Bernie Sanders is my guy. I will always feel indebted to him for inspiring me to become more educated and involved as a student of politics, and he continues to show leadership as one of the most progressive members of the Senate. That said, Bernie is not always right, and one of the areas in which he falters is racialized issues, in particular, policing in the United States.
Daunte Wright’s recent killing (I’ll leave it up to you to call it a “murder” or “manslaughter,” or opine as to whether the distinction even matters) at the hands of now-former Brooklyn Center police officer Kim Potter has re-intensified calls not only for justice for the victim in this case, but a reimagining of policing in communities across the country. Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), a noted ally of Bernie’s during the 2020 presidential election primaries, took to Twitter in the wake of Wright’s death to post about the role of policing in the U.S. from both a current and historical perspective. She wrote:
It wasn’t an accident. Policing in our country is inherently and intentionally racist.
Daunte Wright was met with aggression and violence. I am done with those who condone government-funded murder.
No more policing, incarceration, and militarization. It can’t be reformed.
Tlaib’s sentiments are strong ones, and are understandable regardless of the circumstances, though especially so given the pervasiveness of black Americans and other Americans of color being killed disproportionately by police, not to mention the geographical proximity of this incident to George Floyd’s murder which sparked the fervent protests and activist energy that dominated headlines in 2020. Not done on the topic, Tlaib tweeted again with a longer thread supporting her position. She tweeted:
We continue to see death after death at the hands of police officers with no meaningful accountability for the officers or departments involved.
We’ve seen [money] pumped into training and half-measures, only to see the killing of Daunte Wright mere miles from the Derek Chauvin trial justified as a “mistaken” use of a gun instead of a taser. If you can’t distinguish between a gun and a taser. If you can’t distinguish between a gun and a taser, you shouldn’t be carrying either.
I understand that many are concerned about public safety, but it is clear that more investment in police, incarceration, and criminalization will not deliver that safety.
Instead, we should be investing more resources into our community to tackle poverty, education inequities, and to increase job opportunities. We should be expanding the use of mental health and social work professionals to respond to disputes before they escalate.
Data and research supports this. We need to reimagine how we approach public safety and the opportunity for every person to thrive.
The only way we will all have safe communities is to invest in our people, not double down on failed overpolicing and criminalization.
As you might imagine, not everyone agreed with Tlaib’s stances (you yourself might balk at discussion of “defunding” and “abolishing” the police). One such dissenter was the aforementioned Bernie Sanders, who when asked whether he is in accord with his progressive comrade, responded flatly, “No, I don’t.” He elaborated, “I think that what we need to do is understand that there needs to be major, major police reform all across this country. We are tired of seeing the same thing, week after week and year after year. We do not want to see innocent African-Americans shot in cold blood.”
Putting aside the notion of whether Rashida Tlaib would say she is “done” with Bernie, his views, absent additional context, beckon explanation. How are we expected to reform policing without some degree of defunding or dismantling existing structures? Do we simply need to throw more money at the problem? That hasn’t worked with, for instance, the military/industrial complex or any number of alternative examples.
Obviously, race and demographics are relevant here. Tlaib is a 44-year-old woman of Palestinian descent who represents Michigan’s 13th congressional district, a majority of which the constituency is black. Bernie is a 79-year-old white dude who represents Vermont, a state that is predominantly non-Hispanic white. To say their experiences have been and continue to be very different is a bit of an understatement, even noting their broad agreement on a number of issues.
Discussion of defunding and abolishing policing is also fraught with political complications. For many, especially on the right and center-right, the mere suggestion of giving less to our embattled men and women in blue is near-sacrilegious. The police, for them, means safety and order. In a world that seems increasingly confusing and uncertain, to take anything away from those who pledge to protect and serve is a bridge too far and, even within the left, serves as a potential wedge issue.
In a highly-polarized political sphere replete with disingenuous talking points, misleading soundbites, and clickbait headlines that diminish the opportunity for deliberation with nuance, any matter is liable to become politicized and provoke negative knee-jerk reactions. Such is not a reason, however, to necessarily shy away from forcing a conversation about the role of policing in our communities, as contentious as it may be.
Approaching a year since George Floyd’s death at the hands of police, if progress has been made on making our societal order more just, clearly, more has to be done. Expectedly, this starts with the work of progressives in and out of government office, but this requires solidarity. For all the talk of wanting to reform policing, Bernie Sanders’s distancing of himself from Rashida Tlaib’s remarks is evidence of how far the left has to go if it is to build real power as a force for change. As Daunte Wright’s untimely passing indicates, we can’t afford to wait on this issue.
Meditating on deadly and discriminatory practices in policing, in many respects a relic of the slave patrols of the antebellum South, is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to confronting the inequities of systemic racism that pervade present-day America. Daunte Wright’s tragic death has garnered significant media attention—as it should. Every black person killed at the hands of police deserves to have their story told.
How many tales of abuse by cops go unrecounted, however? Extending the conversation to the milieu of criminal justice, how many African-Americans have faced injustice in the form of overzealous prosecution, half-hearted defenses of those accused, and/or harsh sentences based on statutory prescriptions for “law and order?” Within this sphere, we are liable to ingest but a fraction of the often-hostile environments created for people of color for the cases that go to trial, already a slim portion of criminal proceedings. If slavery was abolished, its legacy lives on in the terrorization and potential devastation of black communities by policing that violates constitutional principles (e.g. the Fourth Amendment) as well as courtroom and carceral procedures which prize expediency over human lives.
When we speak of police reform, these are the deeply-ingrained realities we must comprehend and tackle. Such is a big ask for a system in which rampant prejudice isn’t a flaw, but a built-in feature. Especially in situations where profit is to be made off the detention of individuals regardless of the level of offense or mitigating personal circumstances, the battle for recognition of those accused’s humanity is surely an uphill one.
So, can policing in the United States be reformed? It depends on who you ask, but failing to even be able to come to a consensus among progressives on this front dampens the ability to change public opinion in favor of solutions backed by science and to everyone’s benefit (i.e. economic upturn). That leftists like Bernie would so easily dismiss wholesale transformation of the current system suggests a lack of communication among progressives. Once again, the responsibility will fall upon activists to pick up the pieces.
Amid her 2018 take-down of President Donald Trump, members of his administration, media networks and their on-air personalities, and leaders of the Republican Party at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner, comedienne Michelle Wolf took a brief moment to assail the Democratic Party. From the speech:
Republicans are easy to make fun of. You know, it’s like shooting fish in a Chris Christie. But I also want to make fun of Democrats. Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything. People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.
