The 2020 Democratic National Convention: Feel the excitement?
Not quite. The four-day celebration of the best the Democratic Party has to offer and John Kasich has its schedule set—and if you’re like me, you’re less than impressed.
Day 1 features Bernie Sanders and Michelle Obama as their top-billed speakers. Other than that, though, the list doesn’t exactly overwhelm. Sens. Amy Klobuchar and Catherine Cortez Masto, fresh off not earning vice presidential nominations, are evidently set to inspire conventioneers with their newfound status. Ditto for Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. Sen. Doug Jones is there because…he has an election to try to win? Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who has seen his star rise despite his state’s dilatory early response to news of positive COVID-19 tests and allegations of corruption will…call Donald Trump names?
In all, the speakers here seem to evoke an air of temporary/contextual relevance because they were once considered candidates for president or vice president or for their handling of the coronavirus. Bernie’s and Michelle Obama’s legacies seem pretty secure, but the others? Aside from Reps. Jim Clyburn and Gwen Moore, their records and future party standing are questionable. Clyburn’s and Moore’s inclusion itself speaks to the Democratic Party’s preoccupation with identity politics but only to the extent it reinforces “old guard” politics.
Day 2 features Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and is headlined by Dr. Jill Biden. Lisa Blunt Rochester is…from Delaware (not to downplay her significance as both the first woman and first African-American to represent her state in Congress, but she’s definitely not a household name)? Sally Yates is presumably there because of her defiance to the Bad Orange Man?
After that, it’s a trio of white dudes who definitely represent establishment Democrats. Chuck Schumer and John Kerry, one might imagine, will be on hand to deliver plenty of bland generalities. And then there’s Bill Clinton. If his association with Jeffrey Epstein and the “Lolita Express” aren’t problematic enough, there’s a good chance he’ll say something cringe-worthy just the same.
Day 3 has, um, Billie Eilish for the young folks? Seriously, though, she’s slated to perform. Newly-minted vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris and Barack Obama are the top political stars of the evening. As a whole, this day belongs to the ladies—and that’s pretty cool. Unfortunately, two of those women are Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, of whom to say they are removed from the concerns of everyday Americans would be an understatement.
Other than that? Meh. Gabby Giffords will be bringing her party loyalty and her obvious standing to talk about gun control to the table. Elizabeth Warren, the picture of party unity that she is, also will be delivering remarks. Michelle Lujan Grisham has…grit? And I don’t know what business Gov. Tony Evers of Wisconsin has speaking at this convention. This man made a late bid to postpone his state’s primaries, was rebuffed by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, and didn’t intervene in the same way Republican governor Mike DeWine did in Ohio to push back elections due to concerns about coronavirus infections at polling places. Even if spikes following the Wisconsin primaries can’t be definitively linked to in-person voting, failing to act to reduce or eliminate this risk is to be decried, not celebrated with a speaking slot.
The final day of the convention belongs, of course, to Joseph Robinette Biden. Andrew Yang is speaking—or he isn’t—or maybe he is again? We’ve got not one, but two Tammies—Tammy Baldwin (surprisingly progressive for Biden) and Tammy Duckworth.
Aside from these speakers, I could take or leave the rest of the program. With no disrespect meant to The Chicks (formerly known as the Dixie Chicks), OK, were party supporters clamoring for you to be here? Chris Coons once more fulfills the obligatory Delawarean portion of the program and that’s about it. Sen. Cory Booker, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, and Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms are present as not-too-old, not-too-young faces of the Democratic Party. Also, Pete Buttigieg is slated to gnaw on some cheese. Just saying—the guy looks like a rat.
This is what awaits viewers for the virtual Democratic National Convention, for the most part. As noted, John Kasich, who is still a member of the opposition party, should be speaking, though I didn’t see him listed on the official convention website schedule. All in all, with the Democratic Party speakers thus enumerated, there’s not a lot to excite prospective younger voters. A number of these political figures are either older, fairly obscure outside of political circles, or both, when not additionally owning problematic legacies (hello, Amy Klobuchar, Bill Clinton).
More critically, the attention to policy specifics, as it has been with Joe Biden the 2020 presidential candidate, will likely be sparing. In a political environment inextricably linked to the ongoing pandemic and impacted by the moment’s (overdue) push for economic, environmental, racial, and social justice, Americans hungry for substantive change want to know what the Democratic Party will do for them should the Democrats take the White House. The standard platitudes aren’t cutting it.
I refer to the “cold banality” of the Democratic National Convention in the title of this piece because, in addition to this event being a boring four-day celebration of Democrats not being Donald Trump, it largely freezes out progressives.
Bernie Sanders has been afforded a prominent role in the proceedings, though he has largely (and dubiously) tried to paint Joe Biden and his campaign as embracing a progressive platform. Tammy Baldwin and Elizabeth Warren will be also be delivering remarks, though on the latter count, it’s tough to know what exactly Warren’s commitment is to the progressive cause in the United States. She notably backed off her prior support for Medicare for All and took super PAC money during her own presidential campaign, trying to justify it by claiming everyone else was doing so and that she needed to follow suit. That doesn’t make you sound very principled, Ms. Warren.
And what about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez? This is where it gets juicy, as they say. AOC’s entire involvement with the convention is reportedly limited to a one-minute prerecorded message. That’s it. Sixty seconds for one of the party’s rising stars and biggest fundraisers. If this sounds stupidly self-defeating, one has only to remember this is the Democrats we’re talking about here, masters of snatching defeat from the jaws of victory.
This goes beyond mere strategic miscues, however. The DNC knows what it’s doing, and Ocasio-Cortez’s effective snub is another potshot at progressives seeking authentic leadership from the Democratic Party. Furthermore, with 2024 chatter already underway, the party establishment is probably desperate to blunt any momentum she might have for a presidential bid. They don’t want her pulling a Barack Obama and using her speech at the convention as a springboard to a viable candidacy. If that were to happen, they might—gasp!—actually have to commit to policies that help everyday Americans.
The old guard of the Democratic Party knows its days are numbered. Progressives haven’t won a ton of primary challenges, but little by little, they’re scoring impressive victories and elevating recognition of outspoken leftists to the national consciousness. Policies like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are resonating with the general public. Heck, a significant percentage of Democratic voters say they have a positive view of socialism. Dreaded socialism. When people are finally beginning to sour on almighty capitalism, you know a real sea change is in our midst.
It is because of this percolating progressive energy within Democratic ranks that, while it’s still frustrating that the progressive movement isn’t further along by now, leftists in the U.S. and abroad can take heart knowing that there is strength in grassroots organizing and people-powered solutions to society’s ills. The Democratic National Convention, in all its pomp and circumstance, already felt somewhat irrelevant given the fragmentation of the global media landscape in the social media age. With a global pandemic and economic, political, and social unrest altering the political calculus in 2020 even more, it seems especially so now.
Admittedly, I am sometimes reticent about opining on movements like Black Lives Matter and the types of protests set off by George Floyd’s murder at the hands of uniformed police. I feel that black activists should be in the lead on advancing the national conversation on issues relevant to BLM, and moreover, I realize I am not the most educated and certainly not the most qualified to speak on these matters, my experience grounded in middle-class, mostly white suburban life.
All these things considered, and under the premise that “silence is violence,” I feel as though I have to say something, to take a stand. Over the past two weeks, I have had numerous conversations with friends, family, and co-workers regarding the protests and riots that have swept America and have even manifested in other countries where disproportionate brutality against blacks is very real. Some of the responses were illuminating, to say the least, and suggest to me that we need to keep (or, in some cases, start) having uncomfortable conversations about race, class, politics, social issues, and every intersection therein.
The following are some thoughts on topics related to the wave of protests we’ve seen. These thoughts are mine, meaning I take full responsibility for them, though I acknowledge that people with more complete perspectives have helped influence my views as they currently stand.
George Floyd was murdered.
Not killed, murdered. Derek Chauvin had his knee on Floyd’s neck for close to nine minutes, with Floyd indicating at various points that he couldn’t breathe and numerous observers noting that Floyd wasn’t resisting (a common defense of police officers in situations like these which clearly doesn’t apply). Chauvin should’ve gotten at least a second-degree murder charge and the officers accompanying him likewise deserved their aiding and abetting charges for doing nothing while Floyd was being effectively choked to death.
I don’t give a shit about Floyd’s medical or criminal history.
So what if Floyd had underlying health conditions that contributed to his death. So what if he had a criminal record, and no, I don’t know anything about whether he does or doesn’t have one. The man had someone kneeing on his neck for close to nine minutes. That’s why he died.
I also don’t care if he was apprehended for paying with a counterfeit $20 bill. If Dylann Roof can shoot up a church in a racially-motivated attack and walk away with his life, it’s ridiculous to invoke Floyd’s reason for apprehension. George Floyd shouldn’t have died as a result of that encounter, full stop.
There’s no way Amy Klobuchar should be considered as a vice presidential nominee.
I feel like this goes without saying now, and even before the revelation she failed to hold Chauvin accountable for his role in prior incidents as Hennepin County attorney, Klobuchar was arguably a weak pick given her poor standing with voters of color and the idea that she wouldn’t have much to offer in the way of policy ideas to buttress a campaign in Joe Biden’s that has been largely devoid of specifics. With what we now know, picking Klobuchar for VP would feel downright suicidal.
Looting is not violence.
I get that people see looting and have strong opinions about it. I mean, who wants to have their things stolen or destroyed? Also, there’s the matter of not all businesses/structures being the same. If the target is, ahem, Target? I’m not very sympathetic. If people are looting a small business, especially a minority-owned business? That’s more deserving of sympathy.
To the extent that some individuals might be using these protests as an excuse to purely wreak havoc, I can’t say I support their actions. That said, looting is still a form of protest against an unjust system, one that has thus far resisted peaceful attempts to promote reform. Furthermore, property can be rebuilt or replaced. Human lives cannot. For this reason, equating looting with police brutality is a false equivalency and anyone wielding this argument in bad faith should be summarily dismissed.
Who has been responsible for most of the violence since these protests began? The police.
In video after video, the scene is set: Protests are peaceful until the cops come or decide to intervene. Whether it’s beating people with batons, pepper spray, rubber bullets, tear gas, or simply going out of their way to push, kick, drag or otherwise physically abuse civilians, uniformed police have frequently been among the worst agitators and perpetrators of violence of anyone involved. Even when there has been provocation, such as throwing bottles or rocks, often there’s a clear disparity of power and resources at work. These officers will be equipped with riot gear and weapons against otherwise unarmed protesters. If it comes down to it, that’s not a fair fight, and it’s not even close.
In one particularly egregious example, Aaron Torgalski, a member of Buffalo’s police department, intentionally knocked a 75-year-old man to the ground, whereupon he hit his head and started bleeding profusely. Not only did most officers not immediately rush to help the man, however, but some officers either walked past him or seemed to barely notice him lying motionless on the ground. To make matters worse, Buffalo PD tried to claim the man tripped and fell, when video evidence clearly indicates otherwise.
At this writing, the victim (who was white, not that it should matter, but just in case you were thinking this was purely about race) is thankfully stable but in serious condition. Regardless, this kind of unprovoked attack is reprehensible. It should be noted too that protesters aren’t the only ones who have felt the wrath of police brutality in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder. Numerous journalists have been arrested, beaten, shot at, or otherwise intimidated by police despite clearly identifying themselves by their profession.
In one instance, CNN correspondent Omar Jimenez was arrested on live television by Minnesota state police. Sure, there were apologies following this incident, but it’s absurd that it even happened in the first place, and journalists shouldn’t have to be afraid of doing their job. These examples of police violence against journalists are part of a disturbing global trend of increased violence against journalists. So much for the constitutional guarantee of a free press.
