Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

During the presidential campaign season, the American public acts like an engaged citizenry, as if what they say and do really does have an impact. But after an election ends, so many people retreat from the public forum and bunker down in their isolated private lives. It’s as if winning the election was all that concerned them, as if democracy were nothing more than voting for your preferred celebrity-politician. Not everyone can be so detached, indifferent, and oblivious. Not everyone can pretend that political issues begin and end with elections.

Racism, religious bigotry, xenophobic policies, poverty, unemployment, homelessness, food deserts, toxic dumps in poor communities, lead in drinking water, unaffordable healthcare, underfunded schools, school-to-prison pipeline, militarized police, police abuse, mass incarceration, privatized prisons, war on drugs, military-industrial complex, war on terror wasting trillions of dollars, aggressive US militarism that kills thousands of innocent people a day, US alliance with brutal authoritarian states, pollution being the number one killer in the world, ecosystem destruction, climate change, droughts, refugee crises, corporate takeover of the government, corporations stealing from the commons, endless externalized costs that are beyond calculation and imagination…

…and on and on. None of this ends for those most victimized and harmed. Elections mean very little to those who are silenced, suppressed, disenfranchised, and excluded — other than a fleeting opportunity to express outrage and maybe, just maybe be heard before being dismissed and ignored once again. Yet the comfortable classes momentarily obsess over the team sports of partisan politics and then go on as if none of it actually matters, as if these problems aren’t real, as if it is all just about campaign rhetoric and political talking points. Well, I disagree. Just because social problems are not seen and moral outrage not heard doesn’t mean they stop existing, once the votes are counted and the voters disappear from news reporting of corporate media.

That is all the more reason we must make ourselves be heard. Everyone has a voice. Use it. There are many who are in need of help and no one listens. First listen to the silenced and then add your voice, until the growing noise can’t be ignored. Don’t make excuses about being only one person. The majority of the world’s population who are affected by these problems, as separate individuals, are each only one person. But change happens when people demand that change happens, one voice at a time, until it becomes a roar of defiance. Don’t go quietly along, as so many others suffer. Rather, make the comfortable uncomfortable, until they are forced to acknowledge reality.

There is no other path forward, other than toward growing authoritarianism and other terrible ends. By staying silent, you are choosing a dark path for yourself and your loved ones, for your fellow citizens and the following generations, for your children and grandchildren, for your nieces and nephews. Never stay silent, not even for a moment for there isn’t a moment to lose. The consequences grow by the second, as do the opportunities for change pass us by.

It’s only after an election is over that the majority has their greatest power to force change. This is the moment. The best way to break out of your apathy and isolation is to make your voice heard. Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and coworkers. Talk about things that actually matter and act on them as if they matter. Politics isn’t a game. Lives are at stake, in a literal sense. Your voice is your greatest weapon and tool. Don’t ever let anyone shut you up.

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A Perfect Storm

This election was a perfect storm. No one could have seen it coming.

If Hillary Clinton wasn’t a status quo professional politician and creature of the Washington establishment, if she wasn’t an anti-reform candidate competing against a reform candidate when the American public was demanding reform, if she didn’t have her negative political record, if she didn’t have a history of deceit and manipulation, if there was no pay-to-play Clinton Foundation…

If the Democratic Party hadn’t lost all moral high ground and credibility, if there wasn’t corruption and cronyism in the DNC, if there wasn’t collusion with the MSM, if there was no private server, if there were no leaked emails and transcripts, if there was no FBI investigations, if there wasn’t so much hiding and destruction of evidence, if there was no strong proof of her guilt and criminality, if she hadn’t stated clear intent in her private correspondence…

If there was no Great Recession, if there was no Occupy and Tea Party, if there was no neoliberal corporatism and crony capitalism, if there was no revolving door politics, if there were no bank bailouts and corporate subsidies, if there were no tax havens for plutocrats, if there was no free trade agreement, if there were no factory closings and offshorings, if there was no shrinking middle class, if there were no stagnating wages, if there were no worsening mortality rates for middle aged whites, if there was no impoverished Appalachia and Rust Belt, if there weren’t decades of weakening and shrinking unions, if there was no betrayal of the working class…

If there was no mistrust of government and dislike of Congress, if there wasn’t so much political failure, if there wasn’t endless obfuscation and secrecy, if there was no neo-imperial expansionism and military adventurism, if there was no Military-Industrial Complex, if there was no War On Terror that she supported, if the wars the US has been involved in didn’t go so badly, if she wasn’t such an aggressive war hawk, if she hadn’t been so callous as Secretary of State…

If the liberal class wasn’t so disconnected and the ruling elite so clueless and political rhetoric so empty, if there wasn’t so much public anger and so much justified frustration and so much moral outrage, if all these conditions weren’t conspiring against her career aspirations and political ambitions, if American voters could have somehow been convinced that she really was a moral person and great leadership material, if everything was entirely different and we existed in a Bizarro America…

What I’m trying to say is that… if only a few minor issues were slightly tweaked, if the situation had been just a tad better, if so many inconvenient things hadn’t happened, if the stars had been aligned, etc etc…. if this, that, and a thousand other things…

Then Hillary Clinton might have won the election.

More Metaphors of Madness

I first likened being a US citizen to being run over by a car. I then used a simple comparison to describe the prospective presidencies in terms of the boiling frog scenario. Here are three more metaphors for your cynical amusement.

This one is a more detailed metaphor for the candidates this campaign season:

The body politic is ailing. Hillary Clinton is a symptom of the corruption that has compromised the immune system. Trump is a secondary illness like pneumonia that is potentially life threatening.

The secondary illness wouldn’t be dangerous if the immune system wasn’t already compromised and the patient were willing to seek medical treatment. But for some reason the ailing patient refuses to go to the doctor who is Sanders.

The mainstream media is the hospice worker administering pain drugs that puts the patient to sleep, as death nears. Then the patient’s eyes open and rallies some strength asking for something in a voice too quiet to understand, either asking for the doctor or Jesus.

Is all hope lost? Or can the patient still be saved?

The next metaphor is me being plain silly:

Clinton is a monkey in a banana experiment. The monkey’s hand is stuck in the hole, unable to get the banana out and unwilling to let go of the banana.

Sanders is the scientist observing the monkey and taking notes. The scientist goes on lunch break so as to eat his banana and peanut butter sandwich that he made himself.

Meanwhile, Trump is a banana plantation tycoon. He is inquiring about buying the laboratory where the experiment is happening, as he thinks that further banana research might be good for banana profits. He is also inquiring about maybe even buying an entire banana republic while he is at it.

The voting public sees a news report about the ongoing research. It makes them hungry for a banana.

And the best metaphor saved for last:

This campaign season is “Monte Python and the Holy Grail.” Clinton is King Arthur. The mainstream media is the guy following along making clopping noises with coconut shells. Trump is the Frenchman taunting King Arthur and his entourage. Sanders is the peasant complaining that he never voted for King Arthur. The voting public is the killer bunny.

That should clear everything up for you. I’m glad to be of service.

Why Is Clinton Disliked?

David Brooks has a short NYT piece with a title that offers a simple question, Why Is Clinton Disliked? He gives the data showing how unpopular she is and what most people think about her. It presents a harsh public perception about her as a politician.

“She is, at the moment, just as unpopular as Trump. In the last three major national polls she had unfavorability ratings in the same ballpark as Trump’s. In the Washington Post/ABC News poll, they are both at 57 percent disapproval.

“In the New York Times/CBS News poll, 60 percent of respondents said Clinton does not share their values. Sixty-four percent said she is not honest or trustworthy. Clinton has plummeted so completely down to Trump’s level that she is now statistically tied with him in some of the presidential horse race polls.”

Yet it wasn’t always the case. Before this campaign season, public perception was different.

As secretary of state she had a 66 percent approval rating. Even as recently as March 2015 her approval rating was at 50 and her disapproval rating was at 39.”

He goes overboard with his view of Hillary Clinton as being disliked for being a driven workaholic and an impersonal professional role. Still, I think he has a point.