Wolf’s armchair prognostication didn’t quite hit the mark. Riding a “blue wave” of sorts, Democrats did manage to take control of the House of Representatives, gaining a net total of 41 seats. Conversely, they further lost ground in the Senate, with Republicans adding two seats to their advantage. Nancy Pelosi soon became the Speaker of the House. Mitch McConnell, meanwhile, tightened his grip on the role of Senate Majority Leader.
It’s 2020 now. Once again, every seat in the House will be contested as well as 35 Senate seats, with both parties likely to retain a majority in their respective houses of Congress. (Then again, this year has been so wacky who knows what’s in store.) The one that looms largest, however, is undoubtedly the presidential election. In a virtual walkover, Pres. Trump won the Republican Party primary, meaning he will officially be vying for a second term.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile? The presumptive nominee is Joe Biden, who is on pace to secure enough delegates to win the nod outright but at this writing has yet to do so. Following Bernie Sanders’s suspension of his campaign and endorsement of Biden (barring rule changes at the state level, Sanders will continue to appear on primary ballots and accrue delegates in hopes of being able to influence the party platform), the former senator from Delaware and vice president has fully pivoted to a prospective November showdown with the incumbent.
The Biden-Trump match-up is one many would have predicted in advance of primary elections. For a while, it looked as if Bernie might run away with the nomination with Biden struggling to stay relevant. Then came a big win for Joe in South Carolina and a winnowing of the moderate portion of the field, followed by a Biden romp on Super Tuesday and decisive wins on successive “Super Tuesdays.” In the end, the early forecasts were right.
In advance of the general election, meanwhile, it’s anyone’s guess as to who would triumph in a theoretical face-off between these two men. Politico, for one, labels the race “too close to call.” The website 270toWin gives the edge to the Democratic Party nominee, but notes that critical states like Florida, Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania are effective coin flips. Regarding polling, various survey sources give Biden a lead of anywhere to two to 10 percentage points nationally, with none of the recent polls referenced by RealClearPolitics giving Trump an advantage.
Of course, polling doesn’t necessarily translate to votes, much in the way support on social media doesn’t necessarily translate to votes (thank you, Bernie detractors, we get it). This is beside the notion that the Electoral College decides matters, not the popular vote, as any Democratic Party supporter ruefully recounting the 2016 presidential election can tell you. The 2020 election will be decided on a state-by-state basis.
And while, as with national polling, Biden is ahead in numerous cases, re swing states, his are not overwhelming leads. Factor in margin of error and these numbers are somewhat worrisome. Not merely to invoke Hillary Clinton’s infamous line, but why isn’t Biden 50 points ahead or at least better off than current polling dictates? As many would reason, Trump is a terrible president and the depths of his depravity and incompetence have only become more apparent in his administration’s mishandling of the COVID-19 pandemic. What gives?
With all due respect to the “blue no matter who” crowd and even noting how difficult the threat of spreading coronavirus has made traditional campaigning, Joe Biden is a terrible candidate, especially noting the pitfalls which led to 2016’s debacle. What’s more, at a time of great need for so many Americans, he hasn’t been nearly as visible as he could or perhaps should be.
Let’s start with the whole missing-in-action business. Sure, there have been various public appearances by Joe via cable news outlets and online town halls, but these have been fairly sporadic. Additionally, when they have occurred, they’ve been marked by Biden’s trademark gaffes, mental lapses, technical issues, or have otherwise been led by to a considerable extent by Dr. Jill Biden, his wife.
If anything, Biden and his team seem content to try to hide him rather than make him more accessible, concerned that he will do or say something to hurt his chances in the fall. His absences, sometimes spanning days, have prompted the creation and promulgation of the #WhereIsJoe and #WhereIsJoeBiden hashtags on Twitter, and speaking of Twitter, we can be reasonably sure Joe himself is not the one publishing those tweets. Facing the rabid army of supporters that is Trump’s following, this is not a strength.
As for why Biden is a bad candidate, ahem, how much time do you have? Though, in Biden’s defense, that he’s merely “another old white guy” gets perhaps unfairly dwelt upon in an era of seemingly increasing sensitivity to identity politics, his policy goals aren’t doing him many favors in countering the narrative that he’s out of touch. To this effect, most of us seem to be unaware what his actual policy goals are, an idea reinforced by his and his campaign’s insistence on his decency and leadership rather than specifics. Granted, not everyone is a policy wonk or needs to know the nittiest and grittiest of the details of a candidate’s stances on issues, but for younger and more idealistic voters, in particular, their omission is troubling.
Given a dearth of elaboration on what Biden would hope to accomplish as president, we have only his record and his ties to certain industry groups as a large part of his donor base to rely on. That’s not a good sign either. As a senator, Biden took numerous positions/cast votes that haven’t aged well. Voting in favor of the Iraq War. Leading the charge on a 1994 crime bill that helped accelerate mass incarceration. Favoring cuts to social safety net programs like Social Security in an effort to reduce deficit spending. Siding with credit card companies and predatory lenders on 2005 bankruptcy law reform.
Biden’s participation on these fronts suggests fealty to donors and lobbyists or at least acting in the name of political expediency rather than genuine concern for his constituents. What’s worse, in his run-up to the nomination, Biden has either defended a number of these positions or has sought to obfuscate his role in the passage of key legislation. True, he has apologized for certain elements of his record and has backtracked on specific stances that would put him at odds with the rest of the Democratic field, such as his support for the Hyde Amendment, which limits the ability of federal programs like Medicaid in paying for abortions. One gets the sense, however, that his admissions and his reversals are begrudging ones, forced by a recognition of the damage his electoral prospects might incur by refusing to accommodate voter reservations.
On top of what we know about Joe’s votes and past public statements, there’s also the matter of proven falsehoods he has stated as well as questions about his conduct. Biden is a serial liar who had a previous presidential bid derailed by accusations of plagiarism. Just this election cycle, he and his campaign repeated a fabricated tale of his arrest in South Africa en route to see Nelson Mandela and have trumpeted an inflated image of his involvement in the civil rights movement, one Biden himself has promoted over the past three decades and change despite a lack of corroborating evidence. For all the insistence of Biden as a “good guy,” he sure has a problematic relationship with the truth that speaks to his identity as a career politician.
