All is Lost

This election, for many Democrats, wasn’t only about a candidate.

Hillary Clinton was not just a candidate but their candidate. Not just a Democratic candidate but the Democratic Party itself. The Clinton New Democrats have defined and controlled the party for decades. And Hillary Clinton has become the face and voice of the party establishment, of the Democratic worldview. Many Democrats, especially women, have looked to her as a leader long before she ran for the presidency.

What ended was an era. It felt like a stake to the heart of what was left of the progressive vision. It was a loss of a promise, a loss of the guarantee that no matter how bad it could feel at times the United States was fundamentally good and getting better. Democrats didn’t just lose an election. Their entire sense of reality was demolished and their vision torn out by the roots.

How could someone like Donald Trump win? It is incomprehensible to these good liberals. Trump stands for everything they fear and hate, the type of old school bigotry-spewing demagogue and misogynist that this country supposedly left behind when we entered this new century. These Democrats see themselves on the side of good. How could they lose? It was supposed to be impossible for someone like Trump to come to power. All the mainstream media, all the experts, all the polling said it couldn’t happen.

Now, having put all their faith in Hillary Clinton, they’ve been profoundly demoralized and publicly shamed. Their entire sense of the world has been shaken. They are asking themselves, what country is this that I live in? Simply put, they are shocked, maybe traumatized even, and they find themselves in a state of mourning. Nothing will ever be the same again. In their anguish and despair, they’ve gathered in public places to comfort one another, to protest, to have the opportunity to speak and be heard. They want to be reassured that they are not alone, that there are others who understand and share their sadness, their fears, a jumble of emotions and doubts.

Those on the outside see it as a strange response. It’s an election, like many elections before. There are always losing candidates and bad feelings among those who supported those candidates. Also, this isn’t the first time a party has been so severely challenged. In fact, this country has faced many periods of worse conditions than this. Objectively, the stolen election of 2000 was a far more important failure, and yet most partisan Democrats were oblivious of its significance at the time (and most remain oblivious). Nor is this as bad as the Whig Party losing power in being replaced by the Republican Party, Republicans losing to Franklin Delano Roosevelt for three elections in a row, Richard Nixon’s presidency ending with the Watergate scandal, etc.

We haven’t experienced an assassination, civil war, revolution, coup d’etat, or societal collapse. It was just another election, nothing particularly shocking about that. Elections happen on a regular basis. That misses the point, though. It’s easy to be dismissive. This wasn’t a normal election, in so many ways.

It’s slowly dawned on me how this has impacted partisan Democrats and why that impact has been so powerful. When they look upon someone like Trump and his ‘deplorables’, the good liberals feel disgust, an unmoderated and overwhelming disgust. To be fair, Pew found that 55% of voters in general state that they feel disgust about the campaign. But Pew also found a clear difference in Democrats taking it more personally: “Clinton backers – particularly highly educated ones – have more difficulty respecting Trump supporters than the other way around.”

This disgust response is not a rational assessment of the problems we face but a visceral reaction that knocks their legs out from under them, hits them in the gut, hurts their heart, etc. For many of them, it makes them physically ill, in the way that smelling puke can make you puke. And I wouldn’t be surprised if many Clinton supporters took a sick day after the election.

Why is that?

J. Scott Wagner, in his new book The Liberal’s Guide to Conservatives, offers an explanation that seems to fit. In differentiating the two main ideological predispositions, he explains the disgust response (Kindle Locations 4767-4778):

“I think conservative disgust ties in with the strange, strong evidence of conservative strength in the sense of smell, where the disgust response long ago originated in humans. They seem to have a way of “sniffing out” situations, and then use appropriate, mild levels of disgust to set a boundary that doesn’t just max out all at once, like liberal disgust. The emotional reaction is muted. Some research has shown conservatives with broadly higher levels of specific types of brain activity than liberals when disgusted, yet reporting the same perceived level of disgust: this may mean that they’re used to interpreting and dealing with greater impacts from disgusting events without being as emotionally affected.[ 145] It feels to me as if mild levels of disgust are so common for them that they learn to live with it, so that it doesn’t overwhelm them unless there’s a strong reason to be disgusted.

“When I’m around liberals who are disgusted, it’s hard to miss. With conservatives, in situations like business or casual social situations, it can be hard to detect, yet the effects can be dramatic, at least over time. Their politeness often takes the form of being reserved, after all, so what they’re thinking and feeling doesn’t spill out as readily or clearly, even if they’re experiencing disgust.”

Wagner is right about his assessment. And he is right that this fits into the issue of boundaries and boundary types, a topic I’ve discussed with him before in this blog. Liberals can’t simply shut off disgust or compartmentalize it, at least not to the extent that conservatives are so easily able to do. About emotional unpleasantness, liberals “can leave the experience with a much worse feeling than the conservative does; more emotionally affected” (Kindle Locations 3267-3268).

