Image: Getty - Foreign Policy
“Don’t panic. Organize,” are the final words of Joe Scarborough’s July 2 Washington Post missive to Democratic voters horrified by the Trump presidency’s actions to date and its autocratic potential. Scarborough’s well-intentioned message is true as far as it goes. But what’s worth remarking is how his attitude epitomizes the white, privileged, short-sighted arrogance by which the Democratic Party blew the presidency in 2016 – and may lose again in 2020 if it doesn’t pop out of its bubble.
Here is Scarborough:
“Instead of viewing this accidental president, who lost the popular vote by almost 3 million votes, as the apocalypse du jour, Trump skeptics should treat him more like [an anomaly]. The danger created by Trump’s presidency is real. But it is not the sign of a coming Armageddon. Instead, these electoral aftershocks are more political proof that Democrats must face the ugly truth that their cataclysmic losses in 2016 were not caused by Fox News, Susan Sarandon, Vladimir Putin, the New York Times’ email stories or the sudden spread of racism in Midwestern states carried twice by Barack Obama. Rather, their shellacking was the result of a lackluster presidential campaign that had no coherent message, ignored warnings from Democratic leaders and forgot to visit Wisconsin.”
Okay. Reality check number one: Trump is not an “accidental” president, nor was the 2016 outcome an inaccurate reflection of the state of the nation. With blue-suited red-necktied senatorial and congressional zombies proffering corporate-purchased public policy (thanks in part to Citizens United) that drowned out the legislative voices of non-rich Americans, and with nearly 50 percent of voters bailing on voting altogether, it was perfectly logical that a candidate who picked up on both long-boiling voter rage and bitter racism enjoyed the results. Despite the abominable Electoral College and mind-boggling Russian interference, the Dems shouldn’t have even been within cruise missile range of a Trump victory. The collusion of the DNC with the Hillary Clinton campaign to sideline Bernie Sanders’ defiant presence and platform created a crucial political vacuum that never should have existed. Trump, the consummate bullshit artist, seized that available space to con a credulous base. Accident? More like neglectful calculus. It was the Democrats themselves who flunked that test.
Reality check number two: Trump is an “apocalypse du jour” only to insulated whites like Scarborough who have never been first in line as targets for America’s genocide, discrimination, state-sponsored brutality, and incarceration. To use the flip term “apocalypse du jour” for the presidency of a man who has dehumanized Native Americans for decades, demonized and created prison camps to tear apart refugee families at the Mexican border, and made anti-Muslim discrimination a national immigration policy, is an obscenity made possible for Scarborough by America’s centuries of bloody white immunity. Only an American white person – who has never seen themselves in a lynching photo, has never had to live with ceaseless inexplicable stops by cops asking them why they are in this neighborhood or boarding this train, has never heard the click of a car door lock at a red light when a driver sees them standing on the corner, has never had a white person clutch a purse or knapsack in their presence, has never routinely been the last person on a subway car to have someone sit beside them, and has never been at the front of the line of those chosen by the state for routine or “emergency” incarceration – can so cavalierly dismiss a white supremacist autocrat as an “apocalypse du jour.” With this, Joe Scarborough has unintentionally indicted himself and the Democratic leadership for being complicit in the casual acceptance of America’s loathsome economic and racial regime. This is the real reason why Clinton’s vapid “stronger together” campaign theme rang hollow to voters. The kinds of profound economic changes that voters of all colors would have full-throatedly supported are disallowed by the bankrollers who finance the Democratic Party – not to mention the Republican Party, which in its modern incarnation has been auctioning off its soul since Richard Nixon if you start with race-baiting, or Ronald Reagan if you start with supply-side trickonomics.
Reality check number three: Notice how Scarborough, even in his withering criticism of the Clinton campaign, stops short of defining what a “coherent message” for a Democratic presidential candidate would actually be. We hear that same deafening silence from the Democratic Party as we enter the mid-terms and as we approach 2020. That’s because the narrative necessary to galvanize a large chunk of the non-rich electorate, of all races, is one that Scarborough and the corporate Democratic Party cannot embrace: today’s plutocratic capitalism, with its fiscal chokehold on who runs for federal office and what messages air to voters, is incompatible with democracy. A policy plank that would excite voters would include, just for starters, mandatory public financing of all political campaigns and the prohibition of private contributions to all electoral runs for public office. It’s a no-brainer: public office is public property, and access to it must not, in any true democracy, be purchased by private wealth. The sole obstacle to this elemental truth is the absurd but accustomed dominance of private electoral money itself.
The good news is that, amid the Democratic Party’s willful spurning of its base, Democratic candidates themselves are forcing the party’s hand. The most recent and remarkable success is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who spectacularly dethroned longtime Democratic mainstay Joseph Crowley and his posse of corporate backers by bringing a straight-up version of what Trump faked and what Dem officials have ducked: an in-your-face progressive populist message about reversing corporate rule. Mainstream American journalists breathlessly report that she is a Democratic Socialist, which, when you strip away reporters’ exclamation points, simply means that she, like most Americans (including many Trump voters), favors a capitalist economy with sane state guarantees of things like health care, wage security, and retirement. Voters across party lines have long hungered for such authentic courage in candidates. In 2016 Michael Moore famously and correctly predicted that Trump would win if the Dems didn’t show more nerve. In 2015 some, including me, felt a queasy sense of possibility about Trump’s dishonest populism while mainstream media dismissed him. Observers have been saying for years, amid the moneyed, amoral monologue of American politics, that we progressives need passionately principled candidates who aren’t afraid to lose. It remains to be seen how much the Democratic Party will heed the success of candidates like Ocasio-Cortez and face up to the flagrant contradiction between the needs of its entrenched bankrollers and those of its long-term political base. The party can’t satisfy both.
Meanwhile, no one should confuse values-based revulsion at Trump’s agenda with “panic.” For many of us, be we survivors of early American genocide or slavery or holocaust or internment camps, the horrors that Trump makes possible are not new. We have fought and died and collectively survived them before. We will again. There is nothing “panicked” about our resolve to see these threats for what they are and to defeat them.
The only people panicking are those who are too privileged or too afraid to face the reality of what is at stake.
- Thanks to Allie.