ENDGAME: How both nominees are perfect representatives of their parties, The Dems' potentially
Updated: Jan 8, 2020
It's been quite a week.
From the moment Donald Trump walked on stage in Cleveland to (an unauthorized use of) Queen's "We Are The Champions" at the Republican National Convention, to the combined hours of impassioned speeches at the Democratic Convention's opening night in Philadelphia, it was evident that these two political exhibitions (on production par with the Grammy Awards or Golden Globes) wouldn't fail to live up to the promise of spectacle and celebrity.
It absolutely felt like a big deal. The sets were dressed, the players were in costume, and the crowds were raucous and ready. Republicans and Democrats alike spoke with conviction and enthusiasm for their candidates. For the briefest of moments, one could even almost forget that for the better part of the last year, every major Republican politician and figurehead had roundly dismissed the notion of Donald Trump being a decent representative of their party's ideology, let alone a decent human being. On the Democratic side, the opposite was true. Party leadership and loyal members spent the better part of their year roundly dismissing anyone who wasn't the Democrat's pre-selected representative, Hillary Clinton.
Unfortunately, for them, that included the man that history may remember as a profoundly missed opportunity, the candidate who would have had the best chance to beat President Donald Trump in a general election. And that is exactly a lot of what registered Democrats are hearing these days. "We have to beat Trump." "We have to rally around anyone who is not Trump." And yes, there are reasons - very real, very important reasons - to react with visceral recoil at the notion of a Trump Presidency. He espouses neofascist, bigoted, racist rhetoric and embodies the sorts of strongman, demagogue-like characteristics we've seen in authoritarian dictators throughout history.
Republicans had condemned him for months, while at the same time, seemingly forgetting how they fertilized the soil for his rise. Since the Tea Party emerged in 2010 as a reactionary GOP backlash to the Obama Era, it's been the idea of "government as the enemy" that has fed their base's movement. The pointless litany of 60-plus bills repealing Obamacare, John Boehner's proposed government shutdown, Sarah Palin being...Sarah Palin.
More dangerous were the Tea Party's nationalist and racist overtones and the idea of America as "their" country that they wanted "back". In many ways, it's surprising that a Trump-like phenomenon did not happen sooner, and yet it was truly a perfect economic, social, and political storm that created conditions that were just right for the Donald Tsunami to not only exist, but to also start winning. And winning. And winning more. He was perceived as the perfect combined embodiment of "outsider" and "successful businessman", capable of filling the role of American savior to desperate eyes and hearts that were praying for one. The GOP had effectively destroyed the virtue of government in the eyes of the citizens of their party, while concurrently, Trump was boisterously catering to popular desires, prejudice, and fear to cement his standing. Build a Wall on the Mexican border? Sure! Ban Muslims? Hell yeah! Leave nukes on the "table for discussion" when talking about European relations? Not saying no, this is America - let's make it great again!
Finally, and hardly least of the many factors contributing to Trump's rise was the inevitable (and remarkably timed) convergence and fusion of two very powerful forces that had been at work for some time -
1) the American obsession of reality television and celebrity
2) the (gradually increasing) tendency of corporate media to cover politics and news in the same ratings-driven manner that they covered and presented entertainment and sports.
These two worlds finally collided when an actual celebrity who had never held political office in his life had emerged as the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America.
The blurred line was complete.
"These two worlds finally collided when an actual celebrity who had never held political office in his life had emerged as the Republican nominee for President of the United States of America."
Meanwhile, something special and real was happening on the democratic side. Something that could not be more opposite from the GOP phenomenon. If the Obama campaign - as Shepard Fairey's inspired artwork suggested - was genuinely built (at least visually, if not otherwise) in part upon deep nostalgia in the American psyche for real grassroots movements, then the Sanders campaign seemed like it was destined to be the logical next step forward for progressives, and for the party. In that context, Obama's successful campaigns could have potentially been framed as stepping stones towards actual political revolution. "Change We Need", "Hope", "Yes We Can!" all play into the progressive narrative.
And yet, and not without irony, it was only on the surface that the two ideologies were connected. Symbolically, not actually. The reason could be found somewhere just a few levels under that same surface; the truth was that Obama's polished campaign was as slick as it gets, very likely the finest political campaign that had ever been run in the history of American politics. Making full use of new and emerging technological media, the Obama brand was untouchable - and everywhere. As a speaker, he was and perhaps remains, without equal. After 8 years under the buffoonish George W. Bush reign, a welcomed return to grace and dignity in the Oval Office. Yet, the difference between the Obama and Sanders campaigns was that while Obama's management team carefully (and successfully) built a multimedia campaign around Hope and Change, Sanders had emerged as the leader of an actual movement that embodied these ideas.