This is because liberals tend toward being thin boundary types. There is less division and distance between aspects of a liberal’s life and experience. This applies as well to perception of time, as the past is never entirely past for the thin boundary type. As such, an election doesn’t just end. Also, the results aren’t limited to the boundaries of politics. Thin boundaried liberals take it personally. I could hear this in the words that liberals spoke after Trump’s election. They immediately jumped to the personal effect they imagined this would have on people they personally know and care about. The potential harm that could follow from bigotry let loose is real to them, as if it has already happened to them personally.

So, it wasn’t a mere lost election. The world they know, feel, and experience is threatened. And the worldview they held no longer makes sense, no longer applies to what this election has shown the world to be. It may not be the literal end of the world, but it is the end of their world, that is to say the world that they have become personally invested in and fought for. It doesn’t matter that, as someone like myself might argue, that the good liberal dream has never been a reality. Nor does it matter that Hillary Clinton was never actually the person they believed her to be. What has been destroyed is a hope and a promise, the sense that the world was moving toward something better.

Naive as it may seem, good liberals genuinely believed in the good liberal vision, no matter how many inconvenient facts critics and doubters pointed out. It wasn’t that the good liberal vision always succeeded and perfectly matched reality. The point was they had good intentions and that, however slow it took, real progress was being made. They saw themselves on the right side of history, a moral arc that bent toward justice. But now they feel as if they’ve been abandoned and all is lost.

The War Party Always Wins

Since the War Party dominates both branches of the Two-Party-System, the recent track record suggests that the Republicans will nominate a candidate bad enough to make Hillary look good.

This was written by Diana Johnstone, from Queen of Chaos. The book was published in October 12, 2015. I’m not sure when the writing of it began or was finished, but nowhere in the book does she directly speak of an ongoing campaign season for the presidential election. It seems she is speaking of a purely hypothetical scenario, which is to say a prediction.

She had no way of knowing someone like Trump was going to take over the Republican Party and win the nomination. Her prediction turned out to be more true than even she could have imagined. Trump is about as bad of a candidate as could be found, in making Hillary look good. Apparently, the War Party’s strategy has so far been a major success.

* * *

Queen of Chaos: The Misadventures of Hillary Clinton
By Diana Johnstone
Kindle Locations 3629-3671

Hillary Clinton’s performance as Secretary of State was a great success in one respect: it has made her the favorite candidate of the War Party. This appears to have been her primary objective.

But Hillary Clinton is far from being the whole problem. The fundamental problem is the War Party and its tight grip on U.S. policy.

One reason there is so little public resistance is that the wars started by the War Party hardly feel like real wars to the American people. Americans are not seeing their homes blown up. The drone armada is removing the inconvenience of “boots on the ground” veterans coming home with post-traumatic stress syndrome. War from the air is increasingly safe, distant, invisible. For most Americans, U.S. wars are simply a branch of the entertainment industry, something to hear about on television but rarely seen. These wars give you a bit of serious entertainment in return for your tax dollars. But they are not really a matter of life and death…

In fact, it hardly seems to matter what happens in these wars. The United States no longer even makes war in order to win, but rather to make sure that the other side loses. Hillary Clinton accused Vladimir Putin, quite falsely, of adhering to a “zero-sum game in which, if someone is winning, then someone else has to be losing”. The United States is playing something even worse: a “no win”, or a “lose-lose”, game in which the other side may lose, yet the United States cannot be called the winner. These are essentially spoiler wars, fought to get rid of real or imagined rivals; everyone is poorer as a result. Americans are being taught to grow accustomed to these negative wars, whose declared purpose is to get rid of something – a dictator, or terrorism, or human rights violations.

The United States is out to dominate the world by knocking out the other players.

“Our ideals” are part of the collateral damage. With its wartime crackdown on internal enemies and its Homeland Security and Patriot Acts, the United States is not only sacrificing its own freedom, it is undermining the very belief in progressive values: in democracy, in progress, in science and technology, in reason itself. By loudly identifying itself with these values, the United States is actually promoting their rejection. Such ideals increasingly resemble a mere camouflage for aggression. What is the use of democratic and liberal ideals when they are reduced to serving as pretexts for war?

And yet, opposition to the War Party is certainly shared by countless Americans. It is probably much greater than the pro-war establishment realizes. But those who are increasingly alarmed by the danger feel helpless to do anything about it. This is because the War Party is firmly in control of the two-party political system.

In February 2015, Paul Craig Roberts wrote:

Jobs offshoring destroyed the American industrial and manufacturing unions. Their demise and the current attack on the public employee unions has left the Democratic Party financially dependent on the same organized private interest groups as the Republicans. Both parties now report to the same interest groups. Wall Street, the military/ security complex, the Israel Lobby, agribusiness, and the extractive industries (oil, mining, timber) control the government regardless of the party in power. These powerful interests all have a stake in American hegemony. The message is that the constellation of forces precludes internal political change.

And he concluded that: “Hegemony’s Achilles’ heel is the US economy.”