Most people don’t connect with Hillary. Her husband is just as much a sleazy politician and yet people liked him because he connected to people on a personal level. The same thing with Bush jr.

People don’t vote for politicians. They vote for people. Elections really are popularity contests. Hillary is smart and saavy enough to know this. It’s just she lacks charisma and charm. It’s just not in her to be that way.

She is a capable professional politician. She knows how to play the game in Washington. I’m sure she is well liked or at least respected by those who directly work with and share her political goals, those who have careers that are aligned with or overlap with hers.

She just doesn’t have the personality for media attenion. She is a good professional politician. But that’s not necessarily a compliment. She flip flops and tells people what she thinks they want to hear. She is a player of the game of wealth and power. She does get things done. The issue is what she gets done.

That might be fine if no one knew her actual political record. That is where the problem begins. Before this campaign, few bothered to learn about her. Once people did learn about her, they quickly figured out that they don’t like her and trust her, much less share values with her.

It’s not complicated. They didn’t know her before and now they do. There is no point in blaming most people for not liking her for the simple reason they don’t find her likable.

Brooks mentioned another of what he considers a ‘paradox’. He writes that,

“[A]gree with her or not, she’s dedicated herself to public service. From advocate for children to senator, she has pursued her vocation tirelessly. It’s not the “what” that explains her unpopularity, it’s the “how” — the manner in which she has done it.”

That misses the point. She has dedicated herself to being a professional politician. That isn’t necessarily the same as public service. No one is arguing she has never done a beneficial thing in her life. It’s just that her doing good seems to serve the ulterior purpose of looking good, like a boy scout helping an old lady across the street to get a badge or a high school student volunteering at a soup kitchen to put on a college application.

Brooks does get to this point. Surely, she is a normal human with normal human interests, concerns, and preoccupations. “But,” as Brooks says, “it’s hard from the outside to think of any non-career or pre-career aspect to her life. Except for a few grandma references, she presents herself as a résumé and policy brief.” One gets the sense that to her everything is politics. That is to say, in this kind of political system, that everything is about wealth and power, about connections and cronyism.

She is all about big money politics. She isn’t ashamed of being a servant of corporate interests. And she isn’t ashamed of using her authority to force US power onto others, even when it harms and kills thousands of people. That is politics in her mind and her life is all about politics. One suspects she thinks about little else. She is ambitious and has dedicated her life to this aspiration, whatever one thinks of it.

Brooks states, because of her lack of presenting herself with a personal life, that therefore “of course to many she seems Machiavellian, crafty, power-oriented, untrustworthy.” It’s not that she seems that way. She is that way. That is what the minority of people who like her mean when they say she is experienced and effective. She gets things done, by any means necessary.

What the majority dislikes about her is not just how she gets things done, but also what she gets done. Even if people were able to see a more personable side to Clinton, it wouldn’t change that most people disagree with her values and policies. Most Americans don’t support neocon wars of aggression and neoliberal ‘free’ trade agreements, two areas of policy that only find majority support among the upper classes.

No amount of personal image rehabilitation and public perception management is going to change that. People dislike and mistrust her because of issues of substance. She simply doesn’t represent what most Americans want and support. It doesn’t help her campaign that right now there is another candidate, Sanders, who does represent what most Americans want and support. This is a rare campaign season in that people feel they finally have a real choice and, as such, they are intentionally not choosing Clinton.

All of this might change after the nominations, assuming Clinton is nominated as the Democratic candidate. Maybe more people will rationalize that Clinton isn’t so bad, after all, at least compared to Trump. Or maybe even then most Americans won’t be able to stomach voting for her.

* * *

Additional note:

Brooks’ article unsurprisingly gets negative attention, one assumes mostly from Clinton supporters. There is no doubt that much bias exists in society against women in positions of power and authority. But it would be disingenuous to claim that is all or even primarily what is going on.

If Bill Clinton were running for the presidency now instead of back in the 1990s, he too would be facing some of these same problems. It’s not gender or even entirely personality. It’s just that back in the 1990s most Americans didn’t yet have a good sense of how bad neoliberalism was and they hadn’t seen the full brunt of neoconservatism that would come with the War On Terror.

The ideology of the Clinton New Democrats is no longer supported by most Americans. It really is as simple as that.

 

If being a US citizen was like being run over by a car…

If being a US citizen was like being run over by a car, this is how elections would break down.

Republicans would say we must not punish the car driver who was doing important things and, anyway, it was probably the pedestrians fault for not leaping out of the way in time. Besides, one day you might be a car driver who runs over people and so the only way to defend your interests is to support the liberty to run people down, ya know the type that deserves it.

Democrats would offer some kind words and give an inspiring speech. If lucky, maybe the victims would get a crutch to hobble around with for the rest of their lives, although even that’s not guaranteed. The Democratic politician will make sure to get a photo-op with the victims. After they get your vote, you’ll learn that the Democratic candidate was getting donations from the car driver association and the car insurance companies. Of course, nothing will change.

As for the genuine reformers, they’d first make sure the victims got the healthcare they needed to heal. After that, they’d promise that we’re going to get that sonabitch who ran those people over. Then, once bringing the guilty to justice, they’d implement new laws and build infrastructure (sidewalks, pedestrian bridges, road signs, etc) to prevent future accidents.

The Unmasked Face of Our Society

My views on many things have been shifting lately. Recent events and interactions have forced me to rethink some assumptions and conclusions. One relevant issue is lesser evilism. It seems to me now that this misses the point. In thinking about supporters of Hillary Clinton, I offered a different view:

“What if we take at face value how people vote? Maybe they aren’t voting for a lesser evil. Maybe it is no mere unintended side effect the harm done by the politicians who represent them. Maybe, just maybe voters really do get exactly what they want.”

I’m starting to think the same thing about Trump supporters. Maybe it isn’t really about a mere protest vote. It’s possible they actually like Trump as a person and what he stands for.

Some people like that he is a plutocrat, a supposedly successful businessman. They see the business world as a meritocracy and that the country should be run like a business. As such, Trump has proven himself worthy of power. In a strange way, some people see him as something like an enlightened aristocrat (related to Plato’s philosopher king) who is independently wealthy and so can do what needs to be done. It’s sort of a hope for a modern noblessse oblige.

There is a historical basis for this worldview. Some of the American founders, of course, were slaveholding aristocrats and they liked to envision themselves as a noble vanguard for a new kind of ruling elite, an enlightened aristocracy. The idea was that being independently wealthy would make them politically independent. They would be above it all.

Few of the early ruling elite ever were independently wealthy. Their lifestyle was dependent on the profits made from their plantations and such. Quite a few were even in debt. But that isn’t the case for Trump, as long as you ignore all the times he declared bankruptcy.

It didn’t originally occur to me that Trump was anything more than the spokesperson for blind outrage against the system. I assumed even his followers didn’t take him seriously, as the majority of them don’t seem to mind that he sometimes promotes policies they don’t like (e.g., universal healthcare). I really thought it was just a protest vote in an a campaign season filled with so many horrible candidates.

I’m beginning to think there is more going on, similar to those in the Clinton camp. What helped me to see this other view is a person I know who claims to be a libertarian. But I’ve never been clear about his actual ideology. One of his favorite shows is Star Trek: The Next Generation*, a show that portrays a communist utopia.

I noticed that he was supporting Trump. But, knowing he is smart and educated, I took it as a protest vote. This guy shattered my assumptions by making a case for enlightened plutocracy, with the implication being that Trump will be an enlightened plutocrat. To his mind, libertarian values must be protected from the dirty masses by a ruling elite. He hates democracy and understandably sees it as a failure. Trump is the man for the job. He won’t let democracy get in his way.

I don’t see how a ruling elite ruling over a disenfranchised public is libertarian in any possible interpretation. Then again, I don’t see how Clinton’s neoconservatism and neoliberalism has anything to do with with progressive liberalism. This is the strange way ideology operates in some people’s minds. It’s not about principled consistency. Many people just want their side to win, however they they perceive their group identity. Such things aren’t ever fully conscious and rational.

