Monday, June 6, 2016

While Rome Berns

When I made my transition from Bernie supporter to Hillary grassroots donor, sending my first 11 dollars via online portal, the thank-you email I received in reply was not particularly auspicious. "Thanks for supporting Hillary," it said, or something to that effect -- and then, "The first few primaries are coming up. We hope we can count on you to have her back." ... The first few primaries? I made this donation about a month ago -- in other words, very well after the first few primaries had long since taken place. With all her campaign staff, and all her power, she was not able to update a simple auto-response email!

And in this is to be found a parable of Bernie and Hillary more generally. Hillary is not, and will never be, the cool candidate. She is not the exciting candidate. She is not the young person's candidate. She is, rather, the business as usual candidate. The living embodiment of the status quo. She is the muddling-through-as-we-usually-do candidate. And that is precisely why she has my support. As bad as the status quo may be, my friends, there is always room to get worse from here. Yes, ours is a cadaverous and bloated imperial democracy, with all its hypocrisy, and its cant, and its terrible callousness abroad. And by God, I would defend this rotten hulk of defeated aspirations against those who would try to burn it down and rear something incomparably uglier in its place.

By the latter, I mean most directly the Trumpists, of course. Someone I know from church -- a former refugee from Nazi Germany -- was speaking recently to other congregants about her wartime experiences. When someone asked her the usual question, "How could so many people in Germany have been taken in?", she replied that she just hoped people wouldn't be asking the same thing about Americans after this coming November. Maybe you'll say that's a callous and irresponsible comparison to make; or perhaps you'll tell me it's the kind of thing that smart alecks of both parties have been saying before every general election for the last fifty years. And indeed, you'd be half right. If only we hadn't so inflated the currency of that charge!, we must be thinking. Because now we might actually have to find a way of really meaning it, when we say it. In 2016, we may actually be facing the real McCoy, the game over, "the big blackout,/ the big no." (Sexton).

Not that Trump is Hitler, or the moral equivalent of Hitler. He doesn't have the power yet, thank God, for us to see if he would like to be. But some insight is still to be gleaned from the comparison between the two. You will have seen from events this week that Trump evidently thinks judges of Hispanic origin cannot do their jobs in cases that have to do with Trump; and now, "possibly," he thinks the same could be said of Muslim justices as well. One can't help but be reminded of another clownish demagogue whom people didn't take seriously until it was too late, who used to expound on the inherent untrustworthiness of "Jewish science."

Another terrifying aspect of these latest Trump obscenities that doesn't seem to be receiving a lot of attention is the fact that, so far as I can tell, this marks the first real admission on Trump's part that, yes, he is indeed running a racist campaign -- i.e., a campaign the motive and purpose of which is to bait and persecute Hispanic and Muslim people. Otherwise, why would Trump think that all Hispanics and Muslims have a "conflict of interest" in a Trump-related lawsuit? If Trump wasn't running on such a basis, why would they necessarily oppose him? This marks a change. After all, I thought that Trump "loves" Muslim Americans -- even if he intends to rescind the visas of their friends and family members and commit a host of war crimes in Muslim countries. I thought too that Trump is "loved" by Hispanics -- what happened to all that, Donald? Sure he's "building a wall" -- but I thought that in the middle of that wall, there would be "a great big door," according to Trump. (Can't you see him now, "lifting his lamp beside the Golden Door"? So long, mother of exiles.)

But now, gone are those empty reassurances. Trump has abandoned even the absurd and bogus pretense that he is a candidate for all Americans. He has jettisoned the last remaining shreds of his rhetorical commitment, however preposterous it was from the start, to universalism and American pluralism. Trump is coming out now as the anti-Hispanic and anti-Muslim candidate, and acknowledging more or less openly that members of these already roundly baited and scapegoated minorities have nothing to gain from his presidency.

So that's your choice for the Republican ticket this year, ladies and gentleman -- the man who doesn't even bother to pucker up and dog whistle any more. The candidate for unapologetic and avowed racists.


That's horrifying. And because of it, I am getting to be no less afraid of the Bernie people. They have to know by now that they are dealing serious damage to Hillary's candidacy by staying in the race; they cannot win, they can only damage her chances and her image. They have to know that they are feeding Trump arguments and talking points, especially by recycling their groundless claim that the nominating process is somehow "rigged" against them (in truth, they have lost in the popular vote and by every other measure).

Many have said they'll never cast a vote for Hillary, which is almost as good as a vote for Trump by this point. But I'm not sure they care. They seem to be getting more capable by the day of signing their own Molotov-Ribbentrop with the Trump supporters. Remember that "debate" that Trump proposed between him and Bernie, and to which the latter rapidly assented? It was ostensibly a "challenge" from one to the other; but far more than that it was a show of "outsider" solidarity against Hillary. Meanwhile, Trump's Twitter page, which has never seen a wedge it wouldn't drive and an opening it wouldn't exploit, continues to shed buckets of crocodile tears for the terribly "unfair treatment" Sanders is supposedly receiving at Clinton's hands.