If Roberts is right, and it is hard to see where he is wrong, the only thing that can liberate Americans from their warlike fiction would be economic collapse. This is not a cheerful prospect. It is hard to hope for an economic catastrophe as the only way to avoid nuclear annihilation. Whatever the odds, one cannot help wishing that the American people would come to their senses and figure out a way to end this policy of war and thus find a constructive way of dealing with the world. This happy ending is theoretically possible, but looks extremely unlikely because of the American political system.

The U.S. Presidential election is essentially a popular entertainment event. Billionaire sponsors send two carefully-vetted contenders into the arena, sure to win either way. The intellectual level of Republican-Democrat confrontation increasingly recalls that of the parties that divided the early Byzantine Empire, based on blue and green chariot racing teams. In the 2016 presidential election, the Good Cop party and the Bad Cop party will disagree about domestic policy issues before everything gets stalled in Congress. But the most significant issue of all is the choice of war.

Since the War Party dominates both branches of the Two-Party-System, the recent track record suggests that the Republicans will nominate a candidate bad enough to make Hillary look good.

 

 

Irreparable Damage, Voting Subjects, & Direct Action

I get the feeling that Barack Obama has done irreparable damage to the political left. So many Americans genuinely believed in and were excited by his message of hope and change. I bet even many people from the political right voted for him.

There was such a profound sense of disappointment and betrayal once he had been in office for a while. It turned out he was just another professional politician and that the hype had meant very little. He continued many of the same policies from the Bush administration. Worse still, he passed healthcare reform that was originally a Republican idea which favored insurance and drug companies, rather than the leftist single payer reform most Americans wanted.

Obama’s presidency has made many Americans far more cynical than they’ve been in a long time. No one expects Republicans to genuinely care about the poor and needy, to fight for the rights and opportunities of the lower classes. But many do expect this from Democrats, however naïve that might be.

I know of those who supported Obama in 2008. Some of them now support Clinton, Obama’s nemesis back then. The heir of hope and change is Bernie Sanders. Yet many have lost faith that hope and change is possible. It’s not just fear of Trump. These Clinton supporters, in many cases, have simply resigned themselves to the notion that Clinton is the best that the Democratic party will ever offer. It’s either take that pathetic choice or get nothing at all, so it seems from this jaded mindset.

Older voters, in particular, feel wary about trusting that genuine progress and reform is possible. They don’t want to be betrayed again. They’d rather go for the cynical choice because at least that way they’ll know what they’re getting. When cynicism overtakes the citizenry, that is the most dangerous moment for a democracy.

That is what Sanders is fighting against.

* * *

For US citizens, voting is a right. But it is also a privilege.

For one thing, not all US citizens have the right to vote, besides the young. Convicts and many ex-cons don’t have the right to vote. Many others who technically have the right to vote are politically disenfranchised and demoralized in various ways, by both parties in elections and in the presidential nomination process.

Another issue is that, for all intents and purposes, the US is an empire. Most of the people directly and indirectly effected by US policy aren’t voting US citizens. Who and what you support with your vote impacts not only non-voting Americans but also billions of people around the world.

This includes millions harmed, millions made homeless refugees, millions starving, and millions killed. Those impacted, mostly innocent victims, come from wars, including wars of aggression, proxy wars, and drug wars; CIA covert operations, such as inciting of governments coups, propped-up puppet dictators, US-backed authoritarian regimes, arming of paramilitaries, and School of the Americas military training; post-colonial resource exploitation, unfree trade agreements, US-aligned IMF-enforced austerity policies, and harmful sanctions; et cetera.

As a subject of the empire, you benefit greatly from US policies. It is other people, mostly poor and brown people, mostly in other countries that have to pay the full costs of these imperial benefits.

You are never making merely a personal decision when you vote. You are part of a privileged class of people on this planet. Your vote matters and the results are powerful. This is true, even as the system is rigged against American voters. The last thing you should ever do is support a candidate who supports the corrupt status quo of neoliberalism and neoconservatism.

We Americans should take all of this much more seriously. For those who have personally experienced US power, this isn’t idle campaign rhetoric. What is at stake is their lives, their families, and their communities. This isn’t about your party or candidate winning. It’s about morality and justice. Be sure you’re on the right side of history. You are complicit in what you support. Choose wisely.

* * *

When I was a child, I played soccer. My main talents were that I could run fast and take pain. I often played defense because I was good at stopping things. I demonstrated this talent during one game when in elementary school. I was probably playing halfback that day, as it requires a lot of running around. A halfback’s purpose is to be a go-between, to go where and do what is needed. It requires adaptability to the situation, whether defense or offense is required.