I’m becoming convinced that lesser evilism can’t explain what is going on. Many people who support Hillary Clinton and Trump do so because they represent precisely what they want. In both cases, it’s a worldview of power and defense of the system, even though different visions of power and of the system.

This was more hidden in the past. But conflict has forced issues to the surface like pus oozing from a wound. We are seeing the unmasked face of our society. And it ain’t pretty.

* * *

*This gives me a hint why someone like this ‘libertarian’ guy would like Star Trek: The Next Generation. The perspective on that society for the show is a semi-military ship that explores and patrols the galaxy. The captain of the ship, Jean-Luc Picard, is essentially a wise and benevolent patriarch.

The viewer rarely sees any outward signs of political democracy such as elections, although the society is a social democracy and a massive welfare state. The only aspect of democracy is the rule of law and judicial process where people are given the opportunity to defend themselves against charges. But one never sees any full-fledged example of democracy.

So, at least on the ship, it is mostly a utopia of a ruling elite and a clear social hierarchy. It’s vaguely libertarian in that people have basic protected civil liberties.

Politics On My Mind: March 1-8, 2016

March 1

There is one thing I suspect many don’t understand. It took a long time to get where we are now. Someone like Trump didn’t come out of nowhere. And it can’t be blamed just on crazy right-wing rhetoric.

Decades of lesser evil voting by Democrats made someone like Trump inevitable. It’s because the political left was unwilling to offer real solutions and reform that the American public finally has become so frustrated and angry that they are willing to take serious a ranting demagogue.

That is the problem of always being distracted by the short term results of the next election. Those in power have taken a long view. You want to see successful strategy, consider the Southern Strategy. Those who gained power didn’t do so by constantly compromising.

I understand the seeming failure of the Democratic Party is in reality a success for the Establishment. Those like the Clintons don’t want solutions to problems because, from their perspective, the status quo isn’t a problem. But what perplexes me is that average Democrats who claim to want solutions haven’t figured out this game yet, even though it keeps leading to the same sad results.

When will Democrats get as frustrated and angry as the supporters of Trump are right now? Will it take Trump getting elected before all the good liberals will finally get serious about what they claim to believe in? But when they do wake up, will it already be too late?

Another set of questions that are neither hypothetical nor idle. These are genuine concerns. People should be asking themselves these questions and taking serious the answers. The hour is getting late.

I think about earlier times in American history: American Revolution, Civil War, and Great Depression. It goes in about 80 year cycles or 4 generations. We are at such a point again. How bad will it have to get this time?

I understand the reasons.

The Democratic base consists of two groups: liberals and minorities. Liberals on average are wealthier, well educated professionals who live comfortable lives. They generally don’t experience the problems other Americans face. It’s not personally real to them. It is real for minorities. But they have a long history of getting a bad deal. They’ve come to expect that they either accept the lesser evil or else the greater evil may win and they will suffer for it.

Both liberals and minorities realize how precarious is progress in this society. And the earlier assassinations of major leaders was collectively traumatizing. For a half a century now, the American political left has been paralyzed in fear, playing dead in hope that the grizzly bear would stop mauling them.

It is changing. The divide between supporters of Clinton and Sanders isn’t race or gender. It is a generational divide. And not just the very young. Sanders has the 46 and under demographic, a large part of the population. These are the Americans who have little to no memory of the Cold War. The old fearmongering, red baiting, and culture wars don’t have as much power over their minds.

March 2

One reason it is hard to talk about politics in America is because everything has become so skewed. The political spectrum is far to the right than it was in the past.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt was way more of a left-winger than is Bernie Sanders. Someone like Dwight Eisenhower is more equivalent to Sanders, at least on domestic issues. The Birchers did call Ike a commie, but back then the views of Birchers were considered radical and yet today they are part of the mainstream.

The moderate centrist position from earlier last century now looks left-wing. I suppose Sanders calls himself a socialist because it is the only way to communicate what people used to mean when calling themselves a liberal. In the rest of the Western world, Sanders would still be considered centrist and moderate.

As for Clinton, in many ways she is to the right of Nixon. Americans often forget how liberal he was, such as creating the EPA.

Back in that era, Clinton was a conservative and a Goldwater Republican. It was Goldwater who helped end the liberalism that dominated both parties back then.

There used to be a left and a right wing in each party. The liberal centrism could operate back then because the liberal framing of politics acted as a moderating force that allowed compromise and cooperation.

Without that center, American politics can’t hold.

Eisenhower made a statement that was representative of his time. He said that conservatism is good for the private sphere, in how people live their lives and in their own economic concerns. But in the public sphere, liberalism is the proper attitude for politics. This is to say liberalism should frame the public good and how society operates over all.

Lacking this liberal frame, conservatism will fall out of balance and become extremist. This is because liberalism has never actually been the left-wing to conservatism’s right-wing. Liberalism instead has always been about moderation. You still see that in how, in polls, a majority of liberals support compromise while conservatives don’t. And in how Democrats, in polls, state stronger support for the presidency no matter who is in power whereas Republicans only support when Republicans are president—although this would have been different earlier last century when the GOP was more liberal and moderate.

What we have seen in recent decades is a severely weakened liberalism. Liberals know they don’t dominate politics. They are constantly on the defense. The thing about liberalism is that it wilts like a flower when the temperature turns freezing. Conservatism can operate in a liberal frame, but liberalism can’t operate in a conservative frame. A social democratic free society simply is not possible under anti-liberal conditions. This is why even conservatives are better off in a liberal society.

I was thinking about Sanders warning about the CIA. He stated the CIA was dangerous to a free society more than four decaes ago and he still stands by that strong criticism. It is reminiscent of Ike’s warning about the military-industrial complex. Neither Ike nor Sanders were/are doves on foreign policy, but both have expressed a wariness about the radical neocon vision of military imperialism, specifically in its corporatist form. That is an old school liberalism that sought moderation between the extremes of isolationist pacfism and expansionist militarism. That view was drowned out in recent years with the post-911 revenge fantasies dominating politics and the revival of Cold War style dreams of globalization. Sanders is a calm voice of sanity in insane times, refusing to bow down to fear.

I was also thinking of Reagan. He was a union leader and a FDR Democrat. He never lost his admiration for FDR and, even after becoming a Republican, kept a picture of FDR above his desk. Like FDR, Reagan believed in an activist government, but instead of that activis being directed to the people it was directed to the military and corporations. He helped further establish what Ike had warned about. The right-wing turn for Reagan represented a right-wing turn for the entire political and economic system.

It was the Goldwater campaign that allowed the right-wingers to take over the GOP and this made possible the election of Reagan. Hillary Clinton worked in the Goldwater campaign. Even when switching parties, she remained a Goldwater conservative. Goldwater and Reagan were both quite socially liberal on many issues, but this was contained wthin a larger conservative worldview. The same goes for Hillary. The innovation of the Clintons was to bring that conservative sensibility into the Democratic Party,what came to be known as the New Denocrats who cut welfare, deregulated markets, and were tough on crime. Conservatism became the new dominant paradigm, replacing the old liberal worldview that had been in place for generations.

March 3

I don’t think Trump is quite comparable to Hitler. Born into immense wealth, Trump is invested in and a part of the system. He has always had close ties to the political establishment.

OTOH Hitler was an outsider with humble beginnings: common soldier, failed artist, poor, even homeless at one point. The same goes for an authoritarian like Stalin, another outsider who had experienced poverty and social problems: hounded by the police, imprisoned, etc.

Trump’s life is too comfortable and he has too much to lose by overturning the entire social order, along with the political and economic system. But as a highly effective demagogue, Trump could set the stage for an authoritarian movement to further develop.

March 3

There is an unusual dynamic in this campaign season. The wild card isn’t just that there are outsider candidates challenging the two main parties. A greater uncertainty is how the political establishment will respond to this challenge and what results it will lead to.

I’ve argued that some of the Democratic political elite would rather lose the election than to lose power to the Sanders campaign. They fear the threat of political reform as demanded by the political left.