No, Senator Cotton, don’t send in the troops
That President Donald Trump would seek to invoke the Insurrection Act to send the military to states and quell protests unsolicited is enough to give one pause. That he would be echoed by sitting members of Congress, meanwhile, is unconscionable.
Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas, who indicated on Twitter earlier in the week that he would support offering “no quarter” to rioters (which, to be clear, is considered a war crime), penned an editorial titled “Send in the Troops,” which ran in The New York Times Opinion section on June 3. That the Times would even run this piece railing against antifa and “insurrectionists,” let alone have its inclusion later defended by editorial page editor James Bennet, has prompted a sizable backlash from the public and staff alike, notably for its potential to put black people in danger.
Cotton’s editorial, which the Times eventually said in a statement did not meet the publication’s standards for editorials, has been labeled as “fascist” by several critics. Whatever you call it, Cotton should never have written it and The New York Times should never have published it. Shameful.
Antifa is not a terrorist organization
It’s not even a real “organization,” lacking formal leadership. Either way, anti-fascists haven’t been responsible for any killings here in the United States. Police forces, on the other hand, obviously have.
The “outside agitator” narrative is BS
One last thing: Claims that “outside agitators” were responsible for destruction and looting in various cities have long been used to undermine protest movements and were cautioned against by Martin Luther King, Jr.
They discredit the ability of protesters to organize effectively, they distract from the central issue of police brutality, they downplay the spiritual connection of these protests, they are designed to make protesters’ cause look unsympathetic, and on top of all this, they can be used to justify violence against protesters because they communicate the sense that these are not our fellow constituents who are being beaten and harassed. You are advised to regard this narrative with skepticism, especially if the source appears suspect on this issue.
As always with mass protests like these, the question of what to do next is a pressing one. To act like we haven’t tried to formulate answers prior to George Floyd’s death, though, obscures the efforts of activists to design and implement interventions meant to reduce deadly police violence. As part of Campaign Zero, a campaign created in the wake of Ferguson protests after Michael Brown’s killing designed to end police violence, its organizers have outlined eight ways police forces can modify their use of force policies to produce better outcomes.
Failing to require officers to de-escalate situations.
Allowing officers to choke or strangle civilians.
Failing to require officers to intervene and stop excessive force.
Failing to restrict officers from shooting at moving vehicles.
Failing to develop a Force Continuum (which limits the types of force and weapons that are used in situational responses).
Failing to require officers to exhaust all other reasonable means (before deadly force).
Failing to require officers to give a verbal warning (before firing).
Failing to require officers to report each time they use force or threaten the use of force (on civilians).
A review of 91 of the 100 largest cities in the United States revealed no police departments of those surveyed employing all eight interventions. Fewer than half required officers to de-escalate situations (#1), outlawed the use of chokeholds/strangleholds (#2), required officers to intervene to stop another officer from using excessive force (#3), restricted officers from shooting at moving vehicles (#4), required exhaustion of means before deadly force (#6), or reported all uses of force including threatening a civilian with a firearm (#8). Minneapolis, in theory, requires officers to intervene in cases of excessive force. Until very recently, it did not ban choking or strangling civilians. Whatever the rules at the time, on both counts, the officers culpable in George Floyd’s death failed their duties, demonstrating the notion guidelines must not only be created, but enforced.
As noted, restricting the use of force is just one part of Campaign Zero’s agenda, which also involves ending “broken windows” policing, community oversight and representation, independent investigation/prosecution, expanded use of body cams, training, an end of for-profit policing, demilitarization of police forces, and fair police union contracts. Calls for de-funding, if not abolishing police forces, have been widespread. In light of the short shrift community social programs seem to suffer in so many cities at the expense of soaring police budgets, the former, at least, seems overdue.
These are common-sense reforms. As protests continue across America, what is vital in preserving momentum for enacting real change is having the uncomfortable conversations we need to have and should’ve been having with those around us who don’t approach these matters from a progressive bent and who conceivably might be allies in the struggle to recognize that black lives matter. We can’t keep refusing to talk about politics and social issues because it is awkward or upsetting. We have to rip off the proverbial bandages and examine the deep wounds in our society for what they are if we ever hope to heal as one people.
George Floyd’s killer and his accessories have been charged. The winds of social change are blowing. Long after these riots and protests subside, however, and outside the scope of ending police brutality, there is much more work to be done to address systemic racism in our world and widening income and wealth equality that threaten to swallow the lot of us whole. This includes stepping outside our bubbles and challenging the views of those not yet committed to a better future for all.
We all have a part to play in this. Whose side on are you on?
Following Bernie Sanders’s all-but-inevitable departure from the Democratic Party presidential primary race, the endorsements have been coming fast and furious for Joe Biden, the Dems’ presumptive nominee, including from Bernie himself.
Soon after Bernie’s surprisingly-early public backing of his friend and former senatorial colleague during a recent Biden livestream, Barack Obama, the yin to Biden’s yang during his tenure in the Oval Office, threw his weight behind Joe’s candidacy. Not long after that, Elizabeth Warren, who notably abstained from endorsements when it came down to just Bernie and Biden, also got behind the latter with a proud endorsement video for the man who loves Amtrak, aviators, and ice cream.
Echoing the positions of groups like the Democratic Socialists of America and the Sunrise Movement, however, I don’t endorse Joe Biden. I wouldn’t necessarily counsel against voting for him, mind you, especially for those who live in swing states, and I also believe even probable nonvoters should contribute to the discussion by trying to influence the party platform in a progressive direction. Either way, though, I am patently against trying to shame those who are undecided or have indicated they won’t vote for Biden into doing so.
First things first, if you’ve read my writing for any length of time, you know I’m a Bernie Sanders supporter through and through. How could I advocate not endorsing or not voting for Biden when my main man Bernie suggested it would be “irresponsible” for me not to?
Well, despite what some of you may have heard or might believe, we Bernie faithful are not members of a cult or bots. We can think independently of our inspirational leader. In fact, there are many who donated to the Sanders campaign and who otherwise supported Bernie’s run for the White House who wanted to see him go harder after Biden and his record when they became the final two candidates for the nomination. We believe Bernie’s a great man, but he’s not infallible. We can openly disagree with him.
This is besides the notion that, after years of being labeled as “toxic” and being dismissed as “Bernie Bros” who are predominantly young and white and hate women and want everything handed on a silver platter to them, all of a sudden, our votes are highly desirable and our endorsements are expected to mean something. Well, which one is it? Are we toxic, to be avoided at all costs? Or are we highly-valued members of the voting bloc/Democratic Party supporters? You can’t have it both ways.
(At this point, it might behoove me to mention that the concept of “Bernie Bros” being more liable to attack people online than supporters of other candidates is a myth perpetuated in large part by media outlets, more correctly attributable to his popularity. But please don’t allow me to let observable data get in the way of a good narrative.)
Plus, there’s the matter of the logical trap surrounding the “a vote for anyone but Biden is a vote for Trump” line. By extension, by one not voting for Trump, isn’t that the same as voting for Biden? If not, how so?
This is where, before I get ahead of myself, I openly concede Joe Biden and Donald Trump aren’t the same—and it’s not even close. Trump is a bigot, a cheat, a con man, a fraud, and a liar. Worse yet, he’s not remotely good at his job.
We’ve seen 3+ years of President Trump and the results include an administration continuously full of upheaval and vacancies; a Cabinet full of millionaires, billionaires, and other cronies; an escalation of racist and xenophobic rhetoric; a fast track for confirmation of federal judges thinly veiled in their prejudices and often incompetent; a tax cut that primarily favors wealthier earners; weakened protections for the environment and the LGBTQIA+ community; and a woeful response to the present threat of coronavirus/COVID-19 marked by political favoritism and hampered by a lack of due preparation. All the while, Trump, when not enriching himself, playing golf, tweeting, or watching FOX News, deflects blame, undermining a free press as “the enemy of the people.” It’s hard to imagine a worse president in the modern era than Donald J. Trump.
Returning to the question of the fallacy that not voting for the Democrat is a vote for the Republican and vice versa then, the only way this equivalency loses validity is if you consider that one candidate’s supporters are that much more likely to come out for their chosen nominee than the other’s. Such is potentially a big problem for Biden: enthusiasm. As recently as the end of March, an ABC News/Washington Post poll revealed only 24% of those surveyed strongly support Biden over Trump, while more than half of prospective Trump voters surveyed indicated they are “very” enthusiastic about casting their ballots for the incumbent. That’s worse than what Hillary Clinton encountered in 2016 at this point in the race—and we all know how that turned out.
Why the lack of enthusiasm for Uncle Joe? Maybe because he’s—and I’m just spit-balling here—not that good of a candidate. Through all these proud endorsements by the likes of Obama, Sanders, and Warren, a lot has been said about his character, his lifetime of public service, and his leadership. On the other hand, little, if anything, has been said about his policy positions or a cohesive vision for America’s future, and talk of his supposed progressive credentials flies in the face of his actual record.
The image Obama et al. are creating is an idealized version of Biden, one designed to drum up votes and drive home the differences between him and Trump on dimensions like empathy. It does not consider Biden’s stalwart opposition to Medicare for All and other single-payer health insurance systems, even during a global pandemic that is seeing record numbers of Americans file for unemployment and get kicked off their employer-sponsored healthcare plans. It does not consider his halfhearted embrace of the Green New Deal which would see the United States miss a net zero emissions target date of 2030 recommended by progressives by two decades. It does not consider his support for student debt cancellation only for some income levels, not all, and not after siding with lenders on a 2005 bankruptcy bill that made it harder for people to file for bankruptcy and unable to discharge their student loan debt through bankruptcy. It’s revisionist history that re-characterizes Biden’s identity as the poster boy for political expediency as something greater than what it actually is.
All this hagiographic elevation of Biden also fails to consider limiting factors that would seemingly disqualify most other candidates. One is his cognitive decline, obvious to anyone who has eyes and ears. It’s why we have not seen or heard more of him since the coronavirus prompted a state of national emergency in the United States. It’s why he’s reliant on cue cards, notes, or teleprompters during all planned appearances, which are often short and have his wife, Jill, leading him along. It’s why we see clip after clip of him laboring with his speech, struggling to form complete sentences and thoughts. This is more than gaffes or a stutter—and it’s not a secret to Republicans either.
The other big problem with Biden as the candidate of a major party, particularly one that touts its inclusivity and its strong female leadership, is the list of allegations made against him by various women of unwanted touching or close physical proximity. Most serious among them, and yet disappointingly underreported, is the account of Tara Reade, a staffer for Biden in the 90s, who claims that Biden sexually and verbally assaulted her.
Despite comparisons to Christine Blasey Ford’s testimony against Brett Kavanaugh prior to his confirmation to the Supreme Court and despite Reade seeming credible in her retelling of details about the alleged assault, many of the same people loudly calling for Kavanaugh’s withdrawal as a nominee are expressing their doubts about the veracity of Reade’s public statements. The primary difference herein appears to be not whether Reade is believable, but that Biden is a Democrat backed by the party establishment, while Kavanaugh was jammed through confirmation by Senate Republicans. He’s on our team, not yours. At least he’s not as bad as Trump. A victory for women and #MeToo, this isn’t.
Given all this, it’s no wonder enthusiasm for Joe Biden—the “white moderate” warned about by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who is cognitively impaired, has no empathy for young people, has few clear policy goals, and may be guilty of sexual assault—is so low. Even after a term of President Trump, that Biden is a tough sell should be immediately concerning to Democratic Party leadership and the “vote blue no matter who” crowd all the same.
So what, you may be thinking. If you’re not voting to stop the madman in the White House, maybe you should be ashamed. You just refuse to accept that your guy is not the one going for the nomination. He didn’t have the votes. It’s over. Get over your privilege and get behind the winner. We’re ridin’ with Biden.