And then there’s the Tara Reade scandal, an ongoing and apparently worsening development for Biden. Initially slow to be recognized if not outright ignored by major media outlets, Reade’s claims of sexual harassment and eventual assault have gained traction even from publications and other sources who tend to be sympathetic to Biden and the Democratic Party. Biden, for his part, vehemently denies the allegations. But his penchant for spinning a yarn as well as his exhibited proclivity for, well, touching girls and women in a manner definitely considered inappropriate by today’s standards casts at least the shadow of a doubt on his dismissal of Reade’s account. It’s circumstantial, yes, but in an era where optics matter more than ever, the associations voters might make are potentially damaging.
Other politicians have been asked to resign or have bowed out of races for less. Here we are, though, in 2020 and with the #MeToo movement firmly established, and Joe Biden is the presumptive nominee. All this despite the allegations against him, his checkered voting record, his fabrications, his obvious cognitive decline, and his sagging enthusiasm among younger voters. This is the face of the Democratic Party and the person who is supposed to usher in a new era of bipartisan cooperation and be a bridge to a new era of Democratic leadership. This is the man who party leaders have hitched their proverbial wagon to and who party supporters are backing substantially in the primary.
The question of “What should we do?” in both the short term and long term is one being bandied about at a fever pitch by progressives since Bernie Sanders’s suspension of his presidential campaign. How did we lose and so decisively? Who will run in 2024? Should we vote for Joe Biden? Should we endorse Joe Biden? Are we not focused enough on winning races at the local and county level? Is there too little organizing among similar-minded groups and too much infighting? Where have all the cowboys gone?
OK, that last one was a joke. (Anyone here remember Paula Cole?) In all earnest, though, there’s a lot of uncertainty on the left right now and a big part of it involves whether progressives can co-exist with the rest of the Democratic Party or whether an existing or new party needs to be built up to challenge the duopoly the two major parties currently have on the American political landscape.
Concerning the former, if Bernie’s late struggles in the primary and the tone of the party establishment following his dropping out are any indication, progressives have a long way to go. Sure, a few younger progressives have begun to make a name for themselves. Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez. Ayanna Pressley. Ilhan Omar. Katie Porter. Pramila Jayapal. Rashida Tlaib. Ro Khanna. Despite the popularity of these figures, however, Democratic Party leadership still appears dead set on keeping them at somewhat of a distance.
Also, for every upset win like that of AOC’s, there are that many more blowouts in favor of the more moderate incumbent. By and large, Democratic voters are reasonably satisfied with their elected representatives. Either that or they are too afraid to take a chance on an alternative, too uninformed to make a decision on an unfamiliar candidate (primary voters tend not to be low-information voters but just raising the possibility), or simply convinced that no matter who they choose it won’t make a major difference in their day-to-day lives. The battle to reform the Democratic Party is one being fought tooth and nail by establishment forces and hasn’t yet caught on with a large enough subset of voters.
As for the state of the presidential race, if Biden’s camp and the DNC have made any meaningful concessions to progressives in hopes of winning their votes, er, most of us haven’t seen them yet. Lowering the age for Medicare enrollment to 60, for example, is a slap in the face to Bernie supporters, many of whom are younger and therefore nowhere close to qualifying. In fact, Biden’s refusal to even entertain a single-payer insurance system is, to many leftists, absurd given record numbers of people losing their jobs due to the spread of coronavirus and, with that, access to affordable healthcare.
Rumors of Cabinet appointments for people with ties to Wall Street and/or bailouts for “too big to fail” institutions. Virtual fundraisers starting at $2,800 to participate. Biden himself has been recorded saying that he “has no empathy” for younger generations and telling donors that “nothing will fundamentally change” if he’s elected president. On top of this, Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, and other high-ranking Democrats have offered milquetoast remedies to the economic hardships facing the electorate, allowing Donald Trump, in all his bombast and cluelessness, to hijack the domestic COVID-19 conversation. I don’t doubt the Democratic Party is willing to win in November, but it seems unwilling to do so at the expense of its contributions from certain industries and lobbying groups.
Indeed, the playbook from Biden and Co. for 2020 is evidently to try to court white suburban voters and persuade Republicans to go against Trump while it all but ignores the insights from the energetic progressive wing of the Democratic Party. In doing so, they’re pitching a return to “normalcy,” trying to win without younger voters and independents, or otherwise trying to hector undecided voters into submission, throwing everything from kids in cages to the potential death of Ruth Bader Ginsburg as reasons to vote for Biden and not against Trump. That didn’t work in 2016 and, for a segment of the electorate convinced the progressive option was screwed not once but twice, that’s arguably not going to cut it.
And yet, Joe Biden may still win! The closeness of the race as evidenced by polling lends itself to the notion Democrats are wedded to Joe for better or for worse. Take him or leave him. But if you’re a progressive being told that Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are a discussion for “later,” that it’s OK that Biden may have committed sexual assault because “look at Trump,” and that top party brass would rather have someone who struggles to complete sentences versus a much sharper candidate in Bernie Sanders, one who isn’t beleaguered by scandal and who has an army of fanatics waiting to help turn out the vote for him, how are you supposed to feel welcome? Where is the moral compass of this party?
Bypassing the Democratic Party completely, meanwhile, has its own complications, namely that it takes a lot of time, effort, and resources to establish a party. Granted, there are existing third-party options like the Green Party and Libertarian Party available, but so far, they have faced many of the same challenges progressives as a whole have faced in terms of funding, organization, and electoral logistics. Widespread voting reform including ranked-choice voting may help overcome this reality or at least mitigate the argument that “X cost us the election.” In the meantime, trying to draft progressives as Greens or Libertarians is a hard sell.
That brings us back to the notion of transforming the Democratic Party from within. As with fashioning a new political entity, it’s going to take time, money, hard work, and a vision forward. Simply put, it’s no small task, and with a party infrastructure in place that is specifically designed to check progressive momentum and stifle dissent, it begs wondering whether the Democratic Party, well, can be saved from itself or whether, even with the very real possibility of a second term of President Trump existing, the party has to fail and be dismantled for substantive progress to be made.
If letting the Democratic Party burn to the ground sounds crazy, as a reminder, in the midst of a pandemic, its presumptive presidential nominee, who has promised to veto M4A if it somehow clears Congress, has trouble navigating his way through an online forum and its congressional leaders have made more concessions to moneyed interests than average people. For a party that is ostensibly a working-class organization, it’s not living up to its mission.
In highlighting the different ways of addressing a broken political system, I don’t mean to dismiss reform efforts as worthless, but only to underscore the difficulties therein. Already, many of us on the left have seen the fight for recognition as the fight of our lives. The global pandemic has only intensified those sentiments.
I, for one, remain optimistic that changing the Democratic Party from the ground up is possible. At the same time and on the road to a more democratic Democratic Party, I feel it’s fair to wonder how many indignities progressives are meant to endure and whether establishment Democrats will ever learn their lesson from their electoral failures.