A similar fear is seen among the Republican leadership. They know how easy it is to lose power. The right-wing took control of the party with the Goldwater campaign. And more recently the Tea Party seized yet more power. Fighting Trump is the GOP establishment’s last stand.

The entrenched ruling elite on both sides wants to defend their respective political machines and to maintain their respective party’s brand image. With this motivation in mind, I see a possible convergence of forces. Many Democratic leaders might rather Trump be elected than take a chance on Sanders. On the other side, many Republican leaders might prefer Clinton to either Trump or Sanders.

As such, the two party system might put its full support behind Clinton. The establishment on both sides will place defending the establishment before all else. Clinton just happens to be the only viable establishment candidate.

Trump and Sanders are pitted against the entire Washington status quo. The last thing the establishment wants to see is a contest between these two outsiders. This could mean that a Clinton presidency is more inevitable than I first thought. Trump probably could beat Clinton, if the GOP leadership doesn’t turn against him, but that is seeming unlikely at this point.

A Clinton presidency is the only way the two party establishment can guarantee nothing will really change. We might be looking at a Clinton presidency, after all.

This is something I hadn’t considered before. But it makes sense. The establishment ultimately doesn’t care about parties, except to the extent they are useful. All establishment politics is realpolitik.

I originally didn’t think Clinton had a chance aginst Trump, but if she gets the full force of the two party establisment behind her she’ll have campaign to be reckoned with. That would be a game changer for standard American politics.

Will partisanship keep the ruling elite divided? Or will they make a historical truce to fight the outside challengers? I don’t know the answer to that.

How would either Trump or Sanders defend against a unified establishment? It would be hard, not impossible, but quite challenging.

Part of the difficulty is that the populist vote is split between two candidates. There are a surprising number of frustrated Americans who could just as easily vote for either Trump or Sanders. So there isn’t a unified voice to the populist unrest.

Sanders is holding his own at the moment. He has a good chance, but it depends who ends up backing him. I keep waiting to see if the tide will turn.

March 4

What would either tank Clinton’s campaign or guarantee a victory? I was wondering about that.

If enough of the establishment supports her, even drawing some odd bedfellows from the political right, she will be in a strong position. But if something like legal issues become more central and get media attention, she might really struggle. Or if Sanders with the support of black leaders starts drawing away black voters, she might not get the nomination.

Even if she gets the nomination, can she compete against Trump? She has so many weaknesses for Trump to attack. Does it matter that Republican leaders are now trying to tear Trump down? Or will that just make Trump even more popular and make him harder to defeat?

Sanders has the best chances against Trump. He first has to win the nomination, though. If black leaders had come out earlier for Sanders, I doubt Clinton would have had any chance of winning anything. But the Clinton-supporting mainstream media has so effectively shut Sanders out that it took so long for most Americans to even learn anything about him.

There are all these factors that could shift in different directions. It’s not really a matter of the best candidate winning. The election process isn’t a meritocracy. It isn’t even a popularity contest. It’s about maintaining or gaining control of the political narrative. Trump, of course, has been a master at that.

March 4

The media and political elite obviously underestimated Trump. And so they miscalculated their strategies. This is most clear with the mainstream media. They were manipulated and played like fools by Trump.

I suspect much of the media thought that, if they gave him enough rope, he’d hang himself. Or maybe that the novelty would eventually wear off. But likely they weren’t thinking at all, beyond the entertainment value for selling advertising.

Many have watched Trump like a car race. They’ve been hoping for a crash and burn. Trump has disappointed his detractors by not self-destructing.

The guy is a media mastermind. He controls the media. He stays on message. And he dominates the competition.

Unknowingly, the maistream media helped him every step of the way. Now no one knows what to do with the monster they helped create. But it is getting late for any effective counter-measures.

The other Republican candidates are weak sauce. Clinton can’t cobble together a coherent political narrative to save her life. And the mainstream media and Democratic political machine has done everything in their power to ignore and undermine Sanders.

We are moving toward the home stretch of the nomination process. Unless Sanders can gain strong support and pull to the front of the pack, Trump could easily slide home into the presidency. More people should have backed Sanders earlier, of course.

Some maybe are still hoping that God will intervene and take Trump out of the race. But it is hard to imagine what could stop him at this point, without some amazingly effective organizing to fight back.

More Americans should have taken Trump’s challenge more seriously. Instead, too many people who could have made a difference played right into his hand.

March 4

Along with underestimating Trump, I think others may overestimate him. Or else mischaracterize him.

He isn’t just a joke or a clown. He is a smart guy. I bet he understands more than he lets on.

I do give him credit for being a media mastermind. But he is no evil genius like Hitler scheming to take over the world. Just a standard American egotistic plutocrat who happens to be a talented media personality.

He is also not really an outsider. Yes, he became a Republican candidate from outside the GOP. But he didn’t come out of nowhere. He was born into wealth and power, automatically a part of the establishment. He has been schmoozing with the political and economic elite for his entire life, both in the US and around the world, including wealthy Arabs.

Everyone wants to categorize him, as though that will help deal with him. He is many things. But first and foremost he is a plutocrat. All the rest is mere rhetoric and spectacle.

Trump represents American hyper-indivdualist capitalism. He is the dark side of the so-called American Dream.

Even though Trump’s rhetoric fits more closely to the populist ethno-nationalism of Mussolini and Hitler, I worry more about the kind of fascism has become normalized through the ruling elite. A demagogue is probably less of a threat in the present US than the oligarchy represented by the Bush family and Clinton family.

The latter is a creeping almost invisible fascism, growing like an undetected cancer. Trump is like going to the doctor and finally being diagnosed with cancer. Now that we know, are there enough Americans willing to get treatment? Or are we just hoping that the cancer will go away on its own?

March 5

Some people wonder why Hillary Clinton does so well in the South, specifically among minorities. I’d argue it isn’t centrally about the Civil Rights movement and the role of the Democratic Party.

It’s important to keep in mind that the South is extremely conservative. Even minority Democrats in the South are conservative. Hillary Clinton is a conservative Democrat. It’s why Bill won the presidency. He brought Southern conservatism back into the Democratic Party, and so was able to compete against the GOP’s Southern Strategy.

The fight between Clinton and Sanders isn’t between mainstream liberalism and radical socialism. Sanders supposed socialism is simply what used to be called liberalism earlier last century.

It is also important to keep in mind that Clinton is mostly getting support from the older demographic. This is even shown in how support is split among women and minorities. The Clintons have been strong defenders of the conservative policy of tough on crime. But older blacks also wanted this, because of the violent crime increases in their communities, no one understanding at the time that it probably was caused by lead toxicity rates.

Once you realize that Clinton is a conservative, everything begins to make sense. She isn’t a radical right-winger, like Ayn Rand libertarians and Evangelical theocrats. But she is what used to be considered a standard conservative, before the word was taken over by right-wingers.

I have nothing against conservatives, Southern or otherwise. I just like truth in advertising. Clinton is a conservative.

If she represents your beliefs and values, then embrace your conservatism openly. We’ll have more honest debate that way. Then the likes of Sanders can drop the socialist label. Let’s have a real debate about real liberalism and real conservatism.

The muddled language and thinking in US politics is the opposite of helpful.

I also understand why a certain kind of liberal finds Clinton appealing. Some of it is compromise and lesser evil thinking. But there is more to it than that.

In the South, even liberals are relatively more conservative-minded. I see the same thing in the Midwest as well. Midwestern liberals will use conservative style arguments, invoking values of community, family and work ethic.

My hometown of Iowa City is a center of liberalism in Iowa. One resident, Zach Wahls, gained public attention a while back because of his defense of same sex marriage. What was interesting was that his use of Midwestern values that much of the rest of the country would consider conservative.

Politics get messy like that. But this messiness doesn’t really effect the issue I was dealing with in my post above.

Blacks, in and outside of the South, don’t generally identify as liberal. Just because you’re a Democrat, it doesn’t follow you have to be a liberal. Minorities are among the most socially conservative and religious of any demographics in the US, far more fundamentalist and evangelical than the average white.