I get it—a second term of President Trump would not be felt as severely by all Americans, much as is the case now. The horror stories of migrants kept in detention, denied asylum despite the dangers they face in their countries of origin. The families negatively affected by the Muslim ban masquerading as a travel ban. The anti-Asian hate being fomented as a result of fear and misinformation about COVID-19. The administration’s attempt to erase trans people. It’s not something I like imagining.
Citing Pew Research Center data from 2018, Greenwald finds that 56% of nonvoters in the 2016 presidential election made less than $30,000 per year. More than half of non-voters were age 49 or younger or were high-school-educated or less, and nearly half of nonvoters were non-white. Moreover, while voter suppression efforts of these groups are both “real are pernicious,” the idea that nonvoters are frequently not registering because they are dissatisfied with their choices or don’t believe their vote will make a difference is significant. It would, too, seek to dispel “the outright, demonstrable falsehood that those who choose not to vote are primarily rich, white, and thus privileged, while those who lack those privileges — voters of color and poorer voters — are unwilling to abstain.” In saying this, Greenwald is fixated on the bubbles we find ourselves in when we subsist only on a diet of one-sided cable news and social media.
It is this understanding that begs the question: How many indignities are progressives supposed to endure in their earnest attempts to help reform the Democratic Party and to defeat the Donald Trumps of today and tomorrow? Bernie Sanders ultimately didn’t make the case to enough Democratic primary voters that he is the most “electable” and is the right choice to take on Trump and the GOP. His, like any campaign, was flawed.
Biden’s campaign, meanwhile, has suffered from a lack of organization and funding throughout his run. He placed fourth in the Iowa caucuses and fifth in the New Hampshire primary. It was because of his strong showing in South Carolina and the coalescence of the Democratic Party around Biden that he was able to vault to the lead for the nomination and never look back, further buoyed by a media narrative that celebrated his comeback uncritically.
To make things worse, Barack Obama has had more influence on said coalescence than he would lead or like you to believe. As reports have indicated, the former president was influential in getting Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg to endorse Biden right around the time they bowed out of the race. Obama also held several conversations with Bernie to help “accelerate the endgame” before the Wisconsin primary results were made public.
Most chillingly, and regarding that Wisconsin primary, according to insider reports, Biden’s campaign was “eager” to have it run as originally scheduled or else they’d turn up the heat on Bernie to drop out, a notion Obama stressed in his conversations with Sanders. For all the “bad optics” of 2015 and 2016, this blatant favoritism of the establishment candidate over the progressive is yet harder to bear four years later. That Biden and his team would encourage people to go the polls during a global pandemic and despite widespread closures and poll worker shortages is all the more reprehensible. This was always about stopping Bernie and then beating Trump. Any pretense otherwise is beyond absurd at this point.
Joe Biden isn’t Donald Trump, and if you’re voting for the former to stop the latter, I understand completely. When people don’t share your enthusiasm for voting strategically and when they perceive that nothing meaningful will change regardless, though, trying to bully, demean, or insult them into voting is of questionable, if any, utility. So enough with the vote shaming already. You’d be better off making calls and trying to engage with disaffected nonvoters by understanding their points of view if you truly want to avoid disaster in November.
In a better world, Elizabeth Warren would be one of the final two (technically three if you count Tulsi Gabbard and her two delegates) candidates in a Democratic Party primary that has seen the field shrink dramatically just since Super Tuesday, if not the front-runner outright. She has the smarts and credentials to be president, not to mention her policy plans were remarkably detailed and she inspired an intense devotion from her supporters.
Instead, Warren, following a disappointing Super Tuesday in which she failed to win any state—including her own, only managing third—has decided to bow out of the race. At this writing, she has yet to endorse either Joe Biden or Bernie Sanders, though both campaigns are eager to add her to their ranks. Hell, if she does decide to back either one, she might earn herself a chance to be a vice presidential pick.
Warren’s departure from a race that already saw most of its women and candidates of color fall by the wayside is deeply disappointing to many observing the presidential race. It all but guarantees that America will have to wait at least four more years for a female president to break apart the stronghold men have had on the office, a reality especially galling when considering that Warren has less baggage than Hillary Clinton and was, by many accounts, the most intelligent and qualified candidate of the 2020 field.
While Elizabeth Warren’s supporters deserve the time and space to mourn their candidate’s exit from the primaries and while she is under no absolute obligation to get behind either of the last two survivors, if her followers are to truly embrace the kind of vision that Warren put forth, the choice of whom to vote for now is painfully evident: they must back Bernie Sanders.
Though not to say that Warren’s and Sanders’s visions for America were identical, there are a lot of similarities to be appreciated. Both candidates put the climate crisis front and center as part of their platforms. Both made ending political corruption, fixing our democracy, and making the wealthiest Americans and corporations pay their fair share central to their campaigns. Both made repairing a broken health care system and addressing the rising costs of college that are plunging scores of Americans into debt critical tenets of their policy fixes. Economic and racial justice for all. Raising wages. Putting a stop to the country’s promotion of endless war. As progressives, Liz and Bernie tick off many of the same boxes.
Such is why it’s disturbing to go on social media and see Warren supporters indicating they will now switch their allegiance to Biden, not Bernie. Granted, not every Warren stan is guaranteed to be a progressive. Within any candidate’s base of support, there is any number of reasons why voters may get on the bandwagon. American Samoa gave its majority of delegates to Mike “Stop and Frisk” Bloomberg and the rest to Tulsi Gabbard (Gabbard was born in American Samoa). Presumably, Bloomberg won there because he inundated the islands with advertisements like he did, well, pretty much the rest of the United States and its territories. Or—who knows?—maybe the Bloomberg campaign slipped money under everyone’s pillow on the eve of the primary. At this point, would you really be so surprised?
Still, Joe Biden’s policies? First of all, do you know what they are? No peeking, either. I admittedly don’t and I doubt you’ve gotten a sense of this from the ten (!) debates the Democrats have had so far. I’ve even been to his official campaign website and still don’t have a solid idea.
Beyond supporting a $15 minimum wage, which should be seen as mandatory for all Democratic candidates in this election cycle, Biden speaks about about restoring the “dignity” and “respect” of work, especially that of the middle class, in broad strokes. He talks more about a “public option” and the Affordable Care Act than universal healthcare even in the face of the exigent need of many. His timelines for ending our dependence on fossil fuels and fracking are too far in the future, if disturbingly undefined. He emphasizes enforcing existing trade laws and vaguely upholding a “modern, inclusive process” for addressing international trade rather than explicitly re-writing these rules with workers and activist groups at the table. He advocates securing our border to the south over reforming our immigration enforcement system and reinstating/expanding DACA. Across the board, Biden’s policy goals fall far short of what Sanders and Warren have asked for. Given his legacy as the quintessential moderate, one gets the sense this is by design, too.
Biden has also been—and I’m putting this delicately—less than forthcoming on his record, if not proliferating falsehoods on elements of his legacy. Despite his insistence otherwise, as part of his identity as a budget hawk in the Senate, Biden repeatedly called for cuts to popular entitlement plans like Social Security. He and his campaign for weeks adhered to a completely fabricated account of his arrest in South Africa en route to supposedly trying to meet with Nelson Mandela. He has a habit of plagiarizing others’ speeches. He practically wrote the book on partisan obstruction of Supreme Court candidates with what some have derided as a “smear campaign” against judicial nominee Robert Bork in 1987. As he has done his whole career, Biden is playing the role of the consummate politician.
His authorship of a disastrous 90s-era crime bill that helped fuel America’s history of mass incarceration. His vote on the Iraq War. His touting of working alongside segregationists. His siding with banks and with predatory lenders on the subject of bankruptcy protection for consumers and siding with the health insurance industry against Medicare-for-all. Anita bleeping Hill. So much is problematic about Joe Biden’s record and this is all before we get to present concerns about his cognitive decline.
Biden has long been regarded as a gaffe machine, but this goes beyond the pale. Forgetting Barack Obama’s name. Mixing up his wife and sister. Forgetting what state he’s in or what office he’s running for. It would be laughable if we weren’t staring at a second term (let’s hope it would end there, the way he talks) of President Donald J. Trump. This is the man who may stand between us and that eventuality. If you’re a Democratic Party supporter, can you honestly tell me you feel good about this?
Sure, no one knows who would truly be “electable” in this race and who wouldn’t be. That’s something that can only be assessed in retrospect after testing a candidate in the general election. Nevertheless, Biden’s baggage, his health, and—hello!—certain Republican attacks on him and his son Hunter’s involvement with Ukrainian gas producer Burisma Holdings, however, ahem, trumped-up they may be all make for significant liabilities in a showdown with Trump.
Bernie Sanders, of course, is not without lines of attack, disingenuous as they may be. He’s a socialist (or communist)! He wants to give away free stuff without regard for the cost! He praises brutal dictators! Unlike Biden, though, he actually has a vision for the United States beyond mere “civility,” a quality championed in the former vice president despite his public rebukes of voters, calling them everything from overweight to lying, dog-faced pony soldiers—whatever that means.
Moreover, if Bernie’s the Democratic Party nominee, he is far more likely to generate much-needed turnout from younger voters than “Uncle Joe.” For all Warren’s insistence on being the “unity candidate” Democratic supporters have sought, Sanders has broad appeal and is well-liked by Americans across the political spectrum. In a showdown with someone in Trump who has his own fervent backers, his coalition could prove pivotal to Democrats looking to regain control of the White House.
One of the biggest knocks I have seen against Bernie Sanders from Elizabeth Warren supporters and fans of other candidates is the supposed vitriol that is unique to Bernie and his ilk. It’s Bernie’s fault for stirring up all that anger! All that sexism! Anyone who disagrees with him is a corporate sellout or member of “the establishment!” The Bernie Bros! The snake emojis! The yelling!
Speaking as a Bernie supporter, I’m not going to deny that there is bad behavior on some of our parts. With Warren in particular, disparaging comments about her appearance (out of bounds for anyone but especially egregious coming from male chauvinists), her claims of Native American ancestry (enough with the “Pocahontas” jeers; it’s a tired line), and even that she used to be a conservative Republican (people do change) do nothing for the creation of a unified progressive front. And seriously—cut it out with the snake emojis. I may not be a fan of how Warren ran her campaign in several respects (the allegation that Bernie said a woman couldn’t be president, her girl-power allegiance with Amy “I Throw Things at My Staffers” Klobuchar, her reversal on taking super PAC money), but she is one of the most progressive lawmakers in the Senate. Full stop.
Personal attacks by users online and in comments sections aside, what exactly would we have Bernie do? Sen. Sanders is not the boss of the Internet. He has condemned his supporters’ “ugly, personal attacks” on Warren and other candidates in the past and recently re-upped on his disgust for this conduct following Warren’s departure from the race. Bernie shouldn’t be expected to police his fans’ posts any more than Warren did or Biden should, at that.
Speaking of the Internet, um, it’s the Internet. Like, you’ve used it, right? I’m not saying I condone sexism and other forms of bigotry, and certainly, death threats, doxxing, and other forms of intimidation are to be roundly decried. People say awful things on social media and in other forums in which public accountability is limited, if not absent altogether. It sucks. It’s not a great reason to abandon one’s principles, however, assuming these beliefs are firmly held to begin with. I don’t know about you, but people being mean to me wouldn’t dissuade me from believing that health care is a human right. It’s a matter of conviction, even in the face of disinformation, misinformation, and hostility.
One thing that is abundantly clear from political campaigning in the era of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social media outlets is that enthusiasm among users doesn’t always translate to the real world. Sanders and Warren supporters alike should understand this after a disheartening Super Tuesday that saw Joe Biden leverage an impressive showing in South Carolina days before into a dominating performance.
