Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Bernie and Binaries

It sometimes seems that binaries are at the core of the American psyche.  Maybe it goes back to the puritans.  I dunno.  Binaries, of course can be useful.  They make computers run pretty well.  But they can also be very dangerous.  There’s a reason nobody ever talks about false ternaries.  We have in this presidential election a candidate who is the closest I’ve seen in America to a bona fide dictator, complete with a corps of menacing thugs, a complete disdain for truth, a disdain for his supporters, and a certifiable narcissism.  I hear republican friends say, when asked if they would vote for him if he were nominated “ya, but he’ll change,” or “he’s just taking extreme positions for bargaining purposes,” or, “he’s speaking off the cuff.  That’s what’s great about him.”  Um, you might want to check your history, and then check your present, and recognize that history has been a parade of tyrants, but none with the amount of catastrophically destructive technology, not to mention influence, an American president has access to.  George W. Bush was given similar kinds of indulgence.  “Ya, he’s a dunce, but he’s going to appoint smart guys to help him.”  Um, like Dick Cheney? Donald Rumsfeld.  Never, ever appoint or elect a leader of anything who is dumb, ill informed, etc.  It never works out.  That’s where you get the shadowy figures who have no accountability but who have really dark constituents to answer to. 

It’s hard for me to understand the appeal of Trump.  To me he’s a greasy, sleazy bookie who can’t even run hideous, tacky gambling establishments with any degree of integrity or, indeed, profitability.  He has hideous taste.  His speeches are rambling strings of insults, brags, and logical syllogisms.  His answer to any objection never addresses the issue being addresses, but basically boils down to, “believe me.”  Trump loves the worst binary of them all: winners and losers.  He recognizes that darkest of American impulses, the desire to label human beings as winners and losers is a potent force.  The concept of winning is odious and false and needs to be gotten rid of.  So much evil can be traced to this idea.  Trump does, however, in the midst of all the insanity, utter a few things that really ring true.  He talks about trade deals in the ‘90s that gutted the middle class.  He talks about money in politics.  Well, maybe that’s it.  But that’s a lot.  Democrats barely touch these things, and yet they are absolutely fundamental to what is wrong with America.

Back to binaries.  The two-party system.  Ouch.  What a disaster.  Winner take all elections.  Trying to prevent people to vote.  Let’s talk about the two-party system.  First of all, let me be very clear: the republican party is hard for me to characterize without invoking a certain individual sometimes described as a prince of a certain quality usually identified as the antonym of light.  While I have many friends and loved ones who identify with this party, I believe the organization itself is about as pure evil as an organization can get.  It’s been pretty bad for quite awhile, certainly going back to Nixon, but maybe back to Goldwater.  But the wholesale embrace of evil goes to 1994, where Gingrich redefined the party, its strategies, and it’s postmodern embrace of strategy over substance.  Now that we’ve got that out of the way, does that make the democratIC party good, since the republican party is evil? NO!  Doesn’t work that way.  False binary.  In fact, the postmodern/evil version of the republican party was, in part, facilitated, egged on, by the Bill Clinton era, DLC version of the democratic party.  I watched all this happen in horror.  Gingrich embraced bullying, Bill Clinton embraced appeasement, moved to the right, and you know what bullies do with people who don’t show resistance.  They just can’t help themselves.  The result was a series of hideous, anti-non-tycoon legislation in the 90s that, among other things, destroyed the social safety net, shipped virtually all manufacturing jobs out of country, destroyed newspapers and radio stations, and thus the music industry, and destroyed the checks and balances in the banking system, thus resulting in the 2008 collapse.  Worst of all was the obscene accumulation of wealth ever upward.  This is all because of legislation that Bill Clinton signed.  I remember at the time thinking that these bills were too heartless even for the republican party, but that they were so conditioned to push for whatever they could get away with that they couldn’t help themselves.  And Clinton, ever wanting to appease and show himself a “centrist” (whatever the hell that means) gave in, despined himself on our behalf. 

Let’s not forget that Bill Clinton had a majority in the house and a super majority in the senate in the beginning of his first term.  I’m trying to remember if anyone else had that….  Oh yeah, Barry Obama.  What about our current president.  Like Clinton, and like democratic presidents in general, he has managed to get rid of deficits run up by the previous republican administration and has brought the macro-economy back to life and reduced unemployment.  That’s kind of what democratic presidents do.  That’s good.  But what about micro-economic issues.  How about these hideous mortgages that people got into?  The houses they lost?  What about the 6-figure student loans?  Some small fraction of the welfare that went to wall street and the auto industry could have completely saved millions of people from losing their houses by refinancing their predatory mortgages.  A similarly small fraction of this bailout could save entire generations from student loan induced poverty.  What about Obamacare?  Well, I’m glad it exists.  It’s a very modest step.  But it’s was created by the Heritage Foundation.  It’s better than nothing, but it’s not that great.  It still leaves us with the most expensive and inefficient health care system in the world.  And the very simple yet transformative provision of a public option could easily have been part of the ACA, but for some mysterious reason, it was dropped.

Back to the binaries again.  There’s no either/or here.  Trump is scary, not because he’s conservative, in fact I agree with some of the things he’s mentioned.  He’s more right about trade and campaign finance than the Clintons or Obama.  He’s scary because he behaves like a dictator and is a narcissist.  In this way, almost any other republican would probably be preferable as president.  But Cruz’s ideas and world-view are truly odious and the Ohio guys is not much better.  The republican establishment hates the poor and sucks up to the rich in a disgraceful way.  Nonetheless, they are preferable to Trump.  Hillary is a part of the democratic establishment that is highly problematic and maybe slightly evil, but maybe not wholesale evil in the way the republican party is.  And her/the democratic establishment’s appeal to voters is, in essence, we’re not going to do much, but we’re certainly not as bad as those other guys.  Vote for us!

The thing is, I agree.  The establishment democrats are less bad than any republicans.  But that’s pretty sad.  But in a binary political system, one can be forgiven for voting for the least worst candidate.  That’s what Hillary is offering.  We say what happened in 2000 when Nader rightly pointed out how the two major parties fed off each other in a sick codependency.  But, wow, what a disaster to try to work outside of that system. 

Which is where Bernie comes in.  He is literally the only candidate who is actually talking about the stuff that makes life suck for most people in this country, and the root causes of these things.  And he has figured out a way to work within this two-party system.  If Hillary is elected, we can feel pretty good about not starting crazy wars, changing bankruptcy laws, giving huge giveaways to every industry, going backwards on environmental policy, etc.  These things are big.  But if the past couple of “centrist” democratic administrations are any indication, there will be nothing better than stagnation for the non-rich, and pretty much misery for the poor.  Higher education and healthcare costs will continue to skyrocket.  People barely in the middle class will continue to be burdened with odious lifelong debt.

So if Hillary is nominated, no matter who the republican nominee is, I will do whatever I can to support her.  But Bernie is, to my mind, a truly transformative, inspiring candidate, who appears to have even more appeal than Hillary to the swing voter and even to some republicans.  I think a lot of this is due to the fact that he is unashamed of speaking the truth.  He’s unafraid of offending corporate constituents.  He doesn’t flee from right wing characterizations.  He’s ok with words like liberal and socialism and seeks to rehabilitate them and the wonderful ideas they represent.  People actually like that.  They are justifiably suspicious, on the other hand, of sheepishness, defensiveness, etc.  It’s like what are they hiding.  He has also demonstrated that you don’t need any kind of Hollywood sheen to be viable.  That Americans can be persuaded by genuineness and truth.  That Americans actually have good hearts and that a candidate can succeed by appealing to their higher motives.