On January 26, the official Twitter feed for The Economist tweeted a link to a story titled “Could it be Bernie?” The tweet read: “The Vermont senator’s campaign slogan used to be ‘A future to believe in’; now it is just: ‘Bernie’.” The piece, accompanied by a drawing of Bernie Sanders that borders on the anti-Semitic, characterizes his campaign as that of a cult of personality and attributes his success to the weakness of the rest of the field.
Objectionable as Sanders supporters would find these sentiments and as reprehensible as even objective observers might find his cartoon depiction, what really infuriated myself and others was this business about the slogan. Because it isn’t true.
Though writers at The Economist may clutch their pearls at the sight of Bernie’s fanatical following, lamenting the “BERNIE” signs observed at rallies for their chosen candidate, Bernie’s real 2020 slogan is “Not Me. Us.”
This isn’t a trivial matter either. It’s not just an aw-shucks aphorism designed to sell T-shirts. If you want to understand why Bernie is so popular with people like me and why he is surging in the polls, comprehending the meaning of this slogan is a good, if not essential, place to start. When you think about it, “Not Me. Us.” is a rather remarkable statement in the world of politics.
It certainly contrasts, for one, with Hillary Clinton’s all-eyes-on-me slogan from the 2016 campaign season: “I’m with her.” Even in a crowded primary field in 2020, this notion of togetherness stands out. Though not official slogans, the taglines “I have a plan for that” and “All in for Warren” which Elizabeth Warren’s supporters have embraced and, to some degree, that her campaign has too don’t convey quite the same sense of empowerment to the individual. Nor does Pete Buttigieg’s insistence on a “new generation of American leadership” or the need to “win the era,” whatever that means. And don’t get me started on Joe Biden’s promise of “no malarkey.” I thought this was the 2020 election, not the 1924 election.
Truly, no candidate emphasizes and embodies the spirit of grassroots fundraising and organizing like Bernie in this race. Though by now the concept of the $27 average contribution is ripe for parody (and in fact that per-contribution number may be even lower this time around), it isn’t simply a point of pride to be dismissed as an ineffective matter of principle. Bernie is consistently among the top fundraisers in the Democratic Party field, if not the highest. This reality flies in the face of the insistence you need big-ticket fundraisers and wealthy donors to power a presidential run. Looking at you, Mayor Pete, and your wine cave attendees.
Contrary to what Mr. Boot-Edge-Edge might aver, this is not some purity test by which to judge individuals’ personal wealth. These are values, plain and simple. If we are to believe that how someone runs their campaign is indicative of how they will govern, then every fear that someone like him or Biden will be compromised by their fealty to the rich and/or corporate interests is more than valid. So Bernie is a millionaire. So what. He’s certainly not sucking up to the billionaires the way his centrist political rivals are.
It’s more than just small individual contributions, though. In so much of his speech, Bernie stresses the importance of a movement to reclaim our democracy from moneyed interests and consolidation of power among the nation’s top earners and biggest companies. In this regard, he is keen to repeat the idea that real change happens not from the top down, but from the bottom up.
It’s a concept critical to Our Revolution, a political action organization inspired by Bernie’s stated values and 2016 campaign that has seen local and state activist groups spring up and work to effect real change in their communities and the political leadership that represents them. In a short time, OR’s influence has increased dramatically from its inception. Hopefully, long after Bernie Sanders and 2020, its members’ commitment to progressive values will continue to make a positive impact and help prepare individuals to be the kind of leaders our society needs. It’s why I’m not particularly worried about Bernie’s physical health even after a minor scare. The fundamental beliefs driving his campaign and his supporters matter more than any one person.
As such, for all the blather about Bernie’s political “revolution” as an ego-driven vehicle or a vanity project from his critics, his detractors have him dead wrong. Though he may not possess a bubbly personality and some may bristle at his constant yelling and finger-wagging to make his point (to be fair, he is a Brooklyn Jew and this should be, on some level, expected), Bernie is probably the least egocentric person in this race and certainly is the most authentic—take it or leave it.
Besides, it’s kind of hard to feel self-important when members of the press and other political figures are constantly attacking your credibility and reputation. On the latter dimension, Bernie wisely avoided a confrontation with Warren concerning her charge that he once remarked he didn’t think a woman could be elected president, an allegation seemingly rendered unsubstantiated by his record on advocating for women’s rights and for more female candidates (like Warren) to run for office.
He also refused to engage with Hillary Clinton regarding her comments that “no one likes” him and that he has achieved little to nothing in his time as a lawmaker. From someone who treated her stay in Congress like a stepping stone to higher office and who lost a presidential election in 2016 to an unpopular figure in Donald Trump in part due to her own sagging approval ratings, these are rather hollow criticisms. Then again, that’s just “Hill-Dawg” being “Hill-Dawg.”
All this before we even get to Bernie’s leadership on issues like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal, stances that have, to a large extent, shaped the Democratic debates and primaries and have led to the support of progressive champions like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. While one might deem it too far to call similar positions by Warren and other candidates as mere imitations of Bernie’s platform, he has been and continues to be the most consistent on these matters, unlike some people in this race (cough, Biden, cough). He also has been the most outspoken on protecting trade unions and seeking to expand union membership, and unlike Warren, voted against the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which critics have derided as “NAFTA on steroids.”
Going back to Donald Trump, meanwhile, and despite what pundits representing cable news outlets or major newspapers might put forth, Bernie may be the best chance of preventing a second term for the orange-faced, thin-skinned, and small-handed incumbent. Forget nebulous concepts like “electability” which lack a firm definition or predictive validity. Bernie consistently beats Trump in polls and fares best among the Democratic Party field on attracting younger voters and independents. Imagine that—a 78-year-old democratic socialist Brooklyn Jew appealing both to millennials and libertarians like Joe Rogan. It’s not because he’s selling something or promising them a pony. It’s because they genuinely believe in him, his ideals, and his vision. Imagine that.
So yes, Bernie is well-liked by voters and by his constituents (stay salty, Hillary), is remarkably consistent in his beliefs, and beats Trump in almost any scenario imaginable. At the end of the day, however, it comes down to his messaging above all else for me. Five years ago, I would’ve told you that politics is best left to the politicians and wouldn’t be as concerned by half as much going on in the world today as I am. Since then, I’ve realized this is absolutely the worst thing you can do re politics, mind you.
