The Politics of Despair Is All We Have Left

And here we are again just like 2016. Donald Trump, petulant amoral monster of a human being, against an empty neoliberal with a long list of highly problematic political stances paired with a penchant for nepotism and corruption. Lesser of two evils logic dictates that we voters cast our lot with the latter, and if we question that logic you can guaran-damn-tee that cable news pundits and neoliberal newspaper columnists will opine frequently and loudly that we are being selfish, too idealistic, and are abetting Trump’s re-election. Rock meet hard place.

In 2016, for the first time in my lifetime, I felt shamed for opting to vote for a candidate outside of the establishment duopoly. In fact, most progressives experienced exactly what I did, though many of them did hold their noses (and blinder their better judgment) to vote for Hillary Clinton. As a strategy, shaming voters was not enough to get Clinton and the DNC the votes they felt we owed them. One wonders why they think it will work this time.

Progressive voters are shell-shocked. So many put so much work and passion into helping Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign, and this time we had a running start. Sanders was a known quantity this time around, and his organization was vast and energetic and committed. When the whole thing inexplicably collapsed on Super Tuesday, we were left in a pretty desolate place. Subsequent primaries continued the new trend and Joe Biden, whose rallies were embarrassingly small and lethargic, took control of the race. The turn made little sense to anyone who pays attention to politics. Biden was a rambling mess when he spoke, and his habit of groping and smelling women and young girls was on full display. Yet, this guy has secured the nomination somehow.

There remains no enthusiasm for Biden except among devout Obama supporters who somehow imagine him being the spiritual successor to Obama’s presidency. Words like “stability” and “normalcy” get bandied around as reasons to bet on Biden v. Trump. Never mind that during Obama’s two terms in office, the DNC lost more political offices than during any other presidency in history. Obama’s thin legacy includes the problematic (and Republican-inspired) Affordable Care Act and little else. Apologists insist that he was hog-tied by Republicans for most of his presidency, but that belies that fact that he had a super majority for two years to begin his two terms. I challenge anyone to name any substantive legislation that was passed during his presidency. Domestic policy, in particular, is a glaring hole. Of course, steering the economy out of the Great Recession is what comes to mind, and many claim that as a historically notable achievement. Apologists too often overlook that the Obama administration did far more to bail out criminally negligent mega-banks and Wall Street investment firms than it did for the eight million people who lost their jobs and the six million hard-working Americans who lost their homes. As a result of the financial crisis and the strategies Obama’s administration implemented to alleviate it, the top 5% of earners has seen their incomes recover and grow at a fast pace. “Those in the bottom 20%, by contrast, saw their incomes fall, in real terms, and had barely recovered that lost ground by 2016.”

To really assess Obama’s failure during his first two years in office, consider the things he could have done but didn’t:

• Raise the minimum wage to keep up with inflation (approximately $12/hr)

• Pass meaningful gun violence legislation

• Pass meaningful antitrust legislation to minimize corporate monopolies

• Address police brutality in minority communities with genuine criminal justice reform

• End mandatory minimum sentencing put into place by the misguided 1994 Violent Crime Control Act and Law Enforcement Act

These are just a few areas where reform was needed but ignored. Obama’s cabinet, mostly filled out with Wall Street insiders, had different priorities. Working class and middle class Americans were not on that list.

While this primary has had a number of interesting new policy proposals (Universal Basic Income, Medicare for All, debt forgiveness for college tuition, a wealth tax, etc.), literally none of that is espoused by the presumptive nominee.

This is not a legacy we should pin our hopes on. This is a legacy of slavish obedience to the CEOs and CFOs of vast corporations. We should be wise enough at this point to recognize that.

Yet here we are.

Like 2016, we are being lectured that not voting for the DNC’s deeply flawed candidate is treasonous and irresponsible. While this primary has had a number of interesting new policy proposals (Universal Basic Income, Medicare for All, debt forgiveness for college tuition, a wealth tax, etc.), literally none of that is espoused by the presumptive nominee. This is the worst kind of bait and switch I’ve ever seen in a presidential campaign. Hell, in ANY campaign ever. The feeling of hope and aspiration that this primary season started with has been stopped in its tracks, replaced with the same fear-mongering and vote-shaming that we experienced in 2016.

This, sadly, is fair play to the corrupt leaders of the Democratic National Committee and their corporate sponsors. This, they say, is their party and they expect us to choke down their tepid, piecemeal policy ideas and thank them for the honor. The alternative, they shout at us on social media, is taking full blame for four more years of Trump and his cronies. We and we alone will be responsible for that eventuality, we’re told.

Meanwhile, corporate political donors will get exactly what they want, and I can assure you that if you think a President Biden would raise taxes to pre-Trump levels on those donors, you are sadly mistaken. If you think a President Biden will do anything but continue to throw trillions of taxpayer dollars into corporate coffers, you are naïve. And if you think you’ll see any genuine reform to the rapacious health insurance industry, you haven’t counted how much they contributed to the Biden campaign with any clarity.

In the past, I would have ended this essay with a call to action, some aspirational policy idea or simply an encouraging assessment of the American spirit. I can’t do that anymore with any honesty.

What kind of democracy will we get with these two dismal choices in front of us? What hope will you wake up with on the first Wednesday of November if Biden wins? He claims he’ll bring about a return to normalcy. What does that even mean? He’s hostile to every progressive idea that was floated during the primaries, and he didn’t apologize for any of that. He’s got a long history of wanting to cut Social Security. If you think he’ll propose much of anything less than austerity for everyday Americans after this pandemic, you simply aren’t paying attention.

Would Trump be worse? God, yes. No doubt. But repeatedly leaving struggling Americans with wretched choices for the most powerful office in our country is beyond discouraging. It’s abusive, and we shouldn’t tolerate it.

In the past, I would have ended this essay with a call to action, some aspirational policy idea or simply an encouraging assessment of the American spirit. I can’t do that anymore with any honesty. I fear the future that the powers-that-be are ushering in. Once prompted to action by outrage at injustice and corruption and apathy, now I’m left hanging my head. I remain defiant, but from what I can determine, our defiance is blunted and our dissatisfaction ignored by those ruling our country. All I feel is the hot stare of the vote-shamers and the blaring voices of corporate news media blaming me for our collective fates.

Hope and inspiration seem like radical, illogical notions. This is the America I live in now, and it is soul-crushing.

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