Anyway, in whatever position I was in, it was further up the field. The game had just begun. The other team had the ball. One of their players dropped it back and got out of the way. A giant girl came forward and kicked the ball all the way down the field. She was their one great weapon. It forced everyone on my team to immediately run back down the field. After a second time of this, many on my team were already running before the ball went flying. After observing this predictable situation, a brilliant idea popped into my mind. Why not simply stop the ball before it goes flying? So, at the next opportunity, I ran full speed right at that girl and took a body blow. Every time they did it again, I took another body blow. It stopped the ball and allowed my teammates to push the play forward, instead of backwards.

It was a proud moment of my childhood. But I’ve always wondered what the life lesson was from this incident. Well, besides the willingness to take a hit for the team. A few things come to mind. A basic lesson is to look for the obvious. Another is that direct action can be a good thing. Also, it’s much easier to prevent something than to react to it once it has already happened.

I’d apply these lessons to the entire society I live in. Politics most of all. I’ve come to realize how rare it is for people to see the obvious. Partisan politics shows the power of groupthink. Everyone sees the situation as inevitable and then reacts to it. This feels justified, as every0ne else is reacting as well. Strategy usually consists of trying to react more effectively. It doesn’t occur to many people that, if there is an obvious problem, maybe we should do the obvious thing to stop the problem.

Our society is full of obvious problems. The solution or prevention to these problems is often just as obvious. Yet we seem stuck in a mentality of endless reaction, always chasing the ball down the field. But what if we simply threw ourselves in front of that ball. Would it hurt? Yes. Would it stop the problem and make life easier for all involved? Yes, a thousand times over.

If we want to reform our society and make the world a better place, then we should do it. In the simplest, most direct way possible. We’ve already wasted enough time tiring ourselves out by running the wrong direction down the field, again and again and again. One would think that we as a society would finally grasp the obvious.

Let’s stop the problem first. Then we can act as a team to move forward.

The Partisan ‘Good’

There is something that I’m only now beginning to fully understand.

The whole lesser evilism is a distraction, but not in a way I previously thought. To many (I suspect most) partisan Democrats, someone like Hillary Clinton isn’t a lesser evil. She represents precisely what they want. Few of her supporters are fooled by her empty rhetoric.

Her political record is well known: big money cronyism, racialized tough-on-crime policies, class warfare on the poor, welfare slashing, war hawk militarism, and standard flip-flopping particularly on social issues. That is what people mean when they say she has ‘experience’, because indeed she is complicit in the corrupt system and is part of the corrupt establishment. She has experience in the day-to-day operations of the empire and experience in how to keep the masses in line. She knows the political game from decades of being an insider.

What lesser evil voting allows is plausible deniability. Partisan Democrats can vote for someone like Hillary Clinton, all the while pretending they don’t actually want everything she stands for. These kind of people want a strong ruler to maintain the status quo and protect the social order, at any and all costs. That is the only promise Hillary Clinton can make and that is why so many partisan Democrats support her. She represents the last hope for the system, beyond which lies the dangerous democratic masses demanding reform and justice.

Until recently, I took lesser evilism at face value. I assumed that most partisan Democrats would choose the more liberal and progressive candidate, if there was a viable option. That has been disproven with this campaign season.

Bernie Sanders represents everything partisan Democrats claim to believe, what they supposedly want and support. He is also the most popular candidate, both well-liked and well-trusted, unlike Hillary. In fact, in competition against Republicans, he is the most viable candidate. If all partisan Democrats cared about was winning to defeat the greater evil of the GOP, then there would be mass support of Sanders by the entire Democratic party.

Some suspect Sanders is a sheepdog to draw non-Democrats and Democratic doubters back into the fold. In that case, he would bring more votes to Hillary. But if that was the purpose, he is utterly failing at his job, considering many of his supporters aren’t partisan Democrats and have no plans in voting for Hillary. That is probably why there is such push back against him. He is making apparent the divide between the political left and partisans. The Democratic establishment and their defenders are realizing what a threat Sanders represents, as it is forcing the corruption of the system into the light.

This has put Democrats into an uncomfortable position. There is no longer any plausible deniability. They either support progressive liberalism or they oppose it.

True Blue Democrats

Hey Democrats! I want to talk to you for a moment. Just you real Democrats, though.

Ya know, the ones who are solid supporters of the Democratic party. The kind of True Blue Democrats who would never betray the party by giving their votes away in supporting a spoiler third party candidate or any other radical. Between you and I, we understand. It’s about the long game. We can’t always get what we want, just as long as we move the country in the right direction.

I have a question for you. What would you think about a Republican who did the following?

Someone who has regularly been dismissive of the deaths, struggles, and suffering of others. Has voted for wars of aggression, got on line with Bush’s fear-mongering policies of War on Terror and security state, supported the overthrow of democratic governments, thought torture should be allowed, and supports Israel’s oppressive apartheid government.

Someone who has used dog-whistle rhetoric and pushed class war against the lower classes. Has promoted tough-on-crime policies and mass incarceration and privatized prisons, helped to successfully cut welfare and disparaged the poor, and shows no real concern for poverty and growing inequality. Has been a constant strong supporter of big biz and big banks, advocates for job-killing ‘free’ trade agreements, accepts large amounts of money not just from corporations but also foreign countries, and in the past was against a 15$ minimum wage.