It’s just that we’ve forgotten about this strain of conservatism. Or rather the mainstream has ignored it, as minorities tend to be ignored, except when their votes are being considered.

March 7

It seems strange that Hillary Clinton gets so much support. From a strategic perspective, her campaign is a disaster. Many polls show her being weak against republican candidates, compared to Sanders showing as strong. She is facing major legal issues that could blow up at any moment. And if this happens, this could tarnish the party for a generation.

Last but not least, the younger demographics are against her, and this include GenXers in their 40s (not exactly youngins). Even young minorities are shifting away from mainstream politics. Hillary is heavily corporatist, something that the younger generations despise, including young minorities, as seen in polls.

The young have a more favorable view of socialism than capitalism. Of course, socialism like progressivism has largely just become a new way Americans speak of genuine liberalism, i.e., not corporatist neoliberalism. A corporatist professional politician like Clinton does not represent the world that most Americans want to live in, especially not the young.

The one demographic that Clinton should be winning are women. But the same generational divide is seen there as well.

It’s true that older people tend to vote at higher rates. Elections can sometimes be won entirely focused on the older demographic. Republicans have used that strategy for a long time, although now they are up against a demographic wall. I doubt Democrats want to emulate Republican strategy, even it would lead to short term gains for the party establishment.

For Hillary to win the nomination would mean for the Democrats to lose the future. That is not a recipe for success. Or is the Democratic ruling elite betting on that, no matter how much they fail, that the game will be won by failing a little bit less than the Republicans. Are they just hoping that the GOP will be utterly destroyed and Democrats will then be able to rule without competition?

That doesn’t seem like a safe bet. Both parties could be mortally wounded in this contest. There hasn’t been a time so ripe for a third party challenge as right now. No matter who wins this election, we might be seeing different political parties competing more strongly in the coming elections.

March 7

Most Millennials don’t believe that Social Security benefits will be there when they are old. Yet 90% of Millennials, like most Americans, see Social Security as good for America.

The moral of the story is that Americans realize that Social Security is broken. But they don’t want to eliminate it. Instead, they want it fixed.

Part of the reason is that they see how their own grandparents are being helped with these benefits. It’s the same reason Social Security was created in the first place.

The Lost Generation had high rates of old age poverty. For this reason, the Lost Generation promoted Social Security, even though they knew few of their generation would ever benefit from it. The Lost Generation believed in sacrificing for others. It’s why they promoted the younger generations to get the public education they themselves rarely had.

Sacrifice is an American value that gets forgotten about and dismissed in mainstream politics. Many Americans still believe in improving the world, no matter how cynical politicians are. Most Americans want to revive the American Dream that was created with the New Deal.

Sacrifice and the American Dream are two sides of the same coin. The more people are left behind the harder it is for individuals to get ahead. In low inequality and high mobility societies, everyone does better, both poor and wealthy. That used to be what America stood for, why so many immigrants came here.

Despite the bad times, Millennials still have hope for America.

A certain kind of person on the political right argues that Americans only vote for what benefits them personally. They say this is what inevitably causes democracy to fail. This is a view promoted by pundits and professional politicians, along with reactionary activists.

That might be true for how the most far right-wingers think, out for themselves and their own. But right-wingers might want to keep in mind that not everyone thinks like them.

In fact, most Americans, including most conservatives, are fine with sacrificing for their fellow Americans. Polls show this to be true. It’s time for mainstream politics and media to reflect this strong public opinion.

March 7

Some people have predicted that we are seeing the self-destruction of the Republican Party. It’s possible.

The Republican establishment has been tempting fate for a long time. They brought in the reactionaries and allowed them to gain power. In the process, they increasingly became disconnected from most Americans. This has forced them to rely upon an ever aging base.

In some ways, Republicans have had the more dynamic party, in how much the party has changed over relatively short periods of time. Being dynamic can be both a strength and a weakness. The Democratic Party is the oldest political party in the world and has changed more slowly over its history. Both parties used to have a left and right wing, but now only the Democrats have maintained this balance, however imperfectly.

The Democrats have an old lineage of being part of the establishment. It has roots going back to the founding generation. It would be much harder, though not impossible, for it to be mortally wounded. Republicans, on the other hand, began as a radical third party. Early on, many people referred to them as Red Republicans because of this radicalism, which included free labor, feminism, abolitionism, and Marxism.

The Republicans are at a dangerous point. Maybe the party of the Southern Strategy is doomed. There will likely have to be a new strategy that flips it in an entirely new direction if they are to survive. Maybe they should consider returning to their roots. They are already partway there by returning to populist rhetoric.

I’m not a fan of the Republican party failing. It creates a power vacuum. Democracy requires many options. Even limited to two main parties isn’t enough for a functioning democracy. A single party dominating certainly wouldn’t be desirable. I want loyal opposition—in an ideal world with multiple parties across the political spectrum. That is the only way to ensure genuine public debate and so an informed public.

March 7

There was a snippet on tv of the debate between Clinton and Sanders. It was about the gun issue. I was reminded what distinguishes the two candidates.

Sanders was interested in actually debating the topic. I could tell that he was concerned about finding real solutions. But Clinton just wanted to rile the crowd up with empty rhetoric. It really doesn’t matter what Clinton says, because it won’t change her behavior in Washington.

Sanders refused to play that game. He wasn’t scapegoating. He wasn’t trying to rally the base. Instead, he was speaking to all Americans. His view was that this is a problem that isn’t left vs right. It is a shared problem and we can only solve it by seeking a shared solution.

The thing is most Americans, according to the polls, agree with Sanders. Most Americans simultaneously support stronger, more effective gun regulation and support strong protection of gun rights. But such a unifying message of majority opinion doesn’t fit the narrative of partisan politics and mainstream media.

It is hard to communicate a message of real solutions. That is the challenge we face as a society.

Clinton doesn’t mean anything she says. She’ll attack the NRA in the campaign. But once back in Washington she will never do anything to make the NRA unhappy. It’s all a show that is put on for the public.

This is what bothers me. I realize that politicians lie and obfuscate. But the media is supposed to be a free press that challenges those lies and obfuscation.

Shouldn’t the media be doing their job by informing the American public that Sanders is giving voice to majority opinion? Shouldn’t they explain that neither the extremes of the NRA or Clinton represent more than a minority of the population?

On the gun issues, most of the political right doesn’t agree with the NRA and most of the political left doesn’t agree with Clinton. Most Americans are closer to the middle on these issues.

March 7

There is a reason why this campaign season interests me more than most.

I’ve been paying close attention to demographic and polling data (along with social science research) for a long time now. My interest goes back at least to the early years of the Bush jr presidency, although my interest in generations theory might go back to the mid 1990s. I’ve been particularly focused on the thorough Pew data, specifically Beyond Red vs. Blue.

I’ve been watching developments happen for a long time. I saw the various shifts begin to click into place years ago. Much of what we are seeing now has been predictable for a long time. For a decade or longer, the favorable opinion of ‘socialism’ has been increasing, among the youngest generation most of all.

I always wondered why most of this data has received so little mainstream attention. All of this is easily found data from respectable sources. Yet I notice how many people in media and politics act surprised at the changes finally becoming too obvious to ignore.

Even more important, I’ve stated again and again for years that the majority public opinion doesn’t fit what gets portrayed in the mainstream. A while back, I scoured the internet and books for all the data I could find. I was amazed at how increasingly liberal the public is on so many major issues, a consistent trend across decades. But I was also curious how indifferent so many Americans were about issues that were supposed to be divisive, such as simultaneously supporting gun regulation and gun rights or such as simultaneously supporting abortion limits and abortion rights.

Often, the politicians in neither party represents the views of most voters. Special interests and big money dominates nearly all public debate and the political narrative. The average American doesn’t seem to realize how deceived and manipulated they are. The mainstream media and politics leaves so many people uninformed and disinformed.