The Occupy Wall Street movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Zuccotti Park, in New York City's Wall Street financial district, received global attention and gave birth to the Occupy Movement that opposed economic and social inequality worldwide. Shortly before and for some time after, the "We are the 99%" internet senstation was going viral, depicting their faces beside simple, handwritten messages such as "While my taxes were bailing out my bank, my bank was squeezing me. I am the 99%. - US Army Veteran, Oct 2011. OCCUPYWALLST.ORG"
That Sanders had built his entire career around the same fundamental principles of this emerging movement was profoundly serendipitous. Though there did exist very principled reasons why the Occupy Movement chose to be leaderless, many also pointed to the absence of a chief conductor as reason to it's lack of sustained forward momentum. Sanders was in position to take those reigns, and mobilize the energy that still undeniably existed. Accordingly, his campaign was buoyed in very large part not by corporate financing, but by small donations by Americans from all walks of life. An average of $27 per donation yielded massive totals, an estimated $228 million from January of 2015 to June of 2016, 99% from individual campaign contributions, 59% of that from donations of $200 or less. 0% from Super PACs. If Sanders had started a political revolution, it would be paid for by the campaign finance revolution he and his team had just successfully pioneered online.
The Democratic Party, of course, having long been under the influence (and in some cases, under the direction of) its corporate contributors, had absolutely no desire to align itself with the Occupy or 99% movements - or its members. They used "Change" as a campaign slogan, but didn't mean it in practice. Not against monied lobbyists or corporate media. This was Change They Didn't Believe In.
And so it went - as has been recently proven in black and white due to the recent Wikileaks email hack - the DNC rounded their wagons against Sanders and ensured his inevitable demise. Two prominent television networks, CNN and MSNBC, controlled the Democratic narrative. That Sanders received disproportionate coverage made more sense once it was discovered that the network's parent companies (Time Warner and Comcast, respectively) were both among Clinton's top ten donors to her Presidential campaign. Top Democrat officials and establishment media pundits smugly spoke of Clinton's "inevitable" Democratic Party nomination.
Further, there were numerous incidents of thousands - and in some cases - hundreds of thousands of voter eligible citizens removed from voter rolls, particularly in New York, Arizona, and California. Other reported misconduct included unexpected closing of polling places, and party affiliations being tampered with.
The final twist of the knife to many Sanders supporters was by the time the DNC emails were leaked, it was too late to affect any real change for the Senator himself. Yet, vindication for many, after months of flat denial from DNC officials, none more firmly delivered than those from DNC Chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Defenders of the Party, nervous as what vulnerability might show their counterpart Republican detractors, were quick to dismiss the bias and emails as "understandable", as "Hillary has long been loyal to the Party, and Sanders only recently registered as a Democrat". Yet, as many Sanders and democracy supporters would note, that was exactly the point. Sanders had long been an independent servant to the people, not the party. In the face of overwhelming evidence that the DNC did not remain impartial throughout the duration of the Democratic Primary, and thereby violated the democratic process, Wasserman Schultz had little choice but to step down from her leadership position, and resigned.
And so here we stand, in the second week of the two major political party's grand conventions, signaling the end of the primaries and kickoff of the general election season.
Two perfect candidates for the parties they represent. One, a lifelong establishment candidate that has a proven pro-war record, anti-environment positions on important issues including, but not limited to, being pro-fracking, and was recently mired in FBI investigations alleging professional misconduct. The other is a misogynistic, egomaniacal failed businessman that has never held public office in his life.
The two nominees truly represent their respective parties perfectly.
Unfortunately for everyone else, they don't represent us.
Depending on the outcome, the Democratic Party's gamble of playing "we know what's best" with their primary season will be remembered as either a huge gamble that payed off, or one that blew up in their faces. The DNC was under professional, moral, and civil obligation to remain neutral in every sense of the word. They did not. That they - the governing body - influenced the party's primary is a violation of the democratic process. Dangerous, to be sure, particularly when concepts like honesty, integrity, transparency, and justice were all under the microscope, more in this election season than others. Ironically, it was also unnecessary; Sanders was the epitome of so many of the qualities that Democratic voters were in such dire thirst of - had the Party simply allowed the process to play out honestly, a positive result would have been inevitable. Either Sanders would have won and continued to provide the inspiration that the Party was in such dire need of against Trump, or Clinton would have won and had a much easier time gaining the support of former Sanders supporters.