Biden, likely aided by last-minute dropouts and endorsements from Amy Klobuchar and Pete Buttigieg, as well as a seal of approval from Beto “I Eat at Whataburger” O’Rourke, won states he barely even campaigned in, if at all. Sanders went from presumptive front-runner to trailing Biden and looking much in doubt of capturing the necessary 1,991 pledged delegates to avoid a second round of voting at the convention. Warren saw her path to the nomination effectively closed.
In a rather deflating sense, what we see online and what we hear on cable news may not be reality. There’s a reverse to this, meanwhile, and it is much more encouraging. I may be biased, but so many of my interactions with Bernie supporters outside of chats and tweets have been positive. I think this speaks to a larger social phenomenon. I know plenty of Elizabeth Warren supporters who are terrific people and want substantive change. Getting to know and speak to them in person has been critical to my positive appraisal therein. Much has been made of political “bubbles” and “echo chambers” which make all of us susceptible to groupthink and persuasion at the hands of misleading data, and there is at least some degree of validity to this effect.
I get it—Elizabeth Warren didn’t get a fair shake in her presidential run. Sexism definitely played a role for many of her detractors and the coverage she didn’t get enough of during the campaign is bittersweet as part of the flattering postmortem analysis she’s receiving now that she’s suspended her bid. I also get that Bernie Sanders is, yes, another old white guy. On the other hand, let’s not rush to conflate him and Joe Biden. For one, Bernie winning the nomination and/or the presidency would be historic. No Jew has ever accomplished that feat. That’s no small potatoes if he does clinch one or both.
Religion aside, and more to the point, Sanders and Biden are miles apart on policy and vision. Bernie has a movement behind him and his ideas have, to a large extent, shaped the 2020 presidential race. Biden has his association with Barack Obama and a romanticized version of his career to rely on, but no clear path forward for the nation. At a time when real progress is called for, Biden’s incrementalism doesn’t rise to the occasion. Simply returning to a time before the rise of Trumpism is insufficient and illusory now that the proverbial cat’s out of the bag.
Whether you’re a progressive or a moderate Democrat who only wants to see Donald Trump defeated in November, Bernie Sanders, not Joe Biden, is the imperative choice for the Democratic Party come the fall. If you’re not convinced yet, read his stances on the issues on his campaign website. Come out to a Bernie Sanders event. Get to know some of his supporters. He may not be the candidate you envisioned at the start of primary season, but he is our best hope.
Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters, establishment Democrats and corporate media outlets want you at each other’s throats. They want you focused on each other and not on their preferred candidates, all the while using this conflict to generate clicks and satisfy their sponsors.
Don’t take the bait.
In giving this advice, I understand that these matters are fraught with emotion and thus that it’s hard to separate one’s feelings from one’s electoral hopes. Many Sanders supporters, I know, are downright furious with Warren. Warren supporters who believe their candidate of choice are likely disgusted with Bernie and the “Bernie Bros” who reflexively support him. From my perspective, I am less angry than I am disappointed that the situation evidently has turned so acrimonious so fast and in a way that so clearly benefits the less progressive challengers in the field.
So, where do we begin? Well, to be sure, some Sanders and Warren fans don’t need much prodding to get into it with one another, if any. Some of Bernie’s faithful have distrusted Warren ever since she endorsed Hillary Clinton over her more progressive primary challenger in the run-up to the last election, considering the move a betrayal of the highest order. They also see the Massachusetts senator as somewhat of a cheap imitation of Bernie and his ideals.
Some Warren backers, meanwhile, fear Sanders as a candidate who promotes disunity among the Democratic ranks by holding to a my-way-or-the-highway approach. By extension, they might argue he hasn’t done enough to rein in the #BernieOrBust faction of his base or respond to charges of sexism and sexual harassment from his followers and members of his campaign. As it was with Hillary, so is it with Elizabeth. 2016 becomes 2020.
It is against this backdrop that we might view the latest turn in tensions between the Sanders and Warren camps, one fueled by an incendiary report by CNN’s MJ Lee which tells of a meeting in 2018 between the two candidates in which the former expressed to the latter his belief that a woman couldn’t win the presidency.
The account is jarring to many observers for a number of reasons. For one, this depiction of Sanders contrasts starkly with past statements regarding female candidates and his own track record. It was Sanders, after all, who urged Warren to run in 2016 and only took up the progressive mantle when Warren didn’t oblige. He also, despite Clinton’s revisionist history, campaigned heavily for the Democratic Party nominee after bowing out of the race and has been a vocal supporter of women’s rights and of the idea of a woman as president.
Even for critics and outlets that tend to be critical of him, these supposed remarks of his didn’t pass the smell test, and for his part, Bernie denies ever saying anything to this effect. As he recalls the conversation, he simply advised Warren that Donald Trump would try to weaponize misogyny and other forms of prejudice should she seriously contend for the Democratic Party nomination. That’s markedly different from the tale told by the sources cited within Lee’s piece, who some believe are individuals affiliated exclusively with Warren’s campaign. In this respect, it’s at best a fabrication and at worst a baseless accusation.
Warren did not back down from the central thrust of the MJ Lee piece, however, or offer any sort of apology. As she asserted in a public statement, Bernie did, in fact, share his view that a woman couldn’t win the presidential race, a notion with which she disagrees. She did not expand beyond that confirmation of the CNN report except to say that she and Sanders “have far more in common than our differences on punditry” and that, as friends and allies, they would work together to defeat Trump and promote a government that works for the American people.
Elizabeth Warren may have struck a conciliatory tone in the closing of her statement, but as her accusation went viral, the damage, as they say, was done. By the time the latest Democratic Party debate rolled around, mere days after the “bombshell” article release, the stage was set for hostilities to flare up once more.
CNN, the debate’s host, was only too happy to oblige after helping to fuel this fire in the first place. During one astonishing sequence, Sanders was asked why he had said a woman couldn’t be president, directly assigning him guilt in a case in which he disputed the prevailing narrative. Upon Sanders offering his defense and rebuttal, the moderator turned to Warren and asked her how she felt about Bernie’s words back in 2018, as if his denial meant nothing.
This was the most egregious instance of anti-Bernie bias during the debate, but by no means the only example of a question framed in such a way as to immediately put him and his claims in doubt. On more than one occasion, the on-screen text accompanying the questions asked was thinly-veiled criticism of Sanders’s positions. It presumed his opposition to the USMCA is “wrong,” his level of federal spending would “bankrupt the country,” and his health care plan would “cost voters and the country.” It was up to Bernie alone to reverse this narrative. That’s asking a lot from a format in which candidates are jockeying for speaking time and interruptions are par for the course.
When Sanders approached Warren post-debate seeking a handshake and instead getting an indignant and incredulous response from her as to whether her colleague had essentially called her a liar on national television, CNN had exactly what it wanted. The showdown it had built up prior to the event had come to fruition and here was the image waiting to go viral. What was discussed during the debate? Did climate change get its usual token mention at a point halfway or later through the broadcast and never again? Who cares. The two progressive candidates are fighting. That is the story the network ran with.
In the aftermath, Bernie supporters and others sympathetic to both candidates took to Twitter to convey their vehement disapproval with Elizabeth Warren, popularizing the #NeverWarren hashtag and dotting her mentions with snake emojis and electronic shouts of “Liar!” For the observers still lamenting the protestations of the “Bernie or Bust” crowd against Hillary Clinton from 2016, history was repeating itself in an ugly way. That in both cases it was a woman bearing the brunt of Sanders backers’ scorn was therefore no coincidence. Here was the Bernie Bros’ naked sexism on display for all to see.
At this point, most media outlets are treating this “clash” as somewhat of an inevitability, the byproduct of two progressives with passionate followings being in a race together that only one person can win. Throw in some half-baked analysis as to where their differences lie and you have a postmortem column about the growing schism between them ready to serve to a general public eager for excitement amid an otherwise drab discussion of policy specifics.
Even if things would eventually have to come to a head between Sanders and Warren, though, that a spat would not only occur this early but with such antagonism and to be actively encouraged by the American mass media should give leftists pause. After all, this sowing of the seeds of discord is something we might expect from, say, Joe Biden’s campaign.
For supporters of either Sanders or Warren to launch invectives at one another across social media when the prospects of a Biden or Buttigieg ticket are very real feels unproductive. It’s one thing if the primary race were down to a two-headed competition between two of the most progressive members of the Senate. It’s another when we haven’t even gotten to Iowa and New Hampshire and prospective leftist voters are seeking to nullify the other out of spite or an overdeveloped sense of self-righteousness.
Of course, this tends to be easier said than done. To reiterate, our investment in these candidates is fraught with emotion and no one likes to be lectured on what constitutes being a “responsible” and informed voter. That said, splitting the progressive vote with more than half a year until the general election is ill-advised. Plus, there’s the function of sticking CNN et al.‘s attempts at manipulation to them. That’s always fun.
Who do I believe is telling the truth in all of this? Not that it matters or that you likely care, but owing to his aforementioned record of outspokenness on the empowerment of women, I do believe Bernie Sanders. I also am a Sanders supporter, so take that for what it’s worth.
Could I be wrong? Sure, I frequently am. Does this necessarily mean I think Elizabeth Warren is lying if I believe Bernie? Well, it’s complicated. Out of respect for Warren, I would tend to take her at her word as well, and her post-debate emotional reaction to seeing Sanders would indicate she’s not doing this all for show.
Could it be possible that Sanders and Warren recall this meeting differently? Certainly, if not definitely. Under this condition, perhaps Bernie doesn’t remember what he said exactly. I’m not about to suggest that Warren heard it differently or misconstrued Bernie’s meaning. That’s a loaded statement and it certainly doesn’t jibe with her reputation as a sharp policy wonk.
I will note, however, it’s a little disappointing to see her align herself with Amy Klobuchar, of all people, on the subject of not losing elections like her male contemporaries. Based on Klobuchar’s rumored poor treatment of her staffers, the commonality of being a woman and an electoral success are about all she should trumpet. Warren’s recent vote in favor of the USMCA (alongside Klobuchar) likewise doesn’t do her much favor in progressive circles, especially when Chuck Schumer (!) is outflanking her to the left.
In all, though, how much should Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren supporters buy into this divide? Very little, if at all, anger, disappointment, and hurt aside. Because establishment Democrats and corporate media outlets want you at each other’s throats. They want you focused on each other and not on their preferred candidates, all the while using this conflict to generate clicks and satisfy their sponsors.
These two moods best describe how I feel heading into a new year and a new decade. On one hand, I am eager to see how the United States presidential election and how impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump will shake out. On the other hand, I worry voters are prepared to repeat a very dumb decision they made back in 2016 on top of being concerned about the health of the global economy, the future of our planet, and the welfare of the most disadvantaged and disenfranchised segments of the population. I’m getting my popcorn ready—and trying not to bite my nails as I prepare to eat it.
Where do you stand as we turn the calendar to 2020? Are you looking ahead, saying “good riddance” to 2019? Are you pumping the brakes, cautious about the hell that the coming year might have to offer? Or, if you’re like me, are you somewhere in between? Whatever your sentiments, this recap of the past year is designed to reflect on some of its prevailing themes, at least as far as this writer covered it. So without further ado, stop looking at those Baby Yoda memes and let’s take a look back on the year that was.
Tucker Carlson’s white power hour
FOX News has been a repository for false or misleading narratives and opinion journalism masquerading as real news reporting for some time now. Of late, though, its prime time lineup has seemed particularly reprehensible and soulless.
Trying to choose which of FOX’s personalities is the worst is a bit like deciding whether you’d rather be burned alive, poisoned, or shot. However you look at it, there’s a terrible option awaiting you. Sean Hannity is a shameless Trump apologist who serves as a propaganda machine for the president and who regularly traffics in conspiracy theories. Laura Ingraham likewise is a staunch Trump defender who has assailed Democrats for voting to impeach Trump and who has targeted liberal critics of her employer as “journo-terrorists,” inciting her followers to spew venom in their direction.