It wasn’t that long ago when outsiders like Ralph Nader and Ron Paul were being condescendingly dismissed. And their supporters were ignored or criticized for wasting their vote and not submitting to partisan groupthink. Where we are now has been a long time coming. But many in the mainstream wanted to pretend the status quo could last forever. It was naive.

No matter who wins the election this time around, the changes that have occurred will be permanent. There is no way for the establishment of either party to win this election, for even in winning they will lose. This leaves many people scared and others demoralized. But instead people should look at it as opportunity.

March 8

I must admit I have a hard time getting excited about who will get elected. It’s not that it doesn’t matter. I’ve just lost faith in the US having a functioning democracy. No matter who becomes president, it doesn’t change the larger system of entrenched wealth and power, dysfunction and corruption.

The entire government needs a complete overhaul, one way or another, reform or revolution. Elections can hardly put a dent in this problem because the whole system is rigged. But change has to start somewhere.

How do we get the leverage to make that change? How do we get the American public to realize we need real change? And how do we get people to be willing to demand change with the force of threat behind it?

Will the rising populist movement finally be enough to awake America’s conscience and moral imagination? If not, what will it take?

I know how many Americans would take these as the words of a crank or conspiracy theorist. It just doesn’t seem real and relevant to so many.

If it was really so important, wouldn’t the MSM report on it? Well, no, they wouldn’t. That is a major part of the problem. The people who understand what I’m saying are the poor, struggling, and disenfranchised. But those people have no voice or influence in our system. Yet another major part of the problem.

How do we break through the contented haze of the mainstream and the middle class? We are long past the point of pretending this problem doesn’t exist.

These are the kinds of questions I’ve been asking my entire adult life. But few people take any of it seriously, much less try to answer them. And that is why we are now at a point where someone like Trump has a real chance of becoming president. Almost no one wants to take responsibility for having helped create this situation. People act like this came out of nowhere, as if it hadn’t been utterly predictable all along.

Sanders will sometimes speak of the need for a political revolution. If and when people hear this, I wonder what they think it means. Are more people beginning to realize this state of affairs? How many people does it take to get to a tipping point?

It isn’t just that many don’t think about these problems. Even among those who are aware, informed and concerned, few are willing to speak out and to act according to what they know.

So many people feel isolated in silence, afraid of what would happen if they stood up for what is right. Others might judge them. Or it might lead to arguments and unhappy feelings. Some worry about how it might effect their relationships or their job, if others found out what they truly think.

I know many people who have similar thoughts as I have but for various reasons they don’t speak up.

American Populism, From Frustration to Hope

Every movement fails. Until it succeeds. And then, when it does, everyone says, of course it succeeded, it had to succeed. No, actually, it didn’t have to succeed. But what made it succeed—or at least helped it succeed—was that men and women, for a time, shook off the need for certitude, let go of the bannisters of certainty, remembered that they are not scientists, and put themselves into motion. Without knowing where they’d end up.
~ Corey Robin

There is a lot of frustration and demoralization in the air. It is quite the downer. The campaigns are moving into their nasty phase, and the rest of the population is following suit, those of us who aren’t simply feeling burned out and beat up by the endless harangue. It can lead to doubts and pessimism about the entire political system.

I noticed the effect of this with my dad who is showing signs of emotional fatigue. He utterly despises Trump. And he finds Cruz to be mean-spirited and divisive. As a last resort, he supported Rubio in the caucus, even though he sees him as a weak candidate against Democrats.

My dad has been in a despondent mood. Trump’s campaign, in particular, maybe makes him more sad than outraged. He can’t comprehend what it all means or why it’s happening. I could point out that the conservative movement has been intentionally pushing the GOP to ever greater reactionary extremism for a long time, but I don’t feel like putting my finger into that wound and wiggling it around.

I want to send my love out to the world. I know it’s bad. Instead of inspiration, we get politics as usual or else something worse. I hate seeing people turn on one another, especially average people who for decades have been dumped on by both parties. The voters on the other side aren’t the source of your problem. We don’t live in a functioning democracy and those people far off in Washington don’t represent you. If you want to take back America, whatever that might mean, then you’ll have to do it with more than a vote and a fight for your party, your candidate, your group.

Let’s get straight about the basics. Bernie Sanders isn’t a radical communist. Hillary Clinton isn’t a progressive feminist. Cruz isn’t a principled libertarian. Trump isn’t anything other than a car salesman in a fancy suit. And fergodsake NO! Sanders and Trump are not the same, populist rhetoric aside. Is that clear?

That is what these candidates aren’t. But the campaigns all share a commonality in responding to the public mood. People want something different and the candidates are all trying to present themselves in that light. For this reason, I suspect voters could so easily switch their loyalties as the campaign season continues. It’s not exactly politics as usual, although not as different as some like to pretend.

Let me further clarify a point. This campaign season isn’t an ideological battle. No, Americans aren’t particularly divided, at least not in the ways typically portrayed in the mainstream media (not even Obama has divided the public). When you look at polls, most Americans agree about most things, including healthcare and tax reform, even including taxing the wealthy more. Populism is in the air, all across the spectrum.

Even so, let me note something. Pew states that there is increasing polarization, although I’d point out that it is mostly among the activists and political elite. Anyway, Pew goes on to say that (Beyond Red vs. Blue, 2014):

Even so, most Americans do not view politics through uniformly liberal or conservative lenses, and more tend to stand apart from partisan antipathy than engage in it. But the typology shows that the center is hardly unified. Rather, it is a combination of groups, each with their own mix of political values, often held just
as strongly as those on the left and the right, but just not organized in consistently liberal or conservative terms. Taken together, this “center” looks like it is halfway between the partisan wings. But when disaggregated, it becomes clear that there are many distinct voices in the center, often with as little in common with each other as with those who are on the left and the right.

Looking at various data, I’ve noted that this mix or confusion even exists within ideological demographics and, of course, within the parties. For example, Pew data (Beyond Red vs. Blue, 2011) showed that 9% of Solid Liberals self-identify as ‘conservative’. That is a broad conservative movement that includes a significant number of people who are liberal across most issues. This is how symbolic ideology can trump all else, at least under the right conditions.

Categories that seem distinct can be porous and overlapping. Plus, there are larger patterns that cut across the seeming divides. How we group people can at times seem almost arbitrary.

The following is some data from a 2011 Pew poll. Progressivism has found favored opinion in both parties and among independents, with more support than even conservatism. Meanwhile, both ‘socialism’ and ‘libertarianism’ have found growing support. Libertarianism oddly gets a more positive response from Democrats than Republicans. More interesting is the comparison of socialism and capitalism, as explained by Sarah van Gelder:

There is growing willingness to name corporate rule and global capitalism as key problems, and to look to decentralized, place-based economies as the answer. While capitalism is viewed more favorably among all Americans than socialism, the reverse is true among those under 29, African Americans and Hispanics, and those making less than $30,000 a year, according to a Pew poll. And more Americans have a favorable view of socialism than of the Tea Party.

The most telling part is the numbers among Republicans. Libertarianism and the Tea Party have lost favor, among those who are supposedly its strongest supporters. At the same time, only 66% of conservative Republicans have a positive view of capitalism, while 25% (1 in 4) of moderate-to-liberal Republicans have a positive view of socialism. Even though that means 90% of Republicans overall still dislike socialism (as of 2011), that leaves 1 in 10 with either a positive or neutral position and I bet that latter group has been growing, especially among young Republicans. Then again, the younger generation has turned away from the Republican Party and this might have played a part, as after a while it would be hard to maintain the cognitive dissonance of listening to candidates of your party who attack what you support.

The youth vote is up in the air, for both parties—as described by Morgan Gilbard:

Millennials, usually categorized as individuals between 18 and 33, are less willing to identify with a party than ever before, according to a Pew Research study in April 2015. Only 18 percent identified as Republican and 28 percent as Democrat. A staggering 48 percent considered themselves independent, compared with 40 percent in 2008.