Someone who has stood in opposition to transparency and accountability. Has repeatedly undermined the democratic process, obviously not comprehending or else not caring about what democracy means. And is unconcerned about and uninterested in all those who have been demoralized and disenfranchised because of all these kinds of policies. Was against gay marriage, having been on the wrong side of many social issues and civil rights issues.

Basically, someone who has upheld a consistent worldview. Of neoliberalism based on crony capitalism, corporatism, and plutocracy. Of neoconservatism based on tough-on-crime, war hawk, and neo-imperialist policies. And all the positions that go with this worldview. Although flip-flopping whenever it is politically convenient, depending on the audience being spoken to and the interests being served at the moment, also depending if it is campaign season or not.

Your response might be:

“So? Those are Republican positions. It’s hardly surprising a Republican would support them. Why should I care? I’m not a Republican and I don’t vote for Republicans.”

Yeah, I know. Those ignorant, heartless Republicans. They make me angry. We need to defeat them at any costs. The stakes are high in elections like this. We can’t risk letting a Republican win.

Well, what if I told you there is a Democrat who can be described the exact same way? God forbid! What if I told you that this person is a major Democratic candidate running for president right now? Say it ain’t so! And what if I told you that there is another Democratic candidate who is against all of what I just described? I bet I had you worried there for a moment.

Without knowing anything else about these two Democratic candidates, which one would you want as your president? Which one sounds repulsive, sounds like a Republican in Democratic clothing? And which one sounds like a genuine democrat, liberal, and progressive?

Democrats would never vote for Republicans, right? Not even if a Republican called themselves a Democrat, right? It’s not possible that more Democrats would have voted for a reactionary like Bush in 2000 than voted for a progressive like Nader, right? Democrats this time around also won’t vote for a candidate who supports Republican positions, right?

Unlike Republicans, Democrats never vote against their own interests, right? No Democrat voter would ever be deceived by empty rhetoric and false promises, right?

Partisanship vs Democracy

Here is a major problem of parties in the US political system.

We have a winner take all system. It creates a mindset of win at any costs and dominate by any means. Other (better functioning, one might argue) democratic governments allow greater multiple party competition while simultaneously encouraging cooperation and alliance-forming among the parties. One would hope that this could lessen the tendency of American-style territorial partisanship with its Social Darwinism and groupthink, and so it might give democracy a fighting chance to achieve democratic results.

The US system has come to operate with parties winning by excluding rather than including the most voters. Republicans dismiss minorities and non-Christians. Democrats dismiss lower class whites and leftist reformers. Both parties, in a bipartisan stranglehold, dismiss independents, third partiers, discouraged non-voters, and the disenfranchised.

Neither party fights for the rights, values, and interests of most of the American population. Instead, the two parties defend their turf and seek only to represent their respective small band of loyal followers. But in the end, the parties take their own partisans for granted, as the opinions of partisans is irrelevant since they’ll vote party line no matter what. This leaves both parties to do the bidding of big money, as research shows they do.

There is no incentive for either of the two main parties to act more democratically, to promote democracy, and to democratically represent the American people. Because of this, elections become empty spectacles to create an illusion of democratic process and consent of the governed.

We should and need to do better than this. But in order for that to happen, we have to demand better and put the force of conviction behind it. Otherwise, the force of desperation might lead us in directions we’d rather not go. Reform is the only way to prevent revolution. And, once revolution begins, it can’t be controlled.

My thoughts here aren’t particularly radical. They go back the American founding generation. It’s part of the original intent of the Constitution. George Washington, in particular, warned against the dangers of political parties. Washington may have been too idealistic in his criticisms, as factionalism may be an inevitable part of any large diverse society. Even if that is the case, his warnings about political parties remain and have proven true.

Fortunately, we don’t have to speculate about alternatives. The world is full of countries with different systems that can be studied and compared. Not all factionalism leads to American-style dysfunction and corruption. There is no reason we should remain attached to our dysfunction and corruption simply because it is our own. Think of it as a cancer needing to be removed so that the rest of the body may live.

If we don’t like the results we are getting and obviously most Americans are dissatisfied to an extreme degree with the status quo, then why not try something different in seeking different results? We Americans owe no loyalty to the two-party establishment. Our primary loyalty belongs to our country and and our fellow citizens, which is to say “We the People.” Democracy doesn’t mean power of parties and politicians; rather, it literally is power of the people.

A Liberalism That Dominates

Why do people think they can vote for a politician to represent them and then not be morally responsible for what that politician does in their name?

I’m specifically thinking of politicians with known political records. In such cases, voters can’t reasonably plead ignorance. One has to assume that they approve of the choices made by their preferred political representative. If that is the case and it is hard to interpret it otherwise, this speaks badly for most voters across the political spectrum.

