One of the last times I wrote about politics in this blog (having made the futile promise to myself to stay clear of the topic to preserve my sanity), was after the midterm elections: “I had only one wish for the Midterms: gain the House, although like most moderate progressives, I was rooting for Beto, Gillum, et al. Still, I sleepily emailed ebullient messages to a few friends at 3.00 AM declaring ‘victory’ with the subject heading ‘bring on the subpoenas.’”
How naïve I was. We now all know the effectiveness of subpoenas when the Attorney General is a shill for those under scrutiny. Instead, investigate the investigators his boss suggests.
For a while I fantasized that maybe indeed Biden might be the best qualified candidate to “unite” the nation and make nice with the Republican Party so things can get done. It was a dreadful, misplaced hope I now think. Remember the Merrick! (Merrick Garland, that is, the Obama appointee to the Supreme Court who was kneecapped by Mitch McConnell.)
The critical nature of winning the 2020 election is no better spelled out than in a recent article in The Nation by Edward Burmila, “Empty Calls for Bipartisanship Could Doom Us All.”
Among his salient points are the following:
*Joe Biden’s assertion that President Donald Trump is an “aberration” in the Republican Party is naive at best and revisionist at worst
*Birtherism and Tea Party rhetoric about taking back “our” country were a product rollout, a test marketing of Trump’s politics of white identity
*The Democratic Party seems unable to recognize the seriousness of the moment. It is only luck that the right has not yet found a skilled autocrat
*Imagine what that person could accomplish with the support of a pliant Republican Senate and conservative-packed federal judiciary
*The Democratic Party has an opportunity to influence what happens next. It will not do so with empty promises to unite Americans.
*It is imperative that the eventual Democratic nominee articulate a worldview based on the belief that public policy, not markets, can address social and economic problems, with specific proposals to that end. If ever there was a time to be bold rather than to play it safe, this is it. Without a compelling alternative, ideologues like Trump will succeed by filling the vacuum with a simple—and vile—worldview.
OK, then, what kind of public policy? We are dealing with a populace who is anti government everything. Bring on chaos is their mantra. They have it with their leader. The conventional extreme left progressive “wisdom” of promising to take care of everyone from cradle to grave is not going to sweep Trump and sycophant Republicans out of office. This is where I disagree with the implication of Burmila’s argument. There must be a place for “markets” or progressives will merely defeat themselves. But I agree with the urgency of Burmila’s call to action. Boldness is required.
This is underscored by Bret Stephens’ opinion column in the New York Times this weekend, “How Trump Wins Next Year”
He argues that around the world recent elections have ushered in Trumpian populists or have solidified ones already in office, in India, Australia, the Philippines, Israel, Brazil, and Italy – and what is about to happen in the UK.
The core of Stephens’ line of reasoning is:
The common thread here isn’t just right-wing populism. It’s contempt for the ideology of them before us: of the immigrant before the native-born; of the global or transnational interest before the national or local one; of racial or ethnic or sexual minorities before the majority; of the transgressive before the normal. It’s a revolt against the people who say: Pay an immediate and visible price for a long-term and invisible good. It’s hatred of those who think they can define that good, while expecting someone else to pay for it.
When protests erupted last year in France over Emmanuel Macron’s attempt to raise gas prices for the sake of the climate, one gilets jaunes slogan captured the core complaint: “Macron is concerned with the end of the world,” it went, while “we are concerned with the end of the month.”
Stephens accurately accuses the left of being their own worst enemy: … it self-consciously approaches politics as a struggle against selfishness, and partly because it has invested itself so deeply, and increasingly inflexibly, on issues such as climate change or immigration. Whatever else might be said about this, it’s a recipe for nonstop political defeat leavened only by a sensation of moral superiority.
He makes the point, and here is where my thinking and his especially conjoin, that moderate liberals of the past, a Tony Blair or a Bill Clinton -- and while neither could be held up as perfect politicians (in particular Clinton’s moral failures) -- that neither would ever have been bested by someone like Trump.
So where is that person? Far be it for me to speculate who that should be. Perhaps as the primaries develop that person will emerge, but I fear that if it is someone from the far left or a reach-across-the-aisle placater singing 'Kumbaya', we will have missed our opportunity to turn back this wave of populist, know-nothing, nihilism.