If one figure takes FOX News’s cake of hateful conservative rhetoric, however, that person might just be Tucker Carlson, who has demonized not just illegal immigration, but all non-white immigration to the United States, lamenting would-be immigrants as making “our own country poorer and dirtier and more divided.” Not exactly lifting our lamp beside the golden door, are we, Tucker?
Depending on how you view American attitudes toward immigration, such an argument is either un-American or distinctly American, but it certainly goes against our stated values as that fabled melting pot of the North American continent. Tucker Carlson is a white nationalist who espouses racist views regularly from his position as a highly-watched political commentator. At heart, it doesn’t matter what he believes. His platform for cruelty and hate outweighs his protestations on the basis of free speech, and calls for boycotts of his program are more than warranted.
Candace Owens is a conservative grifter
Candace Owens makes a legitimate point: Blacks don’t necessarily have to vote for Democrats. In truth, they, like members of other minority groups, have probably been underserved by the Democratic Party. That said, this reality does nothing to absolve the Republican Party of being an exclusionary group of largely white males which harbors actual white supremacists. It also doesn’t mean that Owens has any legitimacy as a political activist.
Conservatives like Owens because she makes their talking points for them and because they can point to her as a token example of how the GOP isn’t just a repository for folks of the Caucasian persuasion. The problem with Owens’s service in this capacity is that she makes her arguments in bad faith and/or in ignorance of the true history of past events.
For example, she downplays the existence of racism in America despite her and her family members being a victim of it. Because she’s NOT A VICTIM, YOU LIBERAL CUCKS. YOU’RE THE SNOWFLAKE. Also, there was the time she tried to claim Adolf Hitler wasn’t a nationalist, as if to say that the Führer was fine except for when he took his act on the road. Right.
Candace Owens is someone who has filled a void among today’s conservatives to rise to prominence despite being a relative newcomer to the fold. But she’s an opportunist who owes her popularity in right-wing circles to YouTube more than the content of her speeches and she shouldn’t be taken seriously—you know, even if she was asked to testify before Congress.
Making America Great Again—whether you realize it or not
Americans frequently lament the political divide which dominates the nation’s discourse. When they can’t even agree on the same set of facts let alone holding different opinions, however, the notion that many of us are living in separate realities becomes readily apparent.
Take the case of a group of students from Covington Catholic High School attending a March for Life rally in Washington, D.C. and Nathan Phillips, a Native American and veteran on hand for the Indigenous Peoples March. Upon members of the Black Hebrew Israelites shouting epithets at the kids on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, Phillips interceded to try to diffuse the situation, singing and drumming. The students, meanwhile, several wearing MAGA hats, mocked Phillips, with one boy, Nick Sandmann, standing face-to-face to him and smirking derisively.
Of course, that Sandmann and his family would be sent death threats is inexcusable. That media outlets and public figures would post hasty retractions and hold softball interviews with the fresh-faced white kid, all the while doubting their initial reactions to what they saw, though, is wrong all the same. Spare me the hagiographic sanctification of Sandmann’s “right” to do what he did. His privilege existed before this incident and will certainly continue long after it. Furthermore, the both-sides-ing of this case is appalling in light of the implied racism herein.
Alas, this is emblematic of America in the era of President Trump. If you believe him and his supporters, the economy has never been doing better, immigrants are a danger to the country, Israel is our only ally in the Middle East and that will always be the case, and he alone is the reason why North Korea hasn’t moved to nuke us. These are the falsehoods perpetuated by a Divider-in-Chief who, as he gives as a State of the Union address, only promotes more disunity.
There’s something about “The Squad”
Outside of Nancy Pelosi and Hillary Clinton, whose evident shadow presidency has loomed over Donald Trump’s tenure since before it began, no figures make Republicans and conservative pundits foam at the mouth quite like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib, known colloquially as “The Squad.”
The congressional neophytes have been a frequent target for Trump and others, with the president himself playing every part the ugly American and suggesting they “go back where they came from.” Ocasio-Cortez is of Puerto Rican descent and was born in the Bronx. Pressley was born on American soil, too, as was Tlaib. Only Omar was born outside the United States and she eventually secured citizenship. These women are Americans and their patriotism shouldn’t be questioned.
Omar in particular has seen more than her share of abuse from detractors on the left and right. She and Tlaib, for their support of Palestinian rights and for their attention to the influence of the pro-Israel lobby, specifically AIPAC, have been branded as anti-Semites. Being a Muslim and alluding to the corrosive influence of money in politics doesn’t make you an anti-Semite, however, and Omar’s forced apology only seems to make her point about the Israel lobby’s reach for her.
Party leaders like Pelosi may downplay the influence of these women as limited to their Twitter followers, but going after The Squad is ill-advised no matter where you land on the political spectrum. Centrist Dems may balk at their progressive ideals, but if they are not model Democrats, who is?
The irresponsibility of social media giants
Social media has greatly expanded our idea to communicate ideas to one another and share content. The bad news is not all of this material is equal in its merit and companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter are unwilling or unable to handle it.
On YouTube, for instance, right-wing and far-right content creators have been given effective carte blanche to peddle their hate to impressionable young males, and pedophiles have been given access to random people’s videos through the service’s automated recommendation system. Twitter has been slow to respond to warranted bans for professional liars such as Alex Jones and has seemingly been content to make cosmetic changes to its interface rather than authentically enforce its stated guidelines.
Perhaps the worst actor in this regard, though, is Facebook, whose founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg has expressly identified Elizabeth Warren’s prospects of winning the presidency as an “existential threat.” Earlier this year, the company announced a shift that would allow political campaigns to essentially lie with impunity in their advertisements, a shift that favors the Trump campaign, a haven for disinformation.
Zuckerberg has publicly defended this change on free speech grounds, weirdly invoking civil rights leaders amid attempting to justify Facebook’s abdication of its responsibility. But realistically speaking, Facebook has been derelict in its duty for some time now, failing to clearly state rules or enforcing them only in the most obvious and publicized instances. If companies like Facebook, Google, and Twitter can’t police themselves, it’s high time we move to regulate them or even break them up to the point they can be effectively managed.
Hey, did you know there’s a process called “impeachment?”
Will they or won’t they? By now, we know they did, although, as some would argue, they could’ve done more with it.
I’m talking about impeachment, in case you were unaware or did not read the heading preceding this subsection. For the longest time, it seemed as if Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats were going to forgo bringing articles of impeachment up for a vote. As Pelosi stated publicly, there was the matter of beating Donald Trump in 2020 at the ballot box. She also insisted Trump impeached himself, even though self-impeachment isn’t a thing and that just made it appear as if she were waiting for the president to self-destruct or for someone else to do the Democrats’ dirty work for them.
Unfortunately for Pelosi and Company, Robert Mueller, while he could not clear Trump of the possibility of obstruction of justice in his report, also wouldn’t move to prosecute the president, citing DOJ precedent. With growing public support for impeachment not to mention an increasing number of House Democrats making their preference for impeachment known, it became harder and harder to resist the calls.
When news broke of Trump’s fateful call to Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky requesting an investigation into Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden as well as an admission of guilt regarding Ukraine’s framing of Russia for interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election (based on a debunked conspiracy theory, no less) all as part of a quid pro quo to secure $400 million in aid already earmarked by Congress, the path forward became clear. In September, a formal impeachment inquiry against Donald Trump was announced and in December, the House voted to impeach Trump on two counts: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Obstruction of justice was notably absent from these counts.
Support for or against impeachment has largely fallen along party lines. Justin Amash deserves at least a modicum of credit for breaking from his fellow Republicans and opting to impeach Trump, though his new identity as an independent who criticizes both parties equally isn’t exactly great. Jeff Van Drew, in switching from a Democrat to a Republican because he was unlikely to get re-elected, deserves nothing but scorn, as does Tulsi Gabbard for voting Present on the articles of impeachment. The concerns of vulnerable Democratic seats are well taken but aren’t numerous enough to merit withholding on impeachment altogether.
While winning the presidential election is critical for Democrats and losing House seats would clearly not be a desired outcome, at the end of the day, accountability matters. For Democrats to sit by and do nothing while Trump continues on a path of corruption and destruction would’ve been unconscionable. It took them long enough, but at least they did something.
The absolute mess that has been the Democratic primary
Joe Biden. Michael Bloomberg. Cory Booker. Pete Buttigieg. Julián Castro. Bill de Blasio. John Delaney. Tulsi Gabbard. Kirsten Gillibrand. Kamala Harris. Amy Klobuchar. Beto O’Rourke. Bernie Sanders. Tom Steyer. Elizabeth Warren. Marianne Williamson. And a bunch of dudes you probably didn’t even know were running or still are campaigning. Welcome to the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primary, ladies and gentlemen.
By this point in the race, we’ve lost some notable contenders, chief among them Harris and O’Rourke. Some, like Bloomberg, joined late. Howard Schultz never even joined and was unmercifully booed along his path to discovering he had no shot. More concessions of defeat will eventually come, but in the meantime, the field remains crowded as all heck in advance of the Iowa caucuses. It’s anyone’s guess as to what will happen in February.
As it stands, Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee, despite the absence of clear policy goals, a checkered record as a legislator, and apparent signs of decline. This is not to say the race is over, however. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren are strong contenders, and Pete Buttigieg has seen his star rise in recent weeks. With a significant portion of prospective primary voters yet undecided, it’s still anyone’s proverbial ballgame. OK, probably not Michael Bennet’s, but yes, still very wide open.
In a theoretical match-up with a generic Democrat, Donald Trump loses frequently depending on the survey. While Biden and Buttigieg are seen as perhaps the “safest” bets based on their place in the polls and their centrist stances, in 2016, the centrist Hillary Clinton proved to be the loser and a moderate could well lose again to Trump in 2020.
Establishment Democrats may be loath to have a progressive like Elizabeth Warren or, worse yet, an independent and self-described democratic socialist like Bernie Sanders at the top of the ticket, a feeling exacerbated by Jeremy Corbyn’s and the Labour Party’s recent drubbing at the hands of Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party in the UK. There are appreciable differences to be had between someone like Corbyn and someone like Sanders, though, including the very different situations facing the United States and a United Kingdom still trying to come to grips with the Brexit referendum vote. If the Dems are serious about beating Trump this coming November, a Sanders or Warren might just be their best hope to achieve this.
Evidently, some Democratic donors are still in their feelings about Al Franken’s fall from grace. Even though, you know, Franken made his own bed and lay in it. Meanwhile, another fallen male celebrity of the #MeToo era, Kevin Spacey, continues to be creepy AF.
Michael Jackson’s image took yet another hit upon the release of the docu-series Leaving Neverland. Jackson’s most rabid fans, er, did not take kindly to this new production.
Anti-Semitism is on the rise and “lone wolf” attacks carried out by shooters sharing hateful extremist views continue to occur. But Ilhan Omar is the bad guy because she pointed out the connection between the Israel lobby and public positions on Israel. Is that you pounding your head on the table or is it me?
In my home state of New Jersey, so-called Democrats like Steve Sweeney have seen fit to challenge Phil Murphy on various initiatives for daring to question millions in tax breaks given to party boss George Norcross and companies linked to him. Nice to know where their priorities lie.
Sarah Sanders resigned from her post of White House press secretary, allowing the White House to finally, er, continue not having actual press conferences.
Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey dared to support Hong Kong protesters in their opposition to heavy-handed Chinese policies aimed at the region. China had a fit and cancelled various deals with the Rockets and the NBA. In general, China has a major influence on our economy and holds a lot of our debt, greatly impacting publicly-stated political positions. But sure, let’s talk about Russia some more, shall we, MSNBC?