On that note, I owe Bernie a debt of gratitude. Maybe it was just that I was finally ready to pick up what someone like him was trying to put down, but when he ran in 2016, it was the first time I felt like someone was trying to talk to me on a personal level rather than simply trying to get my vote. That speaks volumes to me about his character and whose interests he serves. Call me corny, but I believed it then and still believe it now.
Thus spare me your qualms about Bernie Sanders’s age and that he’s just another white male running for office, or your doom-and-gloom prophecies for what a “socialist” (Boo! Hiss!) in the White House will lead to, or that he is the least likely candidate to help someone in need (really, Chris Matthews, really?). When Bernie says “Not Me. Us,” people listen and take it to heart. That may not mean everything, but it matters a great deal.
To everyone scaremongering and expressing existential dread over Bernie’s prospects of capturing the Democratic Party presidential nomination and winning the general election in November, then, I say with relish: Be afraid. Be very, very afraid. A revolution may just be on its way. The question I have for you is: Will you be ready to roll up your sleeves and do the hard work when it comes?
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.
This was the scene at Donald Trump’s recent rally in Greenville, North Carolina, evidence that every time we think Trump and the GOP have hit rock bottom, there is a new low to which to sink. The audience’s chant was in response to the president’s remarks on Ilhan Omar, which wrongly characterized the first-term representative from the state of Minnesota as an anti-Semite, someone who “looks down with contempt on the hardworking American.”
Trump also criticized fellow freshman Rashida Tlaib, like Omar, a Muslim, as “not somebody that loves our country,” lashed out at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (eventually just calling her “Cortez” because he decided saying “Ocasio-Cortez” is too much work) for sponsoring the Green New Deal and for correctly reporting that the “concentration camps” at our southern border holding detained migrants offer substandard, inhumane conditions, and ridiculed Ayanna Pressley (“Is she related in any way to Elvis?”) for supposedly saying that “people with the same skin color all need to think the same” and somehow connecting her to violence committed by some anti-fascists (which pales in comparison to atrocities committed by white supremacists, but whatever).
Trump’s attacks on Reps. Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, Pressley, and Tlaib amid his jabs at potential 2020 election rivals including “Sleepy” Joe Biden, Elizabeth “Pocahontas” Warren, Pete Buttigieg, and Bernie Sanders are no accident. He’s painting these newcomers to Congress as leaders of the Democratic Party, thereby trying to get his supporters to fixate on them, their ideals, their ethnicities, their religions, their identities as strong, outspoken women, and reject them and other Democrats as a function of subscribing to an anti-liberal, racist, sexist, xenophobic outlook on life.
As Trump would have it, these critics of his are the face of a party that hates America and everything it stands for, and if they don’t like it, they should leave or, more specifically, “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime-infested places from which they came.” Trump also tweeted that these “Progressive Democrat Congresswomen… (“progressive” in quotes, as if to doubt how interested in progress they really are) originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.”
Trump’s public comments, as per the usual, are riddled with inaccuracies and intentional falsehoods. These particular diatribes against the four aforementioned women, however, are especially onerous and reflect egregious and dangerous rhetoric.
First things first, there’s the matter of labeling these women as “originally” from another country, as if they aren’t truly Americans. Ocasio-Cortez was born in the Bronx and is of Puerto Rican descent. Pressley is black and was born in Cincinnati, raised in Chicago, and eventually relocated to Massachusetts. Tlaib was born in Detroit, the daughter of Palestinian immigrants. Omar is the only one of the four born outside the United States, originally from Somalia, but her family sought and secured asylum in 1995 and she became a U.S. citizen in 2000. These women are all American citizens and were duly elected to their positions in Congress by their constituents. Referring to them in any other capacity is to engage in unadulterated bigotry.
Well, that is, unless you ask Republicans or the president himself. Trump’s initial “go back” rant directed at AOC et al. sparked international outrage and condemnation. In the aftermath, the hashtags #RacistInChief and #TrumpIsARacist were trending on Twitter and continue to be used as part of the ensuing conversation about his verbal assault on the first-term congressional quartet. All the while, most members of the GOP have defended Trump against claims he is a racist. He doesn’t have a racist bone in his body! He’s saying what many people are thinking! On the latter point, saying average Americans agree with Pres. Trump means that he’s not a racist is a logical fallacy. Popularity is not an indicator of moral rectitude.
On the Democratic side, meanwhile, the House voted 240 to 187 to condemn Trump’s use of racist language. All House Democrats recorded an “Aye” vote. Newly-minted independent Justin Amash joined them, as did Republicans Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania, Fred Upton of Michigan, Susan Brooks of Indiana, and Will Hurd of Texas. Of course, Nancy Pelosi was quick to specify that this was a vote to condemn Trump’s comments as racist, not the man himself. It would apparently be untoward to level such charges against him. Or to hold him accountable in any meaningful way. (But let’s bank on 2020 when we lost in 2016, right?)
Speaking of the Speaker of the House, it bears underscoring that it was her derisive remarks about Pressley, Tlaib, Omar, and Ocasio-Cortez which helped lead to the group receiving their unofficial nickname: “The Squad.” Back in November, Ocasio-Cortez posted a picture of the four of them together with the one-word caption “Squad” on Instagram. This moniker was invoked again by New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd in her profile earlier this month on Pelosi, in which the Democratic leader panned their vote against the House’s version of an emergency border funding bill, saying, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people and that’s how many votes they got.”
Since then and notably following Trump’s personal attacks, the use of the Squad nickname has increased exponentially. The widespread employ of this term is not without some pushback, to be sure. Some might see it as appropriative, deprecating, or sexist. On the other hand, it might be conceived of as intentionally exclusive on the representatives’ part.
These four congresswomen, however, have clarified that their “squad” includes, as Rep. Pressley puts it, “any person committed to creating a more equitable and just world.” Which, in response to a piece by The Onion, evidently includes the octogenarian Bill Pascrell, my district’s representative. (Props, Bill, props.) By this definition, you or I might be considered members. It’s a concept with real grassroots appeal.
Trump’s harsh rhetoric hasn’t met with much approval outside his most ardent backers and his most shameless apologists on Capitol Hill and in the media. Moreover, his attempted claim that he denounced the “Send her back!” chant during the event is verifiably false, earning him further censure for trying to gaslight everyone.
As for Speaker Pelosi, her downplaying of The Squad’s influence as one segment in an ever-lengthening line of reprobation and dismissal of progressive Democrats has earned her scorn in her own right as out of touch, markedly from leftists and others who have remained critical of her steering of the Democratically-led House. If nothing else, her repudiation of these women of color and failure to come to their defense except when called out by the president is bad optics for a party that touts its diversity among its strengths. In fact, as Ocasio-Cortez believes, this pattern of behavior on Pelosi’s part doesn’t speak to some innocuous, unprejudiced treatment of The Squad—and she’s not alone in this assessment.