This is particularly true of a demographic Pew calls Young Outsiders. They are 14% of the general public, 15% of registered voters, and 11% of the politically engaged. Even Pew’s Next Gen Left (12%, 13%, 11%) could be pulled right based on their weaker support for a social safety net. And the relatively young Bystanders, 10% of the general population, could be inspired to become registered and politically engaged.

Although social liberalism is popular for Millennials, including among young Republicans, there are key issues that split the youth vote and could tip the balance in either direction. Frustration with the government could lead many otherwise liberal Millennials to vote Republican, just as frustration with the economy could lead many otherwise conservative Millennials to vote Democratic. Yet much of the frustration is basically the same across the board—Siraj Hashmi reports:

“Why are we fighting the Iraq War? Why are we spending billions of dollars trying to rebuild Afghanistan, which looks like the Moon, than spending money on our cities like Detroit? Why do we not care about putting Americans first? Those are very appealing questions,” Girdusky said. “They’re [Trump and Sanders] coming at different answers, but it’s the questions that millennials are asking themselves as well.”

The youth of today aren’t the same as the youth of the past. It is today’s youngest generation of voters that has the strongest support for both socialism and libertarianism (the opposite for older generations, including when they were younger), which maybe puts libertarian socialists such as Noam Chomsky in a new position of influence. It might even explain some of the appeal of Sanders, even for rural conservatives in his state, as his ‘socialism’ includes defense of gun rights. Among several demographics, there isn’t always a perfect alignment in their opinions about various labels. Blacks, for example, have a majority with positive views of conservatism, liberalism, and socialism. This seems to be related to what Pew recently has called the Faith and Family Left (30% Black, 19% Hispanic), 51% of which “hold an equal mix of liberal and conservative values”—while religiously and socially conservative in many ways, their liberalism being specifically a “strong support for government and a commitment to the social safety net.” So, conservatism can go along with ‘socialism’ just fine but even more strangely doesn’t even have to be opposed to liberalism. Ha!

This might partly relate to what “scholars of public opinion have distinguished between symbolic and operational aspects of political ideology” (Jost, Federico, & Napier). Few people seem to grasp this distinction. This explains the power of culture war rhetoric (i.e., symbolic ideology) and why that rhetoric will lose power as conditions change. Populist eras tend to defy easy ideological categorizations, and the public during such times isn’t as predictably easy to manipulate by machine politics. Symbolic ideology can quickly shift and morph, allowing the operational side to emerge. When people are hurting on a basic level of making a living and getting by, the symbolic and operational can come into alignment. That is the power and potential of populism, and also its danger.

Related to this, there have been many articles about Republicans turning to join the Sanders campaign. Who are these Republicans feeling the Bern? The more recent 2014 Pew poll (Beyond Red vs. Blue) tells us who they are. But first let me tell you who they aren’t. What Pew calls Business Conservatives is a demographic that is more socially liberal and pro-immigration, while of course being strong in their economic conservatism—74% of them believe that “Wall Street helps economy more than it hurts.” That is unsurpising. Now for the other major group on the political right, Steadfast Conservatives. Close to half of them (41%) disagree with this faith in Wall Street. Most Americans (62%) think that “Economic system unfairly favors powerful,” with Steadfast Conservatives being divided on this issue (48% unfair; 47% fair), but even almost a third (31%) of Business Conservatives agree that it is unfair. A larger majority of Americans (78%) think that “Too much power is concentrated in hands of few large companies”—in response to this, division is even greater on the political right with 71% of Steadfast Conservatives agreeing and once again about a third (35%) of Business Conservatives agreeing as well, although it should be noted that it is a small majority (only 57%) of the latter who state that the “Largest companies do not have too much power.”

These are the populists that Trump is also able to tap, but also the type of person who might choose Sanders over someone like Cruz. The era of culture wars is coming to an end and class war is taking its place. A divide is growing even among upper and lower classes in the conservative movement. Also, among Independents (even those who lean Republican: Pew’s Young Outsiders), the majority sees the Democratic Party as more caring about the middle class, an attitude that puts some wind in Sanders’ sails. In US politics, rhetoric about the middle class has immense symbolic force, as it speaks to both the fears of the shrinking middle class and the throttled aspirations of the working class.

On a slightly different note, some see nationalist fervor as being an area of divisiveness and conflict, that which could negate or mute all else. Conservatives supposedly think America is the best and anyone who disagrees should leave. It is true that many ‘conservative’ politicians and pundits talk that way, but it isn’t what most conservatives think in private. The majority of all Americans across the spectrum don’t believe that “The U.S. stands above all other countries,” even as they do think it’s a great country. On this note, most Americans don’t believe the US should use its capacity of ‘overwhelming’ force to fight terrorism. And, in a different area of policy, most Americans support a path to citizenship for immigrants and support affirmative action—a majority of conservatives supporting the former and a third of conservatives supporting the latter. Patriotic and prejudicial rhetoric is effective for getting strident activists and loyal supporters excited at GOP campaigns. It’s just not likely to sway most potential voters come election time. The average American simply isn’t all that concerned about such things, specifically not in terms of a chest-beating fear-mongering attitude.

Even religion isn’t going to do much for conservatives and Republicans, not even from Evangelicals. The majority of young believers are progressive and liberal, increasingly both in terms of how they label themselves and in what they support (e.g., same sex marriage). Minorities have higher rates of religiosity than even white conservatives. According to Pew’s 2014 Beyond Red vs. Blue, the most religiously-oriented demographic is the Democratic-voting Faith and Family Left—91% affirming that it is “Necessary to believe in God to be moral,” whereas this agreed to by only 69% of Steadfast Conservatives and 31% of Business Conservatives. As for the majority of Americans, they don’t hold this religious view of morality.

Similarly, most Americans don’t take the Bible literally, do acknowledge Darwinian evolution, think homosexuality should be accepted and favor gay marriage, support abortion in all/most cases, see no reason to expect people to prioritize marriage and children over all else, don’t believe Islam is inherently violent, etc. I could point to dozens of other issues that demonstrate the liberalism of Americans (e.g., majority support of global warming and need of improved environmental regulations, such as 71% saying “should do whatever it takes to protect the environment”), at least in terms of operational ideology and I’d argue increasingly in terms of symbolic ideology as well (e.g., the progressive label now being more popular than the conservative label).

The real Silent Majority, left and right, are those tired of the divisive and mean-spirited culture war rhetoric. Only the political and media elite remain divided by their own rhetoric. Still, the divisive minority is disproportionately vocal and influential, but my sense is that most Americans are growing tired of this minority dominating politics.

Obviously, people are beginning to see labels and ideologies in new ways, as they more and more question the status quo. You can begin to feel the change in the air. How the American public and the two main parties get described in the MSM simply no longer matches reality on the ground. The real divide is older and wealthier non-Hispanic white people versus everyone else. It’s ultimately a class divide, since most of the wealth is concentrated among the older generations and among non-Hispanic whites. The rest of the population is economically struggling or, at best, stuck and stagnating.

Let me return to the issue of what does and doesn’t divide most Americans. Over the years, I’ve talked to a variety of my fellow citizens, online and in my everyday life. I’m often surprised by the amount of agreement that exists, if and when you get past superficial divisive rhetoric. You wouldn’t know that by paying attention to the mainstream media and the partisan campaigning.

All the time, I find points of agreement with my dad who is a lifelong Republican, and this agreement usually involves the issues that get ignored by the mainstream. My mom, an old school conservative and former public school teacher, defends public education and she also supports a return of a New Deal work program for the unemployed. My second cousin is a right-wing libertarian and Tea Partier, and yet we both are inspired by the same ‘socialist’ vision of Star Wars: The Next Generation.

Heck, Sander’s own ‘socialism’ simply represents much of what most Americans state they already support in polls. One of the strongest arguments many Hillary Clinton supporters make is that they want a woman for president, but I doubt many other Americans oppose that, not even Republicans with their own female candidate. Likewise with libertarianism, even many on the political left (including many minorities) might be fine with a president who was a genuine libertarian, that is to say not an authoritarian corporatist theocon—see Reason Magazine’s take on this:

A majority—53 percent—of millennials say they would support a candidate who described him or herself as socially liberal and economically conservative, 16 percent were unsure, and 31 percent would oppose such a candidate.