Migrant families are still being detained in inhumane conditions at the border, and yes, they are still concentration camps.
Much of today’s political punditry, dominated by white males, continues to suck. Especially yours, Bret Stephens, you bed bug, you.
Mitch McConnell is still, like, the worst.
On second thought, no, Stephen Miller is probably the worst.
I struggled for a while before settling on “No Rest for the Weary” as the title of this post. Why did I choose this? In trying to look back at the 2010s and identify a theme, a lot of what seemed to characterize major events was unrest. A global financial crisis. The uprisings of what was termed the Arab Spring. The emergence of ISIS. The annexation of Crimea. Brexit. The ongoing climate crisis.
Much of this has a chaotic feel to it, and what’s more, there’s little to no reassurance the 2020s will be any better along this dimension. As income and wealth inequality grow in the United States and abroad, and as more people become refugees as a result of a less habitable planet, there are plenty of reasons to worry we’ll reach some sort of tipping point unless dramatic corrective action is taken. In truth, we should really be further along than we are.
All this uncertainty and unrest is, well, tiring. It takes a lot to invest oneself in the politics and social issues and economics of the day. I myself continuously feel as if I am not saying or doing enough to contribute to the betterment of our society. Realistically, depending on one’s immediate circumstances, it can be a real struggle to want to be involved in the first place.
Despite the emotional and physical fatigue of it all, seeing what happens when Americans aren’t engaged with the issues affecting them or aren’t involved with the decisions impacting them at home and at work makes it all the more imperative that we stay informed and politically active. The Washington Post has adopted the slogan, “Democracy dies in darkness.” While they may be overstating their part in this a bit, I feel the maxim holds true. When we cede our power to those who seek to diminish us for theirs or someone else’s personal gain, we have lost a great deal indeed.
My hope is that all is not lost, however. I would not have wished President Donald Trump on this country for anything, but in the wake of his catastrophe, ordinary people are organizing and making their voices heard. This may have happened regardless of who won in 2016, but in America, Trump’s political ascendancy sure seems to have accelerated things.
What needs to happen and what I believe is already underway is a political revolution. You and I may have different ideas on how that will manifest. I believe a progressive direction is the best and perhaps only path forward. Much of our story has yet to be written. Whatever happens, though, it is through our solidarity as everyday people that positive change will be achieved.
In all, here’s hoping for a better 2020. There may be no rest for the weary, but there are enough people and big ideas at work to suggest a new dawn is on the horizon.
A bar or nightclub. An office building. A place of worship. A school. Seemingly weekly, news of horrific acts of violence by a “lone wolf” attacker reaches our consciousness. Just recently, a shooting at the Chabad of Poway Synagogue in southern California, which left one person dead and three injured, made headlines.
The profile is all too familiar: a sole gunman entered and opened fire with an assault weapon. That the shooting occurred on Passover also suggests this was more than a coincidence; multiple officials, including President Donald Trump, referred to it as a “hate crime.” According to San Diego County sheriff William Gore and as first reported in USA TODAY on April 27, though law enforcement officials were still verifying its authenticity, a “manifesto” of sorts posted online around the time of the attack hinted at the shooter’s possible motivations/reasons for targeting Jews.
In terms of our experience and our feelings about these attacks, it’s difficult to know to what degree we should feel encouraged or dismayed. Concerning the Poway synagogue shooting in particular, that only one person died certainly is worth celebrating. Viewing these matters more globally, however, the verdict is less clear, and with each attack, our ability to process it all is tested.
Undoubtedly, for the communities directly impacted by this sort of violence, the brutality and sense of loss felt is profound. Recent suicides by survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, FL and by the father of one of the children lost in the Sandy Hook Elementary attack speak to the devastating long-term emotional toll gun violence can effect. To say the suffering is a shared one appears wholly accurate.
Even for those of us who haven’t felt the brunt of the carnage wrought by lone wolf attackers and other perpetrators of mass violence, the repetition of the same story may be affecting in its own way. Each tragedy can feel like a punch to the gut, or worse, we may become numb to these events as a function of their apparent frequency. As is often talked about in media circles, we then run the risk of allowing these acts of terrorism to become the “new normal.”
A survivor of a 2018 school shooting in Santa Fe, when asked whether she were surprised about what transpired, replied that she felt “eventually [a shooting] was going to happen” at her school. Her resignation to this idea as a young child, sounding more defeated than optimistic, was perhaps the most heartbreaking aspect of this affair. I can only imagine how parents of young children must feel today, sending their children off to school in clear or bulletproof backpacks to participate in active shooter drills. It’s not a set of circumstances I envy.
Witnessing news reports on incidences of hate-fueled violence, as with other crimes, can make them seem more common than they actually are. We respond to the gravity of these situations and not necessarily to the statistical likelihood we will face our own personal encounters with this type of thing. Still, trends in observed data surrounding mass shootings and mass murderers are enough to cause alarm, even though the odds of an attack in our neighborhood may be comparatively slim.
Though published back in 2016, a Frontline PBS report by Katie Worth on the increasing incidence and lethality of lone wolf attacks still carries weight. Citing available research from multiple sources on the subject, Worth explains how five core findings have emerged relating to trends in this kind of violence in the United States. The findings, as she spells them out:
1. Lone wolf attacks are becoming more common. While noting these attacks are still rare and though they are nothing new, Worth details how both the number of attacks and the number of fatalities from these events have gone up in the past decade. In fact, by the date of the Frontline report, the 2010s had already surpassed all other decades in these regards, so one can only imagine where we’re at now.
2. White supremacist ideologies remain the top source of inspiration for lone wolves, though jihadism is also a significant influence. Though the left is not immune to instances of lone wolf attacks, predominantly, it is right-wing extremism which motivates these terrorists. And whether they are white supremacists or jihadis, they are terrorists. Though their exact motivations may be different (the appeal of al-Qaeda and ISIS for some young Westerners is particularly disturbing to national security experts), don’t let the absence of their condemnation and the disproportionate anti-Muslim rhetoric of conservative circles convince you there is some gargantuan divide between them.
3. Lone wolves are different than conventional terrorists. Though terrorists they may be, there are distinctions to be had. Lone wolves are mostly single white males with a criminal record, diverging from those who commit violence as part of a political organization in that they tend to be older, less educated, and significantly more prone to mental illness. Perhaps most surprisingly, lone wolf attackers motivated in part by politics tend to resemble if they aren’t patently indistinguishable from apolitical mass murderers who harbor some personal grievance. The only major difference herein is that mass murderers are more likely to perpetrate violence in a place with which they are familiar, whereas lone wolves are more likely to go somewhere previously unknown.
4. Guns are lone wolves’ weapon of choice. Though once upon a time, lone wolf attacks in America more frequently featured the use of explosives, controls on the purchase of bomb-making materials following the 1995 Oklahoma City bombings are believed to be a key factor in reducing the incidence of attacks involving explosive devices. The bad news is that the permissiveness of U.S. gun laws has afforded would-be lone wolves with a staggering array of high-velocity firearms capable of hurting or killing many people in a short span. Say what you want about the Second Amendment, but the statistics are pretty clear on this front.
5. Lone wolves usually tell others about their plans. Whether it’s a cryptic post on social media, a manifesto mailed to media outlets, or some other sign of intent, lone wolves frequently telegraph their acts of violence. Of course, prevention is no easy task and finding useful intelligence to this effect raises concerns about surveillance and possible infringement of people’s civil liberties. As the report also indicates, lone wolf attacks tend to be less effective and deadly than coordinated attacks involving multiple actors. These notions aside, with this type of threat on the rise, there is some comfort in knowing investigators have hope for stopping the next tragedy in that these threats don’t usually arise in complete isolation.
It bears underscoring that not everyone who holds extremist beliefs goes on to shoot up a church or school or what-have-you. As alluded to earlier, lone wolf attacks, though on the rise, are still fairly uncommon. It should also be noted that not everyone professing fealty to an extremist cause necessarily believes in all its tenets. As experts on the subject will aver, what complicates our understanding of lone wolf attacks is that some individuals get involved with extremist movements simply as a means of inciting violence. The backdrop of hate serves as a backdoor to inflicting pain and suffering.
From a law enforcement/criminal justice standpoint, this may facilitate their prosecution. Whatever the reasons for committing these crimes, they are highly visible. In our ever-present search for meaning, however, the obscurity of a perpetrator’s motive can lead to frustration or downright despair. How do we overcome something when its very form is elusive? To say this isn’t easy seems like the understatement of understatements. In addition, our comprehension of these matters is hindered by a lack of available information on the subject, aided (and abetted) by a shift at the federal level away from viewing all forms of domestic terrorism as such. Under President Trump, counterterrorism efforts have focused almost exclusively on Islamic terrorism.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has eliminated distinctions between different types of domestic terrorism, conflating white supremacist violence with that of so-called “black identity extremists” in its new category of “racially-motivated violent extremism,” confusing the frequency of cases between the two. This is no accident, a move with political designs written all over them, a concession to Trump’s base and to the changing face of the Republican Party. The president’s supporters by and large do not want to contemplate the rise of white supremacist violence here and abroad. Trump and his administration are only too happy to acquiesce.
This intentional minimization of the threat posed by white supremacists in the U.S. is understandably not lost on the rest of us, especially not members of the opposition party. Earlier this month, a handful of Democratic senators including presidential hopefuls Amy Klobuchar, Cory Booker, and Kamala Harris signed and sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr (yes, that AG Barr) and FBI director Christopher Wray admonishing the Department of Justice and the Bureau for failing to adequately acknowledge and address the growing danger posed by white supremacist terrorism.
The senators also charged the DOJ and FBI with taking concrete steps to address this issue, outlining resources to be used in their efforts, and to explain why its classification system for domestic terrorism changed in the first place. Decry this as an “attack” on Trump designed to garner political capital if you will, but these concerns are undoubtedly shared by these legislators’ constituents and scores of other Americans like you and me. Even political opportunists get it right at least occasionally.
Irrespective of examples of mass shootings and other violence, the exigency of curbing white supremacist influence around the world demands action. Since Trump’s inauguration, outward shows of racism, xenophobia, and other forms of prejudice have become more mainstream. On one hand, that these dark attitudes and behaviors are becoming more visible means we are better able to combat them with love, understanding, and if necessary, peaceful resistance. On the other hand, to the extent this sense of empowerment would allow those possessing extremist beliefs to expand their reach, such transparency is recognizably problematic.
Seattle-based investigative journalist David Neiwert, in a recent opinion piece, writes about how hate groups are recruiting young people into a “toxic” belief system at an alarming rate. Addressing the increasing frequency of lone wolf attacks like the Chabad of Poway shooting, Neiwert underscores how many of these perpetrators of violence feel they are doing something heroic, fed by conspiracy theories and convinced they have taken the “red pill” and see what is real. Often, social media and other online or phone-accessible forums are the breeding ground for this hate. What’s more, we as a society need to acknowledge the proliferation of dangerous extremism for what it is. From the article:
It’s time for us to stop looking away and start paying attention. We need to acknowledge that our own children are being radicalized online, and that a social media ecosystem predicated on a toxic libertarianism that allows hateful speech to run rampant has been the main platform enabling this phenomenon. Before the arrival of the alt-right, white nationalism was on its elderly deathbed. Now the numbers are unquestionably surging with youthful converts. Judging from pure internet, social media and gaming-hub traffic, we’re talking in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of new young white nationalists being born online right now. We need to recognize that there are policies that are fueling it, as well as irresponsible media entities doing the same — and that these things must cease.
What also must be stressed is that, while we employ the term “lone wolves” to apply to the individuals who carry out these heinous attacks, as Katie Worth’s Frontline PBS report underscores, usually someone is made aware of their intentions. To this point, Amy Spitalnick, executive director of the nonprofit Integrity First for America, writes in her own essay how anti-Semitic lone wolves aren’t really “lone” wolves at all, but rather a group hiding in plain sight.