Through all of the slurs, the death threats, the denigration, and the lies hurled at these women, their commitment to their principles and their resolve hasn’t wavered. Consequently, their stars are only shining brighter. Rep. Omar, who received a hero’s welcome when she returned to her home state, addressed Trump’s vitriolic barbs directed at her, defiantly promising to be the “nightmare” the president has made her out to be. Hers was not a threat, but a warning: mess with The Squad and prepare to live with the consequences.
The comments Donald Trump made denigrating the members of The Squad and his refusal to squelch the chants of his attendees aimed at Ilhan Omar speak volumes about the president and the current state of the GOP. A common refrain from those paid to be in attendance and/or professionals within the political sphere (and thus presumably with at least a modicum of discernment apart from Trump’s faithful) as gleaned from social media was that it was one of the most frightening sights they had ever witnessed in the world of politics. Many of those same people felt a sense of dread, suggesting Trump was doing his best to get Rep. Omar killed. Other onlookers professed they’re beginning to understand how the atrocities of Nazi Germany could’ve happened from the very tenor of the event.
The few defections on the resolution about Trump’s racist language aside, Republicans’ inaction and silence on this front make one wonder what line could be crossed that would result in substantive intercedence on their part. For example, Lindsey Graham, one-time Trump critic, has apparently become a full-time sycophant, reversing course on the president after calling him a “race-baiting bigot” in 2015.
Mitch McConnell likewise defended Trump against allegations he is a racist, saying the president is “on to something” in his claims that these women want “to turn us into a socialist country,” dodging questions about the “Send her back!” chorus of nights earlier. Mitt Romney, in true Mitt Romney fashion, said Trump “crossed a line” but isn’t a racist. Marco Rubio. Ted Cruz. Paul Ryan, where was this semblance of a spine when you were Speaker of the House? Where is the conscience of these men, some of whom thought they could represent the entire country? Or was it all a big con, a ploy motivated by political opportunism? Can the same be asked of Trump and the Republican Party at large?
Lest we give the Democrats too much credit, leadership’s inability or unwillingness to rein in moderates bent on opposing the “far left” or defend The Squad against baseless accusations of anti-Semitism further emboldens Trump and his enablers. As far as the “Racist-in-Chief” is concerned, it may as well as be open season on Reps. Tlaib, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley, and Omar. I mean this in terms of his wont to say anything he wants without fear of reprisal, but returning to reported instances of death threats and even a planned plot to kill Omar, he doesn’t need to pull the trigger. Putting a target on their backs is enough. The Democratic Party bears some culpability here beyond signing onto a toothless House resolution admonishing the president for spreading hate from his bully pulpit.
The ugliness of Pres. Trump’s remarks, whether or not it’s a distraction from the horror of the concentration camps at the border or Jeffrey Epstein’s depravity or the implications of the Mueller report, drives home the notion that representatives of both major parties sooner or later need to take a stand. Republicans must decide at what point political expediency has its limits, consider whether they’ve ceded full control of their party to a fascist, and confront what this arrangement means for the long-term viability of the GOP. Democrats have to face the possibility that waiting for 2020 could take too long, not to mention that standing for something—anything—signals to their base that their cause is worth fighting for. Not merely to be hyperbolic, but the future of these parties and the concept of American democracy as a going concern might just depend on it.
As suggested earlier, popularity doesn’t equate to moral rectitude nor does it necessarily translate to votes or other forms of political engagement. For Democrats and Republicans alike, though, going after The Squad is ill-advised. In the face of adversity, these women are proud inspirations to other political entrants like them. To underestimate them and their supporters is to underestimate the power that everyday people coming together at the grassroots level possess when fully realized. In the end, it could be a costly miscalculation to make.
When Rep. Ilhan Omar intimated that the United States’ alliance with Israel is motivated primarily by money and later responded to a tweet asking who she thinks is paying politicians to be pro-Israel with the one-word reply, “AIPAC!”, the first-term senator could’ve chosen her words better. After all, it’s not truly all about the Benjamins. There are legitimate cultural, ethnic, geopolitical and religious concerns to be had with mapping out the two countries’ strategic partnership.
All the same, Omar’s comments clearly struck a nerve, and not just because of her purported anti-Semitism. That she was so swiftly rebuked by members of both parties suggests that, despite her indelicacy, she was more right than many of her colleagues would like you to know. In addition, the backlash Rep. Omar has received provides yet another lesson about the substantive role money plays in American politics and the degree to which it holds sway over the two major parties.
As always, context helps. This past Sunday, an article appeared on Haaretz.com regarding House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy’s vow to take action against fellow representatives Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar for their criticism of Israel. In McCarthy’s mind, these women’s views are on par with or worse than that of Steve King, whose defense of white supremacy has prompted bilateral calls for his removal from key House committees, and in some cases, his outright resignation.
Even the authors of the Haaretz article noted it was unclear to what comments McCarthy was referring and, thus, to what extent anti-Semitism played a part. Speaking less diplomatically, though, come the f**k on.
In Tlaib’s and Omar’s case, their most notable “offenses” have been their support for the BDS movement, which advocates for boycotts of, divestment from, and sanctions of Israel for creating what supporters of the movement liken to an apartheid state. It’s a controversial movement in that its criticisms of Israel are met with their own countercriticisms that A) Israel is not an apartheid state, B) BDS is anti-Semitic, and C) these criticisms of Israel would seek to delegitimize it.
In King’s case, meanwhile, it’s repeated defense of white supremacist talking points. The man has also repeatedly re-tweeted and met with far-right nationalist leaders across continents. At the very least, McCarthy is engaging in a bit of disingenuous whataboutism. Either way, it’s an implausible false equivalency. Besides, Tlaib and Omar are new to the D.C. scene and don’t possess nearly the stature and platform King does given his veteran experience in Congress. Rep. King has been dining on nativist bigotry while holding a federal public office seat for over a decade now.
With all this in mind, journalist Glenn Greenwald reacted to the cited piece with a tweet broadly condemning U.S. political leaders for their defense of a foreign nation at the expense of Americans’ free speech rights. To which Omar retweeted Greenwald with the titular line from the seminal Puff Daddy hit, setting off a political firestorm.
