25 Thoughts on The Election

How Many Do You Agree With?

Steven Sherman May 10, 2016

1.The ascension of Donald Trump has been remarkable. A TV star/branding operation with no political experience has vanquished a crowded field. That field was not particularly strong, but not dramatically weaker than in 2012. Jeb, Rubio, and Kasich were all credible “establishment” candidates. Ted Cruz was a stronger “extremist” candidate than anyone in 2012, and the establishment even rallied to him in a last ditch effort to stop Trump, which quickly failed.

2.How much Trump’s ascension has to do with his politics, and how much with skills honed as a celebrity is difficult to disentangle. His celebrity persona is well suited to the era of social media.

3.His politics have little in common with the current Republican party, either in terms of corporate neoliberalism or tea party extremism, except for his white nationalism, which is more explicit than anyone else’s in the Republicans.

4.His white nationalism/racism has been notable for downplaying the emphasis on anti-Black racism, characteristic of Wallace, Nixon, Reagan, Bush sr, in favor of anti-Mexican/”illegal immigrants” and Islamophobia.

5.His assertion of US economic interests against a globalizing project (“free trade”) is reminiscent of Pat Buchanan, but his jettisoning of all but the most perfunctory references to Christianity and his aura as “successful businessman” make him a very different sort of politician.

6.Few organizations have endorsed him besides security personnel (cops, border police, etc) and minor anti-immigrant groups.

7.The abandonment of the party’s candidate by many of the esteemed elders is unprecedented since McGovern.

8.Trump has the endorsement of about 10% of elected Republicans in Washington, a stupefying low level comparable to Sanders support among Democratic superdelegates. This comparison overstates Trump’s support, however, since, as the nominee, Trump should be attractive even to Republicans who don’t entirely agree with him. There is also no media infrastructure to speak of promoting Trumpism, again, a contrast with Sanders.

9.Trump’s most famous policy proposals–build a wall on the border that Mexico would pay for, and deport 12 million immigrants–are implausible. Furthermore, Trump signalled to the ruling class via off the record remarks to the New York Times, that he does not intend for them to take this rhetoric seriously. The ruling class depends on immigrant labor, and could not easily substitute American citizens if anything resembling this plan were put in effect. Nevertheless, Trump would have to come up with some way to reward his electoral base, promptly. His base would surely feel empowered by his victory.

10.A Republican congress couldn’t do much to stop Trump’s stated desire to halt much of their agenda–”entitlement reform”, “free trade”… at the same time, not trying to carry these policies through would endanger Republicans’ relationship with their donors.

11.Sanders has produced one of the most successful, in terms of vote getting, left campaigns in US history. He did so with the support of only a limited portion of the union movement (a sixth? A seventh?) and even less of related social movement organizations, with the exception of a few left leaning formations in the DP (MoveOn, PDA).

12.More so than Trump, who was able to rely on his celebrity, Sanders demonstrated the power of organizing a campaign through social media.

13.Clinton was able to defeat Sanders by reversing the formula that defeated populism–convincing African American voters to not unite with Whites interested in pushing beyond neoliberal politics. She was served well by an organic intelligentsia which used double talk to evade the significance of social democratic reforms in favor of identity politics, but the real backbone of her victory was provided by the still strong connection between African American politicians and clergy and voters, as well as the self-interest of upper middle class Democrats who have little use for Sanders’ program and ongoing fear of another 1968/72 among baby boomers.

14.She was also aided by obvious failings of the Sanders’ campaign to develop a serious outreach plan into African American communities, lame missteps of language, etc.

15.Black Lives Matter language Sanders incorporated into his stump speech after disruptions probably had more of an impact in introducing these issues to his followers than in convincing many African Americans to vote for him.

16.Belatedly, just after Super Tuesday, a faction of African American intellectuals began directing serious fire at camp Clinton. However, they had no connection to any force in the African American community comparable to the politicians/clergy, although they likely had an effect on bringing substantial numbers of young people over to Sanders, impressionistically, more the college student and recent grad set than poorer people.

17.Black Lives Matter was not in a strong position to take an effective stance in this election cycle.

18.Sanders’ campaign first emboldened a faction of intellectuals who insist that universalist social democracy can triumph over racial divisions.

19.It has later emboldened those who believe anti-racist work must be more central to largely white progressive activity, with some variation of the slogan “when racism is used to divide us, we all lose.”

20.But these discussions have so far been eclipsed by anger about the “rigged” nature of the DP primary, and ‪#bernieorbust‬ style rhetoric about a possible third party run. Regarding the former, there are some prospects to push through reforms (open primaries, or at least easier registration dates, reduced power or elimination of super delegates) in the context of the convention. Since it is difficult to imagine Sanders jumping at the prospect of committing Ralph Nader style political suicide, it is likely to mostly express itself in an uptick of interest in the Green Party, perhaps raising Jill Stein’s 2016 total to close to 2%, not enough to generate much interest, unless it can be credibly argued this has spoiled Clinton.

21.Talk of the rigged system or third parties should not eclipse the main conversation needed, how to expand the Sanders coalition to be genuinely multiracial.

22.Sanders himself has a narrow path to navigate, simultaneously avoiding marginalizing himself with his followers, who will see almost any endorsement of Clinton as betrayal, and remaining a factor in the Senate.

23.In theory, fear of a divisive, train wreck convention, as well as the possibility of Trump pushing hard for independents should push the DNC a little to the left, but so far this is not apparent.

24.Whether Clinton wins or loses, the center of gravity of the Dems has shifted towards Warren.

25.A somewhat better organized socialist left (see the Socialist convergence in Philadelphia) and a somewhat better organized social movement left (see the People’s Summit in Chicago in July) are likely to be part of the landscape going forward. Sanders’ “political revolution” is not likely to be a force “sheepdogged” into the Dems or dissolved away after the convention, although it might appear so in the short term.

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