As Spitalnick tells it, these attackers are “part of an online cabal that perpetuates this violent hate.” Whether it’s through messaging apps, 8chan, the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website, or some other forum, lone wolves are often making their intentions to do harm known to others, with their postings reading like a “virtual road map” after the fact. These premeditations are not met with condemnation and revulsion, but acceptance, fame, and idol worship.
Along these lines, Spitalnick shares Neiwert’s sense of urgency about how to combat this disturbing phenomenon. At a minimum, she advocates for recognition of the surge in white supremacist terrorism as a national emergency, as well as investment by the federal government in programs designed to address this crisis rather than cuts and amorphous distinctions between white supremacists and “black identity extremists” which misrepresent and obscure. To boot, platforms like Twitter need to get serious about curbing abuse, harassment, hate, and threats of violence. Looking at you, @jack.
Having Donald Trump promote white nationalist views from his bully pulpit in the White House is bad in it of itself. Even if we remove him from office through electoral or other means, though, the problem won’t be solved. He is not the Night King whose defeat will suddenly mean the destruction of all other bigots around him. Trump’s rise is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and with all these “lone” wolves committing wanton acts of violence, the time for a unified front working to stem the spread of chilling right-wing extremism is now. To borrow another Game of Thrones reference, winter isn’t coming. It’s already here.
Since Bernie Sanders made official what has long been suspected in that he would run again for president in the 2020 election, for his detractors, the reasons abound why they don’t “feel the Bern.” He’s too old. He’s too socialist. He’s another white male. His policy goals are untenable. He’s too full of himself. He cost Hillary Clinton the last election. He has done irreparable harm to the Democratic Party. He hasn’t done enough to rein in the sexism of his campaign or his supporters. He’s out of touch. His time has passed. He needs to step aside.
As a confessed Sanders supporter from 2016—and thus someone making no claims to objectivity—I bristle at a number of these concerns. Especially the ones about Bernie costing Hillary the election or doing major damage to the Democrats. Some people seem conveniently to forget that Bernie campaigned for “Hill-dawg” after ending his own bid. As for the party’s integrity, if one person is capable of causing such profound destruction to the Dems’ infrastructure, to me, that says worse about the party itself than the one supposedly wreaking havoc. Just saying.
The objection heretofore unnamed which particularly galls me, however, is the notion Sanders isn’t a “true Democrat.” True, Bernie isn’t a Democrat; he’s an independent. He caucuses with the Democrats, but he identifies primarily as an independent.
Admittedly, as fact-checker Linda Qiu, working then for PolitiFact and now for the New York Times, explored back in 2016, Bernie has had a problematic association with calling himself an independent vs. identifying as a Democrat, particularly as it pertains to his candidacy for president. On his Senate website, he listed himself as an independent. On his campaign website, he identified as a “Democratic candidate.” He has frequently criticized the Democratic Party and has rejected the label of Democrat in the past, but he has campaigned for Democrats.
As I saw one Internet commentator put it, Bernie’s like the guy who goes to bed with you and doesn’t call you back the day after. As he caucuses with the Democrats, serves on Senate committees with them, and frequently co-sponsors bills with them, I think this criticism is a bit overblown. At the very least, Sanders’s ambiguity is confusing to the prospective voter. From the party’s perspective, too, they might not feel too jazzed up about a candidate receiving the apparent benefits of associating herself or himself with the Democrats without willing to link herself or himself definitively with the party. Fix your heart or die! Wave that blue banner! What’s so bad about the Democratic Party that you don’t want to join?! (Wait, that was rhetorical—don’t actually tell us!)
For the individual voter, however, despite the confusion and whatever self-serving advantages an uneasy alliance with one of the two major parties might hold, the litmus test of whether someone is a “true Democrat” makes less sense to me. Of course, if you’re a diehard Democratic Party supporter, I get it: you probably feel a sense of umbrage about Sanders’s awkward dance with the Dems. What, Bernie, you’re good to be a member? If you don’t want to call yourself a Democrat, we don’t want you! And take your “Bernie Bros” with you!
Such a response to Sanders’s candidacy is understandable, if impractical. Much in the way we might insist on ideological purity tests for political candidates or even people/organizations that we admire and materially support, some of us who have long backed the Democratic Party regard upholding the party’s ideals as important. It’s not just a matter of intellectual attachment. It’s a matter of the heart or even the soul. As imperfect as her actions have been and her reasoning may yet be, Donna Brazile’s complaint about reducing the influence of superdelegates because of the blood, sweat, and tears she shed for the Democrats speaks to the seriousness with which she treats these affairs. Simply put, it’s personal.
With all this acknowledged, there are two big reasons why Bernie running as a Democrat in 2020 seems desirable: one more general in relation to our political system, the other specific to present circumstances. The first reason is that independent candidates face an uphill electoral battle and their very candidacy risks swaying the election. At heart, I tend to dismiss the third-party/independent-candidate-as-spoiler diatribes that periodically manifest after close races. Given the current dominance of the two major parties, a Democrat’s or Republican’s loss in a contested race should be seen mainly through the lens of that candidate’s and that party’s failure to seal the deal. Besides, it’s your right to vote however you want.
Independent as he may be, though, and as disagreeable as you may find some of his positions on issues, Bernie’s no dope. He doesn’t want to split the electorate any more than you would plead with him not to. Along the same lines, he has rejected overtures from third parties—both existing and theoretical—because of the time, effort, and organization it would take to bolster and sustain the ranks of such a progressive faction.
Then again, he could always not run. In fact, some of his 2016 supporters might share these sentiments. For all the criticism and mudslinging a presidential campaign brings with it, not to mention the strain of going from city to city doing debates, interviews, speeches, and the like, there’s a lot for one person to endure and the risk of damage to one’s political career for all the scrutiny. See also “Howard Dean Scream.”
The other major reason why Democratic Party supporters should encourage the strongest possible pool of candidates is the man who currently resides in the White House—you know, when he’s not at one of his resorts. The Dems and their supporters are deservedly riding high after their party took back control of the House subsequent to the midterms. Still, nothing is guaranteed for 2020, and especially after Donald Trump’s upset win in 2016, the Democrats would be loath to take anything for granted. Trump, for all his malapropisms and missteps, maintains a base of fanatical backers. And this is before we even get to disinformation campaigns about individual candidates that surely are underway—foreign or domestic.
To reiterate, I voted for Bernie in the Democratic primaries in 2016 and still admire him, so I’m not unbiased in expressing my opinions. Just the same, I’d like to think that if he were 100 and purple, I’d support him nonetheless. For me, it’s a matter of his stated ideals. This is not to say that other candidates don’t share similar views or possess their own strengths. It’s a crowded field and a deeper one this time around, at that. For the pragmatists among us, however, his bid for the presidency as a Democrat shouldn’t be an issue, assuming the proverbial cream will rise to the top and that the primary process is a fair one. Bernie diehards, you don’t have to say it; I can already see you wagging your finger at the DNC.
What is truly problematic about the argument Bernie Sanders isn’t a “true Democrat” is that this distinction, much like Sanders’s identification with the Democratic Party, appears to be nebulous. How does someone get classified as a true Democrat? Is it based on time served in office under the party banner? Dues paid or donations raised? Commitment to the party ideals? Some combination of the above? Does the definition change over time? And who decides such things?
Briahna Joy Gray, senior politics editor for The Intercept, for one, celebrated in 2017 that Bernie is not a Democrat because that apparently leaves him free to advance the party’s ideals while the actual Democrats lament political “realities” and revert to the same faulty electoral strategies. Gray closes her piece with these thoughts about the charge levied by Hillary Clinton, Barbara Boxer, and their establishment ilk that Sanders is “not even a Democrat”:
The implication that non-Democrats would fail to live up to Democratic values, when those values are precisely the ones the Sanders movement aims to push forward, is partially why the “not even a Democrat” smear is so grating to progressives. That the party is moving leftward should provoke warm-hearted optimism and encouragement from Democrats; after all, those are ostensibly their values, too. Instead, the petty and territorial response from some Democrats reminds one of the line from Mean Girls: Bernie Sanders “doesn’t even go here!”
Political parties aren’t sports teams. Politics are about principles and results, not tribalism. As Marc Munroe Dion, quoted in Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal, put it when describing the despair that had settled on a dying manufacturing town, those still invested in party affiliation itself are performing “political rituals that haven’t made sense since the 1980s, feathered tribesmen dancing around a god carved out of a tree trunk.” Affiliation is not a birthright or an immutable characteristic, but an expression of personal ideals. If Bernie Sanders, the most popular politician in America, is not a Democrat, it is the Democrats, not Bernie, who need to consider redefining themselves.
From where Gray is standing, Sanders’s candidacy and lingering popularity should only be threatening for Democrats if his core values and theirs fail to align. That their ideals aren’t that dissimilar and yet a tension between the two sides exists suggests it’s the Democrats who have trouble articulating or defining their ideals, notably because they’re, in part, compromised by their fidelity to “banking interests and the technocracy” as opposed to the interests of labor that at least once formed the backbone of the party’s support. It’s hard for us to be “with her” or “stronger together” when it’s difficult to know whose designs are being considered alongside our own expressions of what we need.
As of February 23 and as calculated by FiveThirtyEight, in the U.S. Senate during the era of President Donald Trump, only Kirsten Gillibrand (12.2%), Jeff Merkley (13.3%), and Elizabeth Warren (13.3%) have voted in line with Trump less often than Bernie Sanders (14.6%). That puts Sanders in line with other contenders like Cory Booker (15.6%) and Kamala Harris (17.8%), significantly better than declared or rumored candidates like Sherrod Brown (29.2%) or Amy Klobuchar (31.3%), and miles ahead of someone like Joe Manchin, who has voted in line with Trump’s position 60% of the time. West Virginia’s identity as a “red” state notwithstanding, and noting that a party is only as good as its weakest link, how silly does it look to cast aspersions on Bernie when he fares better on the ideological purity test than the majority of his Democratic colleagues and when someone like Manchin seems like the living embodiment of a DINO (Democrat in Name Only)? This is not a good look for the Dems.
True, Bernie Sanders is not a Democrat. But so what? He’s done as much as anyone in recent memory to help save the Democratic Party from itself, and while it can’t be assumed that he would’ve won the 2016 election had he won the nomination, he may just be the Democrats’ best option in 2020.
The Walt Disney Company was already a big deal prior to the events of the past week, but with Disney’s acquisition of most of the assets of 20th Century Fox, the corporation just became that much more monolithic. The lineup Disney now boasts in terms of the entertainment to which it has the rights is truly breathtaking, not to mention difficult to recall and enumerate. Concordant with this notion, let’s bring in Derek Thompson, editor for The Atlantic, to set the scene:
The yuletide haul includes some of the most famous properties in television and film. In the transfer of power, Disney would receive the 20th Century Fox film studio, including the independent film maestros at Fox Searchlight (Best Picture Oscar-winners include: Slumdog Millionaire, 12 Years a Slave, and Birdman), the X-Men franchise, Fox’s television production company (worldwide hits include: The Simpsons, Modern Family, and Homeland), the FX and National Geographic cable channels, and regional sports networks, including the YES Network that broadcasts New York Yankees games. Disney also acquires a majority stake in the TV product Hulu, which it may use to kickstart its entry into the streaming wars.
These additions would enrich an overflowing treasury at Disney, whose assets includes Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, ABC, ESPN, the world’s most popular amusement parks, and, of course, its classic animated-film division. When Mufasa tells Simba in The Lion King that “everything the light touches is our kingdom,” it isn’t just memorable screenwriting. It is corporate guidance.