The influence has not been limited to party officials. Watch CNN or MSNBC then flip over to Fox and you can personally experience the confirmation bias they cater to depending on what side of the coin you happen to subscribe to. But it's all the same coin. More practically, it is undeniable that there exists a deep mistrust of the institutions of power in this country, and in action rather than words, Clinton does little to distance herself from them. Resentment for many is not exclusive to politics - the true ire is reserved for a structure of control that limits the real freedom, rights, and liberties of underprivileged Americans, and rewards and protects those with power and resource, regardless of their moral, civil, and - in many cases, even their legal - violations. It is insulting to many to recognize that the Democratic Party and it's supporters take the position that ultimately "it doesn't matter" how Clinton arrived at the nomination, only that she did. In this instance, there exists real widespread belief that it in fact does matter, and the result in November may well prove it. It is particularly damaging to many because a citizen's involvement in the political system is presented as our opportunity to change things, to vote for the change that best represents our own beliefs. When that very institution and process is undermined, it alienates millions from any sort of desire to interact or be involved; that fact is a very real and very serious danger to the idea of America. It is why Sanders' endorsement of Clinton rings hollow for so many of his current and former followers - it was never about Sanders himself but about the ruse of the show itself.
"That they - the governing body - influenced the party's primary is a violation of the democratic process. Dangerous, to be sure, particularly when concepts like honesty, integrity, transparency, and justice were all under the microscope..."
Regarding Trump, it is important to remember that that the angry, racist, bigoted, sexist, hate-filled energy that fuels his rallies and much of his support is not something that he created, but revealed. It existed long before his Presidential campaign, and will exist long after it, regardless of the outcome in November. Trump is less a creator of these ugly traits and more a mirror of much of the country. If there is an authenticity to Trump's campaign, it is the feelings of disillusionment, anger, abandonment and betrayal that many of his supporters feel, and have felt, for generations.
And so we arrive at the tie that binds these two progressions together - the rejection of contrived systems of control and against wealth inequality are what is at the heart of a powerful new movement in America. Though they are approaching it in obviously wildly different methods, the core idea on both the progressive and neoconservative sides are actually similar upon closer investigation. The charade has gone on past its expiration date, and the currents of history are not on Clinton's side. Much of Trump's appeal to his supporters are for this reason - he is perceived as an outsider that "cannot be bought", and he makes full use of that brand. Perception, when dealing with public opinion, matters - and because of social media, quite possibly more now than ever. It is perhaps in that way - and only in that way - that he is similar to Sanders. The senator from Vermont was correct during his campaign, early and often, when he correctly acknowledged that we were past the acceptable point of conducting "politics as usual". Sanders effectively pulled the curtain back on a rigged system, and it should be understood and accepted that, psychologically, it is very difficult to go back to "believing the show" and conceding to a clear establishment figure like Clinton when one has experienced the corrupt inner machinations that constitute it. Trump recognized this phenomenon and capitalized on it, the Democratic and Republican Parties either did not, or chose not to believe it was real.
In the general election, many people will be encouraged by a corporate media firmly entrenched in the establishment to vote for Clinton as a way to "stop Trump", to once again vote for the lesser of two evils. Many will talk about how Donald Trump will single-handedly roll us back to a time of racial, economic, and religious divide, yet, no one man can do that. That takes a cultural shift. Media propaganda and fear mongering will make believers out of people, yet it's inherently derisive to think that these sorts of radical changes in American policy will happen unopposed by it's people or it's government, or that those individual and collective groups will suddenly be devoid of any actionable power. We are not coronating a King or Queen next January. Democracy may be under duress, but America is certainly no monarchy.
The general election is also not sports, not a reality television competition - though while many will be convincingly encouraged "to bet on the winning team", there are those believers in democracy that may not follow the script. There are some that will place significant value in the fact that American servicemen and women have died to give us the right to vote for what we actually believe in, and not just against what we are afraid of. They will understand and relate to Dr. Cornel West - a staunch follower of the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. - when he says "I can deal with catastrophe, not by panicking and being driven by fear, but I can look the catastrophe in the face and still tell the truth."
They will believe that we can do better - that we must do better. That we must demand it, and not fall in line once again, and agree to a sort of compromise that we simply do not trust. They will remember what has happened too many times that we have done that, and recognize that in many ways, it has resulted in the very situation that we now find ourselves in. They will genuinely believe that just because the GOP and DNC do not have principles, it does not mean that they shouldn't. They will understand that there are larger systemic problems that extend far beyond who wins in November. When they vote, it will be for a candidate that best represents their personal beliefs, and what that means is that while it may not be Donald Trump, it may not be Hillary Clinton either. They will exercise freedom. They will understand that what happens outside of that decision will not be in their control, but will refuse to be manipulated. They will give pause when they hear how much their vote "matters" now, when it didn't seem to before.
They will reject the narrative, because they can. They will choose to.