Do these people honestly wonder why politicians do bad things when they vote for politicians known for doing bad things? Or are these people simply disconnected from reality, disconnected from the larger world of consequences where real people are harmed?

That last question points to a real possibility. Those who are most harmed by our government are those who don’t or can’t vote: the poor who are shut out of the political system, minorities who experience voter suppression, felons who are disfranchised, undocumented immigrants who never had voting rights, and foreigners who have no influence over our government. But those aren’t the people I’m focused on here. It remains to explain those who can and do vote.

I’m unconvinced that the voting public doesn’t know they are supporting politicians who harm so many other humans, large numbers of them being their neighbors and fellow citizens. I know ignorance is rampant. But with internet and social media, knowledge of government actions and political records is hard to avoid. To not know this kind of thing at this point requires a particularly virulent form of willful ignorance. Even then, in order for that ignorance to be willful what is being ignored has to be acknowledged at some level of awareness, even if subconsciously.

Another explanation is lesser evilism. I have considered that in great detail as of late. It is the rationalization often given for why people vote the way they do. I don’t doubt that people are easily manipulated by fear-mongering. And I don’t doubt that political campaigns and PR companies are highly advanced in the techniques they use to manipulate voters. Still, that isn’t a fully satisfying explanation.

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’ve resisted that conclusion for a long long time. It is the most demoralizing possibility that I can imagine. But it is starting to seem compelling.

My thoughts here have been largely elicited by listening to supporters of Hillary Clinton. Her political record is well known and widely discussed. It is easy to find out all the details of her political career. What bothers me is that much of what she has supported over the years and decades has led to horrific results, both in terms of decisions she has made in official political positions she has held and what she helped promote in working with her husband in his political career.

Clinton has been extremely active in promoting a particular worldview and social order. And to be honest one has to admit that it isn’t entirely inspiring: cutting welfare, mass incarceration, tough-on-crime policies, war hawk policies, promoting the overthrow of governments, etc. All of this corresponds to the money she gets from speaking fees and donations to campaigns and to the Clinton Foundation—from: prison industry, corporations, particular foreign governments, etc. She does the bidding of those who pay for her services. All of this is out in the open.

Maybe people who support her (and politicians like her) know fully well what she stands for. Maybe these voters completely understand what they are buying with their vote. Maybe they are intentionally aligning themselves with certain powerful interests. Maybe they want politicians who, from their perspective, will do what needs to be done.

It might seem like hypocrisy. Supporters of Hillary Clinton often claim to be liberals and progressives. So, how can they support her illiberal and reactionary policies? Yet maybe this misses the point.

The purpose of politicians in a democracy is to represent voters. If we take this as being genuinely true, then it indicates politicians are doing what voters want them to do. The confusion comes from there being a difference between what people say they want and what they actually want. That is what politicians are for, as they will do what voters want them to do, even though voters can’t admit that is what they want them to do. Politicians allow for plausible deniability, a disconnect between the voting public and government action.

We live in a liberal age. But we rarely think about what this means. What really is liberalism? Why do conservatives speak the rhetoric of liberalism and invoke liberal values? And why do liberals so often act like conservatives? Considering this, what exactly is this liberal order that dominates our minds and lives?

Moral Failure of Partisanship and the Political Machine

The policies that Hillary Clinton has supported and promoted have led to millions of people, in the US and other countries, to be pushed into poverty, imprisoned, and killed. Bernie Sanders is no dove on foreign affairs, but Clinton makes him seem like a pacifist in comparison.

That isn’t an exaggeration. It is simply looking at Clinton’s record on tough-on-crime bills, welfare reform, and wars of aggression—along with much else that could be detailed. The data shows all this to be true, the real world results of it. It can’t be rationally or morally denied.

So, how do her supporters rationalize this away? Just because it only hurts the poor and powerless it doesn’t matter… just because the disenfranchised and silenced masses can’t be heard we can ignore them with a clear conscience… out of sight, out of mind… really? Is this what goes for ‘lesser evil’? That is depressing and demoralizing. If this is the best that American ‘democracy’ can offer, we are in far more trouble than I thought.

I ask this not simply in the context of campaign season. It is a question about all of democracy or the hope and possibility of democracy. It isn’t just about supporting a candidate. More importantly, it’s about supporting the public good, of putting the people before politics and partisanship.

The cynicism of realpolitik in America is no doubt depressing but also quite pointless. It doesn’t really achieve anything, besides the same old problems endlessly continuing, status quo for the sake of status quo, a grim political determinism of learned helplessness. Don’t Americans ever take seriously the dreams of a better country? If not now, then when? A dream deferred is a dream denied. What are people afraid of?

I honestly would like an answer to these questions. They aren’t hypothetical or idle. But I know few people would have the moral courage to answer them.

