Friday, March 6, 2020

Angry and Putrid

Satan in Council, from Gustave Doré's illustrations for Milton's Paradise Lost, via Wikiart. Jeet Heer, a wonderfully gifted writer who's getting unrecognizably performative in the course of the campaign, or the Nation's editors, chose the image to represent the Democratic Establishment conspiring to stop Sanders, but I'm not taking that seriously.

David Brooks  seems truly elated at the Biden ascendancy, and at the same time kind of apocalyptic ("Biden Gives the Establishment One Last Chance")—on the one hand suggesting the gods have finally blessed him with that Democrat he's going to be able to vote for
The angry and putrid shouting that has marked the last four years — and that would mark a Trump vs. Sanders campaign — might actually come to an end. Suddenly we got a glimpse of a world in which we can hear each other talk, in which actual governance can happen, in which gridlock can be avoided and actual change can come.
(though I'm not quite seeing how the presence of Biden on the stage will stop Trump from being "angry and putrid" during the campaign—Biden seems to goad him into his absolute worst behavior, as we've seen through the work of the Giuliani Irregulars and the impeachment) but on the other hand more fearful than before of some kind of revolutionary turmoil:

If Joe Biden wins the nomination but loses to Donald Trump in the general election, young progressives will turn on the Democratic establishment with unprecedented fury. “See? We were right again!” they’ll say. And maybe they’ll have a point.
If Biden wins the White House but doesn’t deliver real benefits for disaffected working-class Trumpians and disillusioned young Bernie Bros, then the populist uprisings of 2024 will make the populist uprisings of today look genteel by comparison. “The system is rotten to the core,” they’ll say. “It’s time to burn it all down.”
Notice in that top paragraph how people get disengaged from his Utopian hopes: we will be talking and listening, but government just "happens", gridlock is "avoided" by persons unnamed, and change "can come" from someplace else, as on a conductorless train. He's really still a conservative who doesn't want anything to happen, but he wants Biden to "do things" the way Benjamin Disraeli did, to forestall long-term change, "actual governance", with a flurry of startling activity.

I've got my own anxieties over the divisions in our society, but I think it's historically illiterate to talk about ongoing "populist uprisings" in the United States in 2020. In India, where RSS goons have been carrying out actual pogroms
The murder of Mehtab wasn’t the only one during Trump’s visit. Across Delhi, at least 52 people, mostly Muslims, died in four days of riots and more than 350 people were injured. During that time, mobs burned down at least four mosques, two schools, 287 houses, 327 shops, and 415 vehicles. The Delhi Chamber of Commerce said the violence caused nearly $4 billion in damage.
you can talk about "populist uprisings" (though I'd be happier calling them "fascist"). Here, the worst we've had is the Koch-funded Tea Party of 2009-10 frightening a large number of pusillanimous Republican congresspersons with the threat of losing their elections, which isn't exactly the same. If Biden wins the nomination, as seems overwhelmingly likely at this point, Twitter is going to be a really ugly place whether he wins the election or not, but that's not the worst thing that can happen. There will be more white terrorism, if that's what Brooks means by "disaffected working-class Trumpians", encouraged by the disaffected working-class commentators of Fox News and their sources.

The thing that worries me most is the thing that had was already pretty highly developed by this time four years ago, in and around the Republican Party and systematically pushed by its upper echelons, as clarified by Peter Pomerantsev, of a post-truth political culture, of an anti-reality community, by no means simply "working-class" but defined more in terms religious (evangelical Protestant and conservative Catholic and Jewish) and geographical (southern up into the Midwest) and ethnic (white), with whom you can't carry on a rational discussion as the meanings of words and evidence melt away. And more and more in the last four years an unhealthy reaction on our side in the form of the split between a helplessly timorous "moderate" faction and a faction calling itself "progressive" but ultimately anti-reality in its own right. It's ended up distorting our politics almost beyond repair.

If a Biden administration manages to "deliver real benefits" to the population including opioid addicts and debt-burdened college graduates and so on, as I think is very likely, the anti-reality factions aren't even going to notice, or care, because it will be a reality-based kind of thing. It's going to take a generation to change this. In the meantime we'll just have to learn to win elections, and I don't think this settling on Biden is the worst thing that could happen on that score.

David Brooks is talking about "the establishment" because, really, that's what he identifies with, but you'll notice he doesn't have a lot of political power himself. What's running the Democratic Party isn't, contrary to what you may have heard, "the establishment",  but the most fervent and best-organized activists at the grassroots, who are especially women of color. That's who's nominating Biden (if there's an "establishment" it vastly preferred Mayor Pete). At the start of this process I said I was going to end up where the black women were, and while this is coming sooner than I expected or wanted, I'm not going to be too surprised, and I'll try not to be distressed.

Charlie Pierce was my favorite in yesterday's melancholy for saying what sunk the candidacy of Elizabeth Warren was—in addition to being a woman, which may be an insuperable obstacle in its own right in this stupid country—her radicalism, deeper and more threatening to power than that of Uncle Bernard:
accepting that sexism and misogyny were marbled throughout everything about the campaign, I think what did her in was her ideas. She committed herself to a campaign specifically to fight political corruption, both the legal and illegal kind. As an adjunct to that, she marshaled her long fight against the power of money in our politics and monopoly in our economy. And, opposed to Bernie Sanders, whose answer to how to wage the fight is always the power of his “movement,” which so far hasn’t been able to break through against Joe Biden, she put out detailed plans on how to do it. That made her much more of a threat to the money power than Sanders, who is easily dismissed as a fringe socialist by the people who buy elections and own the country.
The everything she had a plan for really did include "big structural change" of a kind that could make our blistered polity more like the promise laid out in 1776 in Jefferson's famous document, offering (where Bernard offered a leftmost version of the traditional incoherent Democratic laundry list) a new kind of picture: of the economic reconstruction of the society, a brake on the drive of capital toward monopoly, an effort toward equality.

I'm not anxious she should endorse anybody right now, but I'd like to see her using whatever leverage she has on Biden, to bend him toward all of those plans. Biden seems pretty timid on a lot of the big issues, but he isn't timid by nature—remember that time he drove Obama to back same-sex marriage?—and he's given a lot of his career to being able to change his mind, and he's got that base that's deeply progressive in the old sense. It's not time to despair, and Elizabeth doesn't like that anyway.

I liked this little reminder from Biden's base:

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