Ahem. In the lead-up to Germany's fateful 1932 election, may I remind you that the German Communists were almost exclusively focused on defeating the Social Democrats, rather than trying to stop Hitler; that, as Arthur Koestler recalls, they dubbed the socialists "social fascists" and regarded them as just as bad or worse than the Nazis? May I remind you too of those wheezy right-wing journalists in the '20s and '30s like Hilaire Belloc, who thought that interwar European parliamentary democracy was really a facade for "oligarchy," and that men like Mussolini were to be commended for having finally yanked the mask off the system and revealed it for the travesty it really was; much as Marxist accelerationists are always secretly -- or not so secretly -- hoping for a murderous strong man to come along who will show the world the "true face of bourgeois capitalist democracy," etc. etc. Well, we're certainly accelerating now!

One trusts that the Bernie people don't actually want Trump to win the election. They've certainly done their part to show up at countervailing protests. And one hopes that maybe, if they knew some of the things above, they would see the value in occasionally settling for the vaguely left-of-center establishment candidate in preference to something far more monstrous. But precisely the problem with them-- and why they are so dangerous -- is that they lack this knowledge; often, they lack any historical perspective that could save us. Many of them are too young to remember Ralph Nader, still less the McGovern election; still less the ways in which liberal journalists and Communist hardliners colluded in the 1930s -- often unwittingly -- to ensure that fascism was able to sweep into power in Europe without facing a unified and coherent opposition.


A little while ago, there was a cartoon circulating on Facebook that showed a Muslim voter in November having to choose between a candidate who will arrest their families at home and one who will bomb their families overseas. It might take one a moment to realize that Hillary is the second of these two candidates, or so the joke would imply. As if Trump hadn't said time and again that he wished to murder the family members of terror suspects and commit other war crimes overseas -- which to my mind suggests that he fits both the roles in the joke above. The cartoon feels very much like the sort of false moral equivalency that could only be drawn by a white, 20-something Intercept reader, rather than someone who's family was actually being directly threatened by Trump because of their religion. After all, yes, it's true that Hillary has done -- or been a party to -- many odious things in her career. If you doubt that I am sufficiently aware of this fact, please see this earlier post; and this one. But for God's sake, she is no Donald Trump! Hillary doesn't claim to want to inflict "a helluva lot worse than waterboarding" on terrorism suspects who are at the mercy of the United States. She hasn't spread urban legends about Muslims "cheering" the collapse of the World Trade Center. She doesn't routinely hold up a horrifying atrocity story as something to aspire to, as Trump has done -- in this case, a -- thankfully -- fictitious one, about American soldiers in the Philippines committing a mass murder of 49 Muslim prisoners with bullets dipped in pig's blood. Trump apparently regards that as the kind of counter-terrorism policy he'd like to emulate. Say what you will of her, Hillary would never do that. Her more likely modus operandi would be to profess ignorance of the fact that America had ever fought a brutal colonial war in the Philippines at all, and then accuse anyone who stated otherwise of an insufficiency of patriotism-- which is annoying as hell, but which I far prefer to Trump's outright murderous intent.

The reality of this election should be clear to everyone by now -- it will come down to either Hillary or Trump; and a vote for anyone other than Hillary is a vote for annihilation.

Yet, one almost gets the sense that the Bernie people don't care-- that this election has long since ceased to be a rational weighing of possible outcomes for them, and has become an exercise in ending the system we've got, at whatever cost.

It's the kind of calculation one is only willing to make if one has never actually seen one's world destroyed; if one has been privileged not to know how bad things can actually get, if you let them. One notices that it is the better-off demographics of the Democratic base who seem most intent on destabilizing "The Establishment" this year; and it is probably because they haven't lived long enough, or seen enough of what people are capable of, or learned enough through the study of history to know that there are worse things out there than the status quo. I've quoted it before in this regard, but it remains ever relevant -- I refer to D.H. Lawrence's poem on the "Latter-Day Sinners":
"They say: Après moi le deluge! and calmly expect/ that the deluge will never be turned on them, only after them./ Post me, nihil! -- But perhaps, my dears,/ nihil will come along and hit you on the head."
This election is forcing us to decide whether we value the society we have enough to fight for it, with all its imperfections, but also with its efforts at democracy, its pretenses of universalism and of decency. And I find that I do value it that much, God help me. It required its threatened loss to make me realize it; and now I feel already that we may have waited too long, that we didn't stick up for our democracy when it actually mattered, that we said too many slick and cynical things about how rotten it all was because we couldn't have imagined what would be slouching toward Bethlehem this election cycle of 2016.


I am currently in the process of reading Anna Seghers's 1941 novel Transit. I picked it up in the hope that it would shed some light on the refugee experience -- in other words, that it would provide me some insight into lives not my own. But within the first few pages I was already confronted with something that rung intensely true for me -- and for all of us -- right here and right now. The unnamed narrator of the novel, who is in flight from the Nazis in France, has just overheard a cohort of German soldiers barking commands.
"Thrumming like an undertone in these commands," writes Seghers, "was something terribly obvious, insidiously honest: Don't complain that your world is about to perish. You haven't defended it, and you've allowed it to be destroyed! So don't give us any crap now! Just make it quick; let us take charge!" (Dembo trans.)
One already feels the Trumpists elbowing their way into power with similar effrontery -- and pointing out to us in the process, in just the same way, our own cowardice and complicity in their rise. We are letting our world burn. Feel the Bern! as they say.

Well, we're about to.

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