Act. Believe me, Populist Republicans would have none of it it they started pulling back the curtain.

19th Century Social Gospel Against Wealth Accumulation: “an anti-Christian phenomenon, a social monstrosity, and a grave political peril.”

“In a really Christian country—that is to say, in a community reconstructed upon a Christian basis—a millionaire would be an economic impossibility. Jesus Christ distinctly prohibited the accumulation of wealth. I know that expositors can prove anything, and that theologians can explain away anything. But if ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth’ does not forbid the accumulation of wealth, the New Testament was written on Talleyrand’s principle and was intended to ‘conceal thought.’”
~ Hugh Price Hughes

“More About Trusts” by R. L. Ragland
The Henderson Gold Leaf, May 14, 1891

The Rev. Mr. Kaufman says, “in Europe the desperation of the poor is fast driving men into atheism.” In the United States, says Professor R. T. Ely, “the methods of millinoaires are alienating wage-workers from Christianity.” “They cannot,” says Cardinal Gibbons, “reconcile Godliness with greed; and one sanctimonious miserly millionaire in a community works more deadly harm to Christianity than a dozen isolated cases of burglary or drunkenness.”

“Irresponsible Wealth” by Hugh Price Hughes
The Twentieth Century, Vol. XXVIII, No. 166, July-December 1890

MR. GLADSTONE has rendered an immense public service by calling attention to the ethical issues involved in the accumulation and possession of wealth. He is one of the very small number of persons who have the ear of the entire English-speaking world, and he could not use that awful gift more usefully than by raising the discussion contained in the last issue of this Review. The Social Question, as the Prime Minister of Italy recently stated, is rapidly superseding every other, even the question of nationalities, which in the days of our fathers changed the face of Europe. The astonishing action of the German Emperor in convoking an International Labour Congress at Berlin indicates that we have entered upon a new era, in which the equitable distribution of wealth will determine the fate of dynasties and peoples. The way in which at this moment bishops and actors, Quakers and atheists, princes and journalists are blessing and backing General Booth is an unprecedented sign of the times. Sir William Harcourt is right: ‘We are all Socialists now.’ But what does that mean? It means that we are all, consciously or unconsciously, taking to heart, as never before, the social problems involved in the use and abuse of money. The portentous growth of organised and revolutionary socialism in Germany, the vast popularity of the writings of Mr. Henry George and Mr. Edward Bellamy, the sudden widespread demand for an Eight Hours Bill in this country, the marked success of Socialistic plays on the modern stage, the growing contempt for the old individualistic political economy, and the changed attitude of the Christian pulpit, as illustrated by Bishop Westcott, Bishop How, Cardinal Manning, Dr. Clifford and others, all point in one direction. The terrible struggles between labour and capital, with the appalling prospect of world-embracing organisation on both sides, are the darker aspects of an irresistible tendency. Now at the bottom of all this ferment of the public mind, which in some directions has worked calamitous bitterness, lies the question which Mr. Gladstone invites the wealthy to discuss. It is of transcendent importance. It is, for this generation, the question of questions. I greatly regret that ceaseless activity in all parts of the country, while it doubtless forces this issue on my constant attention, and in some degree enables me to speak about it, at the same time makes it impossible for me to choose the ‘picked and packed words ’ in which I should like to discuss it. I have no time either to look up authorities or to collect impressive illustrations. I must write, if I write at all, currente calamo, but the substance of the ‘comment ’ you invite is the fruit of a quarter of a century of observation and reflection.

I am quite unable to let off Mr. Carnegie in the pleasant and approving way in which Mr. Gladstone dismisses him. I have always believed that Mr. Carnegie is personally a most estimable and generous man, who sets a splendid example to the unhappy class to which he belongs, and is entirely worthy of Mr. Gladstone’s hearty praise. But when I contemplate him as the representative of a particular class of millionaires, I am forced to say, with all personal respect, and without holding him in the least responsible for his unfortunate circumstances, that he is an anti-Christian phenomenon, a social monstrosity, and a grave political peril. Mr. Gladstone tells us that Mr. Carnegie is of opinion that ‘ rank, as it exists among us, is a widely demoralising power.” I am bound to say that an American millionaire ironmaster, the artificial product of such measures as the McKinley Bill, is a far greater ‘demoralising power.’ In a really Christian country—that is to say, in a community reconstructed upon a Christian basis—a millionaire would be an economic impossibility. Jesus Christ distinctly prohibited the accumulation of wealth. I know that expositors can prove anything, and that theologians can explain away anything. But if ‘Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon the earth”1 does not forbid the accumulation of wealth, the New Testament was written on Talleyrand’s principle and was intended to ‘conceal thought.’ No one now argues that millionaires are needed to carry out great public works like the Bridgewater Canal, because modern joint-stock enterprise, and the ever-increasing activity of the State, make us entirely independent of millionaires, and, indeed, capable of enterprises which no millionaire could attempt. They have now no beneficent raison d’étre. They are the unnatural product of artificial social regulations. They flourish portentously in the unhealthy forcing house of Protection, but everything else fades and dies beside them. We prefer the fresh air. Millionaires at one end of the scale involve paupers at the other end, and Hen so excellent a man as Mr. Carnegie is too dear at that price. Whatever may be thought of Mr. Henry George’s doctrines and deductions, no one can deny that his facts are indisputable, and that Mr. Carnegie’s ‘progress’ is accompanied by the growing ‘ poverty’ of his less fortunate fellow countrymen. I say ‘ less fortunate ’ because I am sure Mr. Carnegie is much too sensible a man to suppose for a moment that his vast fortune represents a proportionate superiority over the rest of his fellow citizens, or even over those who combined to create his fortune. Thanks to unrestricted competition and the tariff, he has pocketed much more than his equitable share of the joint product of Labour and Capital. If he thinks that he has made this great pile, so to speak, off his own bat, let him set up business on a solitary island, and see how much he can net annually without the co-operation of ‘ his twenty thousand men ’ and the ceaseless bounties of the vanishing Republican majority in Congress.

