The Democrats Can’t Win If They Won’t Fight

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i. The Day After the Day After

ENOUGH ALREADY WITH THE hand-wringing and recriminations. The only time Democrats love firearms is when they enter a circular firing squad. The only time they embrace religion is when they reenact the Stations of the Cross.

Fuck that shit. Not me, not this time.

I mean, don’t misunderstand: there’s tons of blame to go around, and I dread the impending days (months? years?) of analysis, self-pity and castigation as part of the psychoanalysis liberals engage in after every excruciating setback. Since this latest one is the worst kind imaginable, it’s no surprise the predictable sites are piling up with the predictable screeds. You know, if only we tried harder to engage with good old country folk who just want to get their racist on, we’d…what, exactly? Understand their rage? Reconcile? Get them to consider voting for a Democrat?

Please give me the largest possible break, and super-size it.

First and foremost, the big lesson to be learned here is not that Hillary (or any of us) were deluded or nonchalant. I think, misleading polls aside, the reason victory seemed imminent was not because of Democratic overconfidence, but rather a genuine faith in the collective wisdom of the American people. Hillary Clinton, for all her faults (the handful of genuine ones and the myriad manufactured ones), had every reason to believe there was no way enough people—whatever their racial, misogynistic or authoritarian hang-ups might be—could pull the lever for the most spectacularly ill-suited know-nothing to con his way into contention.

And so, shame on all of us, myself very much included, for not doing more to scare the bejesus out of anyone willing to listen about what true monsters Mike Pence and Paul Ryan are. Maybe, and I know I’m going out on a limb here, it may have been useful for Team Pantsuit to make a slightly bigger thing out of Pence’s record, (still and for now) freely available online. And double-fuck the MSM for giving Hillary’s emails approximately one million times the attention they paid to Pence’s role in legislation that obliges aborted or miscarried  fetuses to be either cremated or buried. The revolution, it turns out, was televised. At once explanation and epitaph, the soulless Les Moonves predicted the (final?) nail in the coffin of America’s Empire, in February of this year: “For us, economically, Donald’s place in this election is a good thing. It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS. The money’s rolling in….This is fun.”

With enemies like that, why would Donald Trump need friends?

As for the execrable Ryan, can someone help me understand why (how) he’d already be calling his shot on privatizing (eradicating) Medicare before Trump is even fucking inaugurated? I know these true believers have perpetual hard-ons for all things privatization, but don’t they know this is a non-starter with seniors? Or are they sufficiently cynical and cocky to think being able to tie plundering Medicare with repealing Obamacare (you can practically envision Ryan’s crocodile tears as he solemnly announces that as much as it pains him to do this…) will give them sufficient cover? I’ll concede we liberals have turned the Chicken Little act into performance art, but once we start talking about necessary (and popular!) programs getting gutted before anyone wakes up, shit has officially gotten way too real.

Listen, I expect (and look forward to) the inevitable blowback from the diehards who’ll abandon Trump once beautiful walls aren’t built, millions of men and women aren’t magically deported, and draining the so-called swamp means infesting it with the worst sorts of insider reptiles, etc. And I’ll relish the shit show of that shit stain Reince Priebus having to lock horns each day with Bannon (and Trump)…but I guess I hoped the GOP doesn’t literally bring us back to 1898 before there’s some (thanks again, MSM!!) intelligent and organized resistance.

ii. Those who cannot remember the past… 

To understand where we are, it’s imperative to review where we’ve been. In some ways, confronting the ways this is on us might prove the unkindest cut, but perhaps a full and tardy assessment will ensure we finally learn our lesson.

Certainly, it sucks to see a party whose signal accomplishment the last eight years was acting petulant and saying no like a paroxysm rendered Reductio ad absurdum, (and who all but ran in the opposite direction of the thug who hijacked their party) so smug and certain, all of a sudden. It’s not just that the Dems snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, once again, but that this was at once predictable and preventable. My concern is—and has been for some time—the ways in which Democrats are congenitally incapable of articulating their achievements, and crafting a message that is either compelling or consistent. The shame of it is, all they have to do is tell the truth and it would set them free.

My biggest beef with Obama’s tenure (one that we’ll miss and appreciate with greater urgency in a couple of months) is, aside from his not being a more vocal and triumphant advocate about providing health care for millions of Americans, the once-in-a-generation opportunity he wasted in 2009. With a country still smoldering from the predictable catastrophe eight-plus years of free market fetishism wrought, the time was at last ripe to make a case why a no-tax/no-regulation-on-steroids approach never works. More, it was a historical occasion screaming for a straightforward yet forceful defense of Government-with-a-capital-G. This was a gift to grab from the despair: with things bottomed out due to unconstrained conservative rule,  history practically pleaded with sensible leaders to reclaim the word and the concept, not to mention rebrand it.

It’s not so difficult to imagine, and this stuff practically writes itself. One speech, early in ’09, wherein Obama declared: “not only am I going to fund these projects, no American who wants to work will go without on my watch. I’m going to spend this money, because it is an investment on people, and you will be able to measure the results immediately. This is a mission on behalf of our well-being, and if you want to judge me in four years, I will take those