In the minds of many, it wasn’t just that Omar was inaccurate with her invocation of AIPAC and the Israel lobby, but that she appeared to do so by trafficking in anti-Semitic stereotypes. For Omar’s detractors, here were the tropes about “Jewish greed” and “Jews control the world with their money” all over again. The reference to AIPAC also ruffled feathers by suggesting that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which is not an actual political action committee or PAC, gives donations directly to members of Congress. AIPAC merely encourages people to be generous with their contributions to pro-Israel members of the House and Senate. And it spends its money on lobbying, not on individual candidate campaigns.
But lo, how it spends on lobbying. As Matthew Yglesias of Vox fame explains, in 2018, AIPAC spent $3.5 million on lobbying, far and away the most when it comes to foreign policy influence (second on the list is UNICEF, which managed less than $1 million). This doesn’t include what Yglesias describes as “lavish” accommodations and airfare for trips to Israel for members of Congress and their families.
Accordingly, for all the furor over Rep. Omar’s tweets, precipitated by a largely unfounded attack on her and another female Muslim congresswoman, there was a teachable moment about how money in politics impacts stated policy positions and influences policy directives. In the ensuing outrage, however, that got lost.
Instead, people tweeted their dismay, pro-Israel members of Congress expressed their indignation, and even Chelsea Clinton somewhat bizarrely weighed in to advise Omar against reliance on anti-Semitic tropes “as an American” and, evidently, as a self-appointed arbiter of responsible language toward Jews and Israel. By the time Nancy Pelosi was condemning Omar’s remarks, the track to the Minnesota representative’s apology was well-oiled. Within a day of her initial retweet of Glenn Greenwald, Ilhan Omar issued a public mea culpa, taking absolutely the right tone. She professed that she never meant to offend her constituents, Jews, and the combination therein and indicated a willingness to accept criticism and learn from episodes like this.
As mentioned earlier, the magnitude of the outcry against Omar and the rapidity with which it occurred were striking, and the fallout from the fracas is still being felt. President Donald Trump himself, a man who is no stranger to controversy, rejected Omar’s apology as “lame” and made his preference known that she be removed from committees or asked to resign much in the way Steve King has been. Indeed, even for some of those who appreciate the nuance of what Omar was saying and the point she was trying to make about the corrosive nature of lobbyist money, they lament how she has given cannon fodder to the Republican Party and risked driving a wedge between her own party. So much for the power of social media.
And so much for that teachable moment. What could have been a meaningful dialog on the role of money has since degraded into a reflexive conversation about what constitutes anti-Semitism. This is not to say, of course, that anti-Semitism doesn’t exist or that it isn’t on the rise. Heck, a man ran unopposed as a Republican for Congress in the state of Illinois as a Holocaust denier just last November and got 25% of the vote. Still, if there was a lesson learned, it was not ours, but rather Omar’s. The lesson was to watch what you say about the pro-Israel lobby, and while instructive, it’s not all that gratifying for her or the rest of us.
Ilhan Omar’s apology was intriguing in that it was “unequivocal,” yet still strove to reaffirm the problematic nature of lobbying as it concerns AIPAC, the fossil fuel industry, and the NRA, to name a few. For the townsfolk holding torches and pitchforks, this was only salt in the proverbial wound and a hollow apology. From my standpoint, I believe Omar was sincere in what she said and that her allusions to Jewish stereotypes concerning money were unintentional. Granted, she could’ve chosen her words better, but there was more substance in her words than reporting on this to-do would lead the casual news consumer to believe. If her apology seemed forced, it’s likely because it was made to appease the members of Congress who disagree with her stance—both those who would weaponize it for political gain or discourage it because of fear of that very phenomenon.
In referring to the disingenuousness of Kevin McCarthy’s part in all of this that started this controversy off and running, his participation is not without a sense of irony. McCarthy made an appeal prior to the MAGA base in October warning voters to choose Republican in the 2018 election so as not to “allow Soros, Steyer, and Bloomberg to BUY this election.” If Omar’s tweets can be branded as anti-Semitic, McCarthy’s (now-deleted) tweet sure can.
He’s not the only one. For all of the kosher meat Donald Trump has been throwing to the Zionist cause since being elected, prior to that, he was using anti-Semitic tropes and depictions of cash next to pictures of Hillary Clinton, dog-whistling from his platform as presumptive Republican Party nominee. Just because these men aren’t Muslims or don’t support the BDS movement doesn’t mean the allegations against them are any less valid.
As much as AIPAC’s mention has been papered over by the mainstream media, moreover, there are those who would defend Rep. Omar for her attention to a group that routinely deflects criticism from its membership and from the Israeli government, branding dissent as anti-Semitic and intimidating those who advocate for anything other than the status quo. Glenn Greenwald, for one, sees Omar’s censure as a segment of a pattern, pointing to attempts by Haim Saban, the Democratic National Committee’s top donor and outspokenly pro-Israel, to label Democrat Keith Ellison, also a Muslim, as an anti-Semite because of his public condemnation of Israeli expansion of settlements into contested lands.
It’s not like AIPAC has exactly been flying under the radar lately, either. As Ryan Grim of The Intercept recently reported, leaders of the pro-Israel lobby were caught on camera discussing the extent and nature of their influence, detailing how the Committee and its donors organize events in such a way so as not to be tied to the funds they generate. Plus, there’s the whole business of AIPAC using Ilhan Omar’s controversy in it of itself as a cause for a fundraiser. Nothing demonstrates your indignation and your support of Israel like a hefty donation. Please—be generous.
Despite calls for her head, so to speak, Omar has handled this whole situation with aplomb and has not backed down from her critics—at least not the Republican ones. She notably fired back at Pres. Trump pointing out to his track record of spewing hateful rhetoric following his aforementioned rejection of her apology.
Thus, as unfortunately as some would insist this all played out, the strength and—dare I say—chutzpah she and Rashida Tlaib have shown when dealing with negative attention suggests the Democratic Party’s diversity truly is a strength. It’s up to the Democrats to decide whether or not they’ll stand behind strong progressives like them or let moneyed interests dictate who they support and when.
If Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is “no big deal,” why does she have so many critics on both the left and the right?
I ask this as one of the growing list of fans of AOC, but it’s an honest question. If she’s a flash in the pan, why bother talking about her at all? There are any number of reasons why Ocasio-Cortez has been derided by commentators. She’s uninformed. She’s too socialist. She’s too young. She doesn’t understand how the world works. The media is just latching onto her because she’s telegenic, “exotic” (a term used especially when you’re a person of color and white people don’t know what to call you), and because her upset primary win is still relatively fresh.