Movies. Television dramas. Sports and nature shows. And all that merchandise. When Thompson speaks of a “haul,” he ain’t just whistlin’ Dixie. So, what is the significance of this deal? To be fair, it depends on who you ask and about which aspect you are most concerned. First, let’s view this deal alongside other recent bids for corporate consolidation, for no mega-merger is made in a vacuum, of course. Just recently, CVS Health and Aetna, Inc. agreed to a $69 billion acquisition agreement, the prospects of which are concerning to any number of outside observers, including those worried about what the merger might mean for consumers. Then there is the proposed deal between AT&T and Time Warner, which has been challenged in court by the Justice Department. You know, not for any political reasons or anything—it’s not like President Donald Trump has had a feud with CNN that may be motivating this anti-trust challenge. The Disney-Fox merger, if it were to pass, would be the largest ever among entertainment companies. As Thompson explains, in terms of percentages, Disney would control as much as 40% of the American movie business and 40% of the U.S. television business, and potentially yet more of the sports TV landscape between ESPN and regional sports networks. As far as the rich getting richer goes, Walt Disney Co. would be like a giant cartoon octopus with its suckered arms grasping onto all sorts of revenue streams.
Derek Thompson, for his part, has a different analogy, but one that likewise reflects a sense of dread. In fact, the same article from which I’ve been pulling data and quotes alludes to it in its very title: “Everyone Should Be Very Afraid of the Disney Death Star.” As any Star Wars fan, nominal geek, or individual who has seen the first film can at least partially describe, the Death Star is a massive spherical mobile battle station armed with a super-laser capable of destroying an entire planet. Suffice to it say, then, that the DS-1 Orbital Battle Station, as it is officially designated, is indeed something to be feared. Beyond perhaps the obvious that Disney’s relative dominance in the American corporate universe makes the Death Star analogy particularly apt in light of its awe-inducing size, though, what specifically should have us shaking like the proverbial leaf?
In answering this all-important question, it makes sense to step back a bit and consider the motivations of each party in this acquisition deal. For Disney, Thompson explains, it’s about streaming content. Since 2010, in the United States, only one age group has seen an increase in watching “traditional” television: the 65+ crowd. In light of this, the future is clearly with streaming services like Netflix and other cord-cutting avenues, and for Disney to compete, it has to become big enough to have enough rights to enough content that it can hope to compare. Companies like 21st Century Fox and Time Warner, meanwhile, the prospective sellers in these purchases, see the writing on the wall when it comes to their dwindling TV ratings and unimpressive box office numbers. Rather than holding on and bracing for the inevitable job cuts to be announced and made, they’re cashing out. In the particular case of Rupert Murdoch and Fox, it will retain some assets even after Disney’s acquisition, namely FOX Broadcasting, FOX News, and various national sports networks. After all, without FOX News, where would all the angry old people go to get their politics? Shit—what would Pres. Trump do for hours a day?
OK, now that we’ve gotten an idea of Disney’s strategy in all of this, let’s get to the implications of the move, and why people like Derek Thompson are particularly troubled by it. For Thompson, simply put, dealing with a Death Star-sized titan in the entertainment industry is going to be a nightmare for consumers, Hollywood studios, and tech companies alike. He elaborates:
If [this] sounds a little scary for television distributors, or television viewers, then good. Everybody should fear the Disney Death Star. Hollywood studios should be afraid to compete with a corporate goliath that could earn half of all domestic box office revenue in a good year. Every tech company y should be afraid to get into a content war with a company that combines the top blockbuster movie studio, with a top prestige film company, with a world-class television production company, with the most valuable franchises—Star Wars, Marvel, Pixar, and X-Men—in the world. And consumers should fear too; not just those who are afraid that Disney will water down artsy filmmaking (like Fox Searchlight’s Grand Budapest Hotel) and R-rated superhero films (like X-Men’s Deadpool), but also those who are afraid that too much control of any industry confers monopoly power that restricts choices, raises prices, and hurts workers.
In other words, with an effective monopoly on media content, or at least as part of an oligopoly among the other “goliaths” of the movie and television world, Disney would be able to throw its weight around, and the rest of us would likely have to pay a premium or risk missing out on what it has to offer. Viewing these sentiments alongside the recent FCC vote to repeal net neutrality, the public has every right to be worried access to content in the near future will come with a very high price attached.
For those reading who possess pre-existing knowledge of the Death Star, you may have initially taken issue with the notion that this monstrosity is something to be feared. With respect to its destructive capabilities, it has to be honored that the Death Star can blow shit up. This seems beyond question. In practice, if you will, however, the Galactic Empire’s spheroidal moon-sized battle station of choice doesn’t have a great track record. In the first film—and don’t get me started about which is Episode I or Episode IV; I mean the one that came out in 1977—the Death Star is taken out with a strategically placed shot by Luke Skywalker that travels down an exhaust vent and goes all the way down to the reactor core. Sure, Luke needs the Force to be able to guide his torpedoes down the shaft that sets off the critical blast, but in terms of a colossus like that being able to be brought down by the weaponry of one adversarial craft, such is a design flaw that seems particularly glaring, even for the likes of a brutal galactic regime that, as a function of being evil, is contractually obligated to underestimate the oppostion. In Return of the Jedi, a second Death Star is in the midst of construction, but doesn’t even make it to completion. The Death Star II—let’s call it—is apparently designed with a major weapons upgrade, but alas, the Rebels put the kibosh on it. Another reactor core explosion, another dead Death Star.
If these dadgum Death Stars are so easy to explode, why is Derek Thompson warning of potential danger? Well, Thompson is fully aware of the Death Star’s legacy of destructability, and based on this, he’s alarmed for Disney’s sake, too. From the article:
[H]ere’s the truly weird part: Disney should also be afraid of its own Death Star. (After all, the thing keeps getting blown up.) In the last fiscal year ending in October, Disney’s made $55 billion in revenue, with about 60 percent coming from television and film (the rest came from parks, resorts, and merchandise). That 60 percent is endangered: Box office ticket sales have been flat or declining for years, and television is in obvious structural decline. In many ways, the entire company’s future hinges on its ability to funnel its expansive universe of entertainment into a single direct-to-consumer stream that takes on Netflix, which already has more than 100 million subscribers worldwide.
To put this another way, Disney is taking a gamble that it will be able to compete with Netflix, and with the company already so reliant on revenues from an industry on the decline, not to mention already behind the curve with respect to Netflix’s legion of subscribers, it’s not an insignificant risk. So, on one side, if Disney as the Evil Empire is successful in its bid to rival or even surpass the top dogs in the streaming world, Imperial forces will be that much better able to impose their will on the consumer and content producers alike. On the other hand, if Disney fails to upend its prospective competitors, this can mean canceled projects/divisions, lost jobs, and other negative outcomes. Who or what do we root for in this situation? A draw? For the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance to work out their differences, and maybe hug it out as an affirmation of their newfound bond? How likely does that seem?
Much about this deal is up in the air as far as we plebeians know, including whether or not the acquisition will make it past would-be government regulators in the first place. Reportedly, Amy Klobuchar and other congressional Democrats are requesting hearings about the Disney-Fox deal because of their concern about what this agreement might mean for consumers. Almost assuredly, there will be jobs lost as part of the takeover. Regarding the FOX Broadcast Network, there are presumptions that it will begin to be yet more sports- and news-oriented, potentially putting the future of original shows like Empire and Family Guy at risk. In the milieu of the silver screen, the acquisition of Blue Sky Studios will give Disney and Universal Studios a major leg up on any future competitors with respect to animated feature films. In the streaming world—the very crux of this deal—Disney will now own a majority stake in Hulu, but whether this service is to be improved or merely designed as a complement to a forthcoming new behemoth stream service of Disney’s design is likewise not clear. Amid all the excitement about the Marvel brand and the X-Men franchise being on the same ticket, so to speak, there is every probability that a Disney-Fox merger would result in much upheaval, and those concerned with antitrust matters are right to be wary of having so much power in the hands of one company.
With size and power, there is also the worry that Disney will use its newfound leverage to try to be a bully to the press. It’s not like there isn’t past precedent for this either. Disney banned Los Angeles Times critics from advanced screenings of Thor: Ragnarok because of the paper’s investigations into whether or not the Walt Disney Company is paying its fair share for the benefits it reaps based on its relationship with the city of Anaheim. Disney eventually reversed the ban, but not before a significant amount of media scrutiny and public outcry. This is a similar tone adopted by the Trump administration, one that views a free press as the enemy and seeks to silence or otherwise delegitimize the news media that dares to turn a critical lens on any of its misdeeds. Speaking of Trump, he happens to be a good friend of Rupert Murdoch’s, and as we know, is an avid watcher of FOX News. That the Justice Department swooped in to legally challenge the AT&T-Time Warner deal and has seemingly not met the proposed Disney-Fox merger with the same antitrust zeal is definitely bad optics, and very well may belie a streak of favoritism that already plagues the current administration.
A couple years after Disney bought Pixar, the animation studio released one of its best films, WALL-E. That film doesn’t spend a ton of time on describing how the remaining vestiges of the human race became so fat that they couldn’t walk around on their own two feet. We just see plenty of happy, wildly unhealthy humans rolling around on floating recliners on an outer-space cruise ship as they enjoy the spoils of what appears to be the only corporation left in humanity: Buy-n-Large. The few shots we see of abandoned BNL stores call to mind the Super Targets or Wal-Marts that appear in various metropolitan markets around the country. But BNL’s influence extends beyond the superstores of the 21st century; the last footage we see of a live-action president (played by Fred Willard) suggests that he was part of the BNL corporation as well as being a politician. By the time that WALL-E finds himself on the cruise ship Axiom, there’s no separation between BNL (referred to in a nursery overseen by robots as “your very best friend”) and any of the services offered on the ship or even the clothes the humans wear.
Disney is not at the level of BNL…yet. One of the side stories of Disney buying Fox is that its current CEO Robert Iger will extend his term at the top of the company through 2021, meaning that those pervasive rumors earlier this year about him running for President in 2020 are now moot. But it’s hard not to see some parallels between the rise of Disney over the last decade-plus (there was once a time when they didn’t even own Pixar, let alone Lucasfilm, Marvel, or Fox) and a massive conglomerate like BNL. Disney does not have superstores like the BNLs of the real world, but its products are everywhere to a point of maddening ubiquity. It’s not like Disney buying Fox would be the first time they’ve expanded their growth, but this time, it suggests something more disquieting and engulfing.
For all its cute cartoon characters and heart-warming tales, the Walt Disney Co. itself is not the underdog we traditionally like to root for in the stories it sells. It is a Goliath intent on churning out blockbusters and selling truckloads of toys, dolls, and other merchandise, and this promotes real trepidation among those who enjoy products outside the Disney vanguard. As noted, it’s troubling to fans of various programs aired on Fox, in that Fox might be envisioning a strategic shift and Disney might not have any use for them, imperiling their future. From a cinematic perspective, 20th Century Fox and Fox Searchlight have produced material that is geared toward adults and has garnered its fair share of critical praise and recognition from the Academy, but there exists the fear herein as well that their releases will become watered down, or otherwise will fail to be prioritized in Disney’s money-making enterprise. Meanwhile, in the streaming wars, who knows what a Disney-vs.-Netflix battle might look like? There is every reason to worry the relative dominance heretofore of Hulu and Netflix in the streaming market will allow them to put the squeeze on we consumers. Perhaps the existence of competing services like DirecTV Now, Sling TV, and Sony PlayStation Vue as well as the growing demand “among cord-cutters” will be strong enough to counteract such a trend. Perhaps not.
Assuming the acquisition will be allowed to pass, Disney will own even more shit than it already does. For consumers, content providers, Disney fans, and arguably the Walt Disney Company itself, this is something of which to be afraid. After all, empires fall, and even Death Stars have been known to explode from time to time.