Why don’t those millions of lives harmed matter to Hillary supporters? That is a deadly serious question. If she is elected president, how many more millions will be harmed by her policies? It is guaranteed to be a high number. Doesn’t that bother anyone besides those who are already concerned? Is this status quo of machine politics acceptable? Why should we tolerate such inhumanity and immorality? Do we really want more of this corporatist neoliberalism and neo-imperialist neoconservatism? Why? How does that make the world better for anyone?

My criticisms here are the same criticisms I’ve directed at Republicans. Why would I hold Democrats to a different standard? If I did hold two different standards, that would be both cynical and hypocritical.

Does anyone honestly believe that voting for lesser evil will ever lead anywhere besides evil? This isn’t speculation or hyperbole. Those are real lives of people impacted, many dead because of specific policies that get bipartisan support from professional politicians, both those like Bush jr and those like Hillary Clinton.

Is this really the best of all possible worlds that Americans can envision?

I honestly find Clinton more depressing than Trump. Clinton support shows that people are still willing to tolerate all of these vast problems, no matter how bad it gets. Many people would rather deal with known problems than to have the moral courage to face new possibilities.

This is particularly true of the party establishment who would rather lose the election than lose control of the political machine. That is why Trump has the GOP insiders so scared. But the Clintonian New Democrats realize that even though Hillary is unlikely to beat Donald they can at least put on a show that will convince the Democratic base that the Democrats lost honorably and that we just need to try harder next time, commit to partisan loyalty even further.

In that case, Sanders like Nader would get blamed for the failure inherent to the Democratic Party. The party officials will never be held accountable by Democratic partisans. Nothing will change and the same mistakes will be repeated. It’s a failure of imagination to an extreme degree. It’s a vision of fear, with both parties arguing that the other is the lesser evil, when in reality both parties are two sides of the same political evil.

I just don’t understand the type of ‘liberal’ who will vote for a warmonger like Hillary and think that somehow absolves them of all guilt until the next election cycle. That is more demented and horrific than most silly satements made by authoritarians. At least, authoritarians are being honest.

These fake liberals aren’t really indifferent. They are willfully ignorant. A person can’t be accused of indifference when they simply refuse to be aware. It’s plausible deniability. They can go on pretending to be good liberals and lying to themselves. That is the nature of evil. No mass atrocity could ever happen without the complicity of self-identified good liberals. It goes so far beyond mere indifference.

This is what happened after 9/11. Many liberal Democrats became strong supporters of Bush policy. It is so easy to make the average liberal into a fearful war hawk. Research has shown how easy this is to accomplish. This is why the lesser evil rhetoric is so effective. It is the Achilles’ heel of the liberal, and the only psychological defense would begin with awareness, but that first step is the hardest. People resist self-awareness because then plausible deniability loses its force. It is easier to just not think about it too deeply or for too long. Just hold one’s nose and vote, and once again forgetting about it all until the next election.

I’m a dreamer. I see the immense potential in humanity. It is amazing what we humans are capable of, when the conditions are right and we are challenged to be our best. What an awesome society we could create. And I don’t think it would even be that hard. Just the willingness to imagine it.

I don’t just want to blame others. This is about all of us. It’s not just a failure to understand but also a failure to communicate.

I struggle with that. It’s hard enough just trying to grasp the potential that is within us and what it might mean, in what we envision and in how we live our lives. I’m far from perfect in this regard. Still, I don’t want to make excuses for myself or for others. If we are failing our own stated principles, let’s use that as a starting point. Failure doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s merely the awareness that we could and should do better.

That is why voting matters so much, even as the electoral system is rigged. It isn’t just the person we vote for. More importantly, it is the vision we vote for. When we unconsciously vote for a disempowering vision, we give away our power. I don’t think even people who vote for Hillary feel inspired by their choice. They know it isn’t a good thing, but they’re afraid and that is all they can feel or see.

I totally sympathize with feeling overwhelmed. That is why I don’t even feel like demonizing Trump supporters. People are frustrated. I get it. I just don’t want Americans or any other people in the world to simply give into that frustration and give up hope. We really are capable of so much more.

Partisanship Makes Americans Stupid

Democrats are really pissing me off right now. I hate partisan politics. Even my support for Sanders is tentative. And I’d rather vote third party. For damn sure, I’m not going to vote for Hillary Clinton, if she gets the nomination.

Do these partisans have any common sense or principles?

On certain issues such as war, prisons and the police state, Hillary is far to the right of someone like Ron Paul or even his son Rand. I bet even both Pauls combined with their pro-capitalist libertarianism never accepted as many big money corporate bribes as has Clinton. She is a strident neoliberal, which in American parlance makes her an economic conservative. Also, the policies she has supported have been consistently bad for minorities. On most major issues, Clinton is to the right of the majority of Americans, often far to the right.

Why would any moral and sane person who took Sanders rhetoric seriously vote for Clinton? Why would any principled liberal consider Clinton to be much of a liberal, in the normal use of that word?

This same thing goes for Republican partisanship.