Interestingly, besides libertarians, liberal millennials are the most supportive of a libertarian-leaning candidate by a margin of 60 to 27 percent. Conservative millennials are most opposed (43% to 48% opposed).

A libertarian-leaning candidate would appeal to both Democratic and Republican voters. For instance, 60 percent of Hillary Clinton voters, 61 percent of Rand Paul voters, 71 percent of Chris Christie voters, and 56 percent of those who approve of President Obama all say they would support a fiscally conservative, socially liberal candidate.

As for Trump’s followers, that is a whole other ball of wax. They are just outraged beyond all sense or reason. It really doesn’t matter what Trump says or advocates. I suspect his followers would follow him all the way to Soviet-style communism without blinking an eye, proclaiming conservative rhetoric all the while. The outrage may get a lot of attention and the mainstream media loves it for its entertainment value (i.e., advertising dollars), but it has little to do with what most Americans want, not even among Republicans.

Americans aren’t ideological in the sense that word is normally used. Social science research has shown this. Most Americans support liberal and progressive policies, even as they support symbolic conservatism. The latter is why culture war rhetoric is so persuasive. The thing about symbolic conservatism, though, is that it has no inherent meaning. It captures a mood, a sensibility, or an attitude—not so much a specific political system or worldview. When you look at the present and former communist countries, they are all socially conservative. It’s important to remember that conservatism isn’t the same thing as right-wing, which is particularly clear when one considers how socially liberal are most libertarians. Economic populism in the US in the past was strongly supported by conservatives. There is even an old history of Christian socialism.

In the end, labels are mostly meaningless. That is being demonstrated with Sanders campaign. It doesn’t matter what he calls himself. He is drawing support from many Independents and even is luring a surprising number of Republicans who are fed up with the GOP circus. In reality, Sanders is just an old school New Dealer. So was Reagan before he became a neoliberal (he never lost his admiration for FDR). There is nothing contradictory between conservatism as a general view and the economic left. Russell Kirk was the mid-20th century thinker who made American conservatism respectable again and yet he saw no problem voting for a Socialist Party candidate.

Clinton and other mainstream types point to Sanders’ history on gun policy. They see this as harsh criticism, proving he is no liberal. Such an argument merely proves how disconnected are the political and media elite. Most liberals, like most conservatives, are for gun rights. Just as most conservatives, like most liberals, are for stronger gun regulation. There is no contradiction here. As a politician, Sanders doesn’t just represent urbanites but also many rural folk. As in Iowa that usually votes for Democratic candidates in presidential elections, you don’t have to be a crazy right-winger to own a gun. On the political left, there is between a quarter and a third who have a gun in their homes (depending on the Pew demographic). That isn’t extremely different from the half of those on the political right who have a gun in their homes. It is important to remember also that conservation, a major issue supposedly for liberals, has always been strongly defended by gun-toting hunters.

None of this is about ideology in a simple sense. Nor is it about parties. Voters switch parties easier than do most politicians and candidates. Even entire parties shift over time, as with the GOP once having been the home of radical left-wingers—critics having called them Red Republicans. As for Democrats, it was common to find white supremacists among their ranks earlier last century. Obviously, the parties have changed… and they will keep changing. Until a short while ago, Sanders wasn’t even a Democrat. If an Independent politician can become a Democratic candidate, then maybe many Independent voters will follow suit.

Older Americans still live in the shadow of McCarthyism and many tremble with fear at being associated with communism and socialism, but younger Americans simply don’t give a frack about Cold War propaganda since they never knew the Cold War. Those among us who do remember it are simply tired of it and are ready for something new.

I’ll tell you what I care about—democracy! That is always the first victim of the US campaign season. I’m not a political animal. It doesn’t even take a Trump to make me despondent. Still, I care about democracy, if only as a vision and a glimmer of potential.

The first political candidate I ever cared about was Ralph Nader. That was back in 2000. I was entirely apolitical before that. It was a shock to the system when I heard Nader speak. Holy shit! This was a politician who had principles and actually believed them. You could hear it in his voice. I had never come across that before.

That was the first time I voted for a presidential candidate. It was a strange campaign to which to lose my political virginity. I felt dirty afterwards. The ugliness of that campaign season put this one to shame. Nader supporters like me got blamed for everything going wrong, even though the Democratic candidate won the election before it was handed over to Bush by the Supreme Court. Shouldn’t the Democrats instead have been mad at a system that was proven corrupt and been mad at their own candidate who bowed down before that corruption, refusing to challenge it?

It was disturbing that the members of a party called Democratic would be so accepting of a process that was shown to be so blatantly undemocratic. To many Americans, it was just corrupt politics as usual, as if there was nothing that could be done about it other than to repeat the same insanity and idiocy four years later.

Of course, the kind of Democrat that attacked Nader voters in the past are now attacking Sanders supporters now, with the DNC leadership trying to tilt the field in Clinton’s favor (e.g., shutting down debates or scheduling them when few would watch). It’s the same old game: defend the status quo at all costs, even as the status quo grows worse and worse. The reason given is that the only alternative to present problems are even worse problems. So, vote for the lesser evil, going down a road paved of good intentions, until by slow descent we all end up in hell. Third Way politics has turned out to be nothing more than an appeasement to the powers that be. More of the same will just get us more of the same, all the while expecting something different, what some define as madness.

Even Sanders isn’t some extreme alternative. On military issues, he might not be all that different from Obama who has followed the example of Bush. Even his economic views are really just mainstream social democracy, rather moderate and tame, and popular as well. The main advantage Sanders offers is the possibility of a shift in the political narrative, a chance to widen the range of allowable opinion. He isn’t much of a socialist, but just the ability to use that word in a national campaign is a breath of fresh air. It’s a sign of new options being put on the table. I’m so tired of replaying the Cold War endlessly. The Russians aren’t going to invade. We don’t need to constantly act in permanent panic mode—America against all the world, including too often American against other Americans. It’s time to look not to the past, but to the future, to new possibilities.

This is what gives me hope. The younger generations don’t carry all that baggage from last century. And it really is a heavy load on the shoulders of the Cold War generations. Americans haven’t been able to think straight about almost anything for a long time, our minds being in the vice grip of paralyzing rhetoric.

In the Cold War battle between left-wing communism and right-wing fascism (or what others call corporatism, crony capitalism, inverted totalitarianism, etc), the latter won and we are living with the results of that. Instead of Godless communism, the ruling elite promoted a religious-tinged culture war both in the US and around the world. The US and other Western governments took out the communist governments in places like the Middle East and helped to replace them with Islamic nationalism (or else ruthless dictators), in the hope that it would keep the oil flowing and neoliberal markets open. How did that work out? The youth today wouldn’t mind a bit of Godlessness at this point, maybe even a moderate dose of genuine leftism for a change.

I do believe that shifting public perception is one of the most important things we can do right now. It doesn’t matter that Sanders isn’t actually a socialist. I realize that electing him president won’t lead to revolutionary changes that will transform our government toward a functioning democracy nor our economy toward socialism. What it will do is open up a space where dialogue can begin. No other mainstream candidate is offering such an opportunity. That shouldn’t be dismissed with cynicism and supposed realpolitik pragmatism.

I sense many Americans agree with me on this. What we need right now is a way of speaking across the many divides of generations and skin color, parties and ideologies. As Americans, our concerns, our lives, and our fate is held in common. It’s not about finding the right leader to solve our problems, but to reenvision who we are as a people. We don’t need to take America back. We are America, all of us.

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(I should make note of something. I wasn’t ignoring third party candidates. I actually despise the two-party system. I like that Sanders’ campaign is opening up discussion of important issues, such as what does and could socialism mean in a democracy, and heck what does and could democracy mean in a corporatist political system. Yet, all in all, I’m more likely to vote third party. But in a sense this post isn’t really about the presidential election. My interest is in what this all means for the American people, where is it that we are heading, what is possible.)

* * *

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