Those bits about her being little more than a pretty face or a stupid girl is the kind of keen observation and commentary (sarcasm intended) usually reserved for dissenters on the right, some of whom insist she should debate them so they can EXPOSE her and their devotees can sound off about how they DESTROYED her in circular discourse replete with strawman arguments.
Either way you slice it, the sexism abounds. Without wishing to get too high up on my high horse, I readily concede that I think AOC is good-looking, and that probably doesn’t hurt her appeal in my eyes. For the record, I don’t think shameless Republican Party defenders like Ann Coulter and Laura Ingraham are physically reprehensible either. The blackness of their souls is what truly makes them unattractive but that’s another matter entirely.
The point I’m trying to make here to address the rationalizations of conservative trolls, however, is that Ocasio-Cortez is more than a pretty face or a dumb millennial (I know, we millennials ruin everything). These lines of thinking are perhaps predictable coming from a crowd which prizes white cisgender males above all others and thus sees her as a threat. It’s the resistance she has encountered from members of her own party that has been perhaps more vocal and is nonetheless more aggravating.
For the kind of intraparty unrest to which I’m referring, look no further than this Politico piece from last week about “exasperated Democrats” trying to “rein in” Ocasio-Cortez. The article/hatchet job conveys a sense of Dems’ annoyance at her tendency to confront other Democrats via Twitter over policy objections as well as her liability to back primary challengers to moderate incumbents. You can’t go too far left in “swing districts.” She hasn’t earned a place in key committees yet. She’s too concerned with being a Twitter star/activist. She’s like Donald Trump with her use of social media, “snapping” at critics and colleagues alike.
On the Trump/AOC Twitter comparison, referring to notions of them taking to the app to “lash out” at people, let that be the only such parallel to be drawn between the two, especially since it’s a poor one. Ocasio-Cortez’s committee candidacy vis-à-vis her lack of legislative experience is also understandable, although at heart, it’s the member of Congress’s views that should be the driver of consideration, not necessarily his or her popularity or stature. That is, whether it’s someone’s first or fifth term, his or her commitment to the role and doing the right thing are what count.
The other criticisms, meanwhile, reflect a real schism within the Democratic Party, one that gets played up in the mainstream media to generate headlines but does encapsulate a genuine tension between the “old guard” of the party and its newer members and supporters. Do robust primary challenges make for stronger candidates and increase their visibility, or do they do harm by suggesting points of attack in a general election? Do progressive values translate across constituencies, or do platforms have to be tailored to the voting tendencies of each district? Should Democrats advance bold policy ideas regardless of perceptions of cost, or should they consider the practicality of their proposals and what is feasible in light of our surging national debt?
Judging by AOC’s popularity, for one, the answer in all cases favors the more progressive option and not the prevailing establishment Democrat logic. Speaking on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez specifically but with certain applicability to others who walk their progressive talk, Emma Vigeland, correspondent and producer for Rebel HQ, an offshoot of The Young Turks, slams the aforementioned Politico article in a video segment for the news outlet.
Highlighting references in the article about the first-year representative “making enemies” and the House Democratic Caucus striving to get her to “turn her fire on Republicans” with an effort that is “part carrot, part stick,” as well as the notion she faces a “lonely, ineffectual career in Congress” if she doesn’t play nicer, Vigeland has this to say about the condescending tone of the lawmakers cited within the Politico piece:
In what universe do these no-name Democratic lawmakers who have coasted by on corporate donations and meek opposition to the Republican Party have any standing to use a carrot-and-stick, scolding approach to the most exciting young politician that the party has seen in years, who has single-handedly galvanized the American people behind interesting new policy goals in the way that these incrementalist hacks could have never dreamed of?
Vigeland goes on to address the hypocrisy of her fellow Democrats calling out Ocasio-Cortez for attacking members of her own party—this is, in effect, the same thing they are doing to her. She also responds to the idea AOC “doesn’t understand” how things work in Washington, D.C.—even though she does and that’s why her primary campaign was so successful.
For Vigeland and others, that Hillary Clinton and the Democrats lost to “an orange, racist, cruel, historically dumb buffoon” signals something is broken within the party. The American people want real change, not just “business as usual.” It’s no wonder her stances on key issues poll well among supporters of both parties, and not just in her home district, but around the country.
Vigeland puts a bow on her presentation with these remarks:
We need a Democratic Party that will not stand in our way and if you don’t like it, get on board or get out. Because if you’re not backing proposals that will save our planet and raise wages and give people health care that already poll well above 50%, then you don’t belong in the new Democratic Party and you don’t belong in office. So stop crying about Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and do some soul-searching about who you are there to represent and serve.
“‘People are afraid of her,’ said one senior Democratic aide.” Damn right.
These comments are a direct rebuttal to the hand-wringing the likes of Claire McCaskill and Joe Lieberman have done about Ocasio-Cortez being a symbol of where the Democratic Party is potentially headed. In line with Vigeland’s suggestion that these moderates do some soul-searching, they’ll undoubtedly have plenty of time for this while not serving as members of Congress.
Even as an admitted fan of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, I do wonder sometimes whether or not so much exposure is a good thing. There have been well-publicized flubs on details of foreign policy as well as statistical inaccuracies when speaking on issues. Her contention so far has been that she’s learning and that the essence of her arguments is on point, to which I’d broadly agree, but then the question of how long her “grace period” as a newcomer pops up. Accountability is important, left-wing or right-wing.
The main reason I express doubt, though, is that I don’t want her stardom to overshadow the presence of a number of promising up-and-coming progressives (and not just the ones like Rashida Tlaib who vow to “impeach the motherf**ker”). Movements can’t thrive on individual figures here and there. Constituents have to exercise their power alongside their elected representatives.
In this respect, it’s oddly refreshing to hear Donald Trump of all people give a “Who cares?” about AOC when asked directly about the first-year representative calling him a “racist” in her interview for 60 Minutes and not seeming to shy away from this characterization after the fact. Of course, much of his conduct until now would lead you to believe that the proverbial shoe most definitely fits, but he arguably takes a better tack than FOX News, whose scaremongering about Ocasio-Cortez would have its viewers all but frothing at the mouth at the very sight of her. Sure, he might undermine that by refusing to disavow Steve “Why Is White Supremacy Such a Bad Thing?” King, but give the Devil his due on his AOC non-response, at least.
All this aside, if Ocasio-Cortez can use her stardom and social media following to bring progressive issues and stances to the forefront of political discourse (yes, please, let’s tax the rich more!), then I’m with her. To reiterate and as Emma Vigeland would insist, establishment Democrats would be wise to get on board with younger, more progressive members of Congress/party supporters or simply get out of the way. There’s too much at stake and too much work we have to do.