Those on the political right love to use libertarian rhetoric. Yet many third party candidates on the political left are way more libertarian. Even someone like Ron Paul isn’t all that extreme in his libertarianism. Green Party candidates are regularly more libertarian than Ron Paul and the candidates of the supposed Libertarian Party. Republicans love big government and deficit-spending, just focused on their favorite areas.

So, if one’s libertarianism is principled, why not vote for the most libertarian candidate? Well, the reason is that too many people use the word ‘libertarian’ when they really mean something entirely else: neoliberalism, corporatism, or whatever. But those crony capitalist Republicans will threaten the voters that they better vote for them or else the communists will take over.

This lesser evil crap is plain stupid. Lesser evil than what? Why is partisanship used as a way of excusing everything? Why do people vote against their own interests just to make sure that their team wins?

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Political Compass:

The US Presidential Election 2004
The US Presidential Election 2008
The US Presidential Election 2012
The US Primary Candidates 2016

Partisan Apologetics, Bipartisan Bullshit

Someone pointed out to me two articles, one by Paul Street and the other by Thomas Frank. They are about liberal apologetics or rather standard partisan rhetoric.

I often feel wary about liberalism as a label, especially as applied to the Democratic Party. Barack Obama’s liberalism is to Martin Luther King’s liberalism as Jerry Falwell’s Christianity was to MLK’s Christianity. But that is neither here nor there.

The point is that the apologists in question are defending the status quo. I’m not sure if it even matters how such apologists self-identify or what kind of rhetoric they use, just as it doesn’t particularly matter how they identify their opponents and their opponents identify them. Depending on who you ask, Obama is a liberal or a neoliberal, a socialist or a corporate shill, a radical mastermind or a weak moderate, and much else besides. It’s all so much empty talk.

What does matter is what is being defended, beyond all labels and rhetoric. It’s party politics. And I’m sure at least Paul Street understands that the two parties are basically the same, even if one of them is consistently and persistently more despair-inducing than the other.

The point is that Obama isn’t being inconsistent about his beliefs. The more likely explanation is that he is acting according to his principles and values, despite it not being the hope and change some thought he was bringing. His presidency, as such, isn’t a failure, but a grand success. It doesn’t matter what one calls it. Obama serves power and money, just like Bush Jr. It’s the same old game.

It isn’t a failure of the Democratic Party. It isn’t a failure of democracy. It isn’t a failure of liberalism. All of that is irrelevant. It’s a show being put on. It is politics as spectacle. Sure, Obama will play the role of a liberal in giving speeches, but it’s just a role and he is just an actor, although not as great of an actor as someone like Reagan, not that the quality of the acting is all that important.

For that reason, the apologists should be criticized harshly. So should the partisan loyalists who so much wanted to believe the pretty lies, no matter how obvious they were.

After he was elected, I was for giving Obama a chance to prove his intentions, not that I ever bought into the rhetoric. That is why I hoped he would get elected to a second term (instead of Romney), so that no one could ever claim that he wasn’t given the full opportunity to implement what he wanted. As his presidency draws to a close, it is fair to conclude that he has proven beyond any reasonable doubt what he supports. Of course, that should have been obvious long ago to anyone paying attention.

The healthcare reform was a good example of what he supports. As explained in one comment to Frank’s article:

“Obama was able to get the ACA through with no Republican votes, relying fully on Democratic support. Why then, didn’t Obama push a single-payer plan through? The only answer is that either Obama didn’t want single-payer, or the Democratic establishment didn’t want single-payer.

“So instead the Democrats went for the individual-mandate, proposed by the far right-wing Heritage Foundation in the 1990’s, and implemented by Romney in Massachusetts.

“Instead of a truly public health care system, the Democrats mandated that We The People need to subsidize private-sector, for-profit corporations.

“Not to mention, this ‘recovery’ has seen a drastic increase in the stratification of wealth, where the uber-rich have gotten far richer while the middle-class shrinks.

“But under a President McCain or a President Romney, would we have really expected anything to be different?”

Democrats typically argued that Obama’s healthcare reform was a good compromise for pushing progressive change. Meanwhile, Republicans typically argued it was either socialism or a step toward it.

What was mostly ignored by both sides of mainstream politics is that Obamacare first and foremost served the interests of big money, which in this case meant big insurance. The only time big money gets mentioned is when campaign season goes into full gear and even then it’s never about serious concern for getting money out of politics (along with related corporatist issues such as ending revolving door politics, stopping  regulatory capture, etc).

How does this kind of corporatist policy lead to either progressive or socialist results? Why not just call it what it is and leave it at that? Why are so many people willing to play these political games of doublespeak?

People have their minds so twisted up with convoluted rhetoric that I suspect many of them couldn’t think straight, even if they tried. Heck, looking at this ideological mess, I must admit that I also find myself struggling to make heads or tails out of it.

Besides standard political power-mongering, the agenda is hard to figure out. Is it just mindless defense of the status quo? Why don’t those in power see how destructive this is, even to the system itself in the long run?