In no sense whatever is a Pennsylvanian millionaire ironmaster a natural, and therefore an inevitable, product. There is a total fallacy at the very foundation of Mr. Carnegie’s argument. He assumes that millionaires are necessary results of modern industrial enterprise, and that consequently the only question ethical writers can discuss is the best way of enabling these unfortunate persons to get honestly and beneficently rid of their superfluous wealth. But there is a much more important prior question—how to save them from the calamity of finding themselves the possessors of a huge fortune which is full of most perilous temptation, both to themselves and to their children. I think it was in this Review that I read a characteristic and admirable article by the late Matthew Arnold, in which that great writer declared England needed nothing so much as a more widespread distribution of wealth, and traced the social comfort and refinement of France to the legislation which compelled owners of property to distribute their wealth in almost equal proportions among their children. I am greatly surprised that Mr. Glad stone quotes, without demur or protest, Mr. Carnegie’s extraordinary delusion that he is a ‘ normal process,’ ‘an imperative condition,’ and an ‘ essential condition of modern society.’ Nothing of the sort. Free trade, free land, and a progressive income tax would relieve him of the greater part of his anxious financial responsibilities, and such a death-duty as he himself wisely advocates would complete the emancipation of his children. We must not for a moment forget that all the evils of excessive wealth which Mr. Carnegie laments, and from which he nobly desires to protect his children, are artificial and not necessary evils. Indeed, the number of ‘ necessary evils ’ in this world is very much smaller than is commonly supposed, and all human progress consists in practical illustrations of that fact. Mr. Gladstone reminds us that Moses was an ‘adversary of the accumulation of wealth;’ and even modern economists would lose nothing by a careful study of the drastic legislation by which Moses tried to prevent the manufacture of Jewish millionaires. I admit that the modern representatives of that great law giver have not lived up to the ideal he set before them; but that is doubtless the result of Gentile corruption. No thoughtful persons from Moses and Lycurgus to Matthew Arnold and Edward Bellamy have ever constructed an ideal state without trying to provide against that accumulation of wealth which our Saviour prohibits. Some wealthy persons who read these sentiments may feel very angry, and may imagine that they spring from envy or ill-will. But they are themselves the chief victims of the artificial social arrangements which have generated them. One of the most interesting and instructive books Mr. Herbert Spencer has written is his Study of Sociology, and one of the wisest passages in that book is his exposure of the sad delusion of those who imagine that their great wealth is a great blessing. His words are so striking and so pertinent that I must quote them. […]

Christian casuists have long argued and differed with respect to the standard which we should put at once before the unbelieving. I confess that I am always inclined to believe that, in a country where Christianity has been preached for a thousand years, the highest standard is really the easiest and the best. Let us tell all men frankly, on the authority of Jesus Christ, that they really possess nothing, that they are not owners but trustees, and that for every penny that ever passes through their hands they will have to give a minute and exact account, not to a harsh and unreasonable judge, but to One who wishes them to enjoy richly what He has lent to them; but, at the same time, will not overlook a gross neglect of their duty to their neighbour. The real question is, not how much we ought to give away, but how much we dare retain for our own personal gratification. I argue for no unnatural asceticism. That is inconsistent with the bounty of Nature, and with the sacred instinct of Beauty, which God has planted within us. But it is astonishing how little we need, after all, for the culture and development of all that is best in our complex nature; especially when the municipality and the State provide the ‘ free library ’ and the other institutions for which we have hitherto looked to such amiable and benevolent millionaires as Mr. Carnegie. The Christian pulpit has grossly neglected its duty in relation to Mammonism, or the love of money. I have never heard of a rich man being excommunicated because he was too fond of his money-bags, although that sin is as severely condemned in the New Testament as drunkenness or adultery. By all means let us all co-operate with Mr. Gladstone in starting another society. But I am disposed to think that he must look mainly to the Christian pulpit to make the best of the transition period be tween ‘ the cruelty and waste of irresponsible competition and the licentious use of wealth,’ which have disgraced the nineteenth century, and the Golden Age when no man will have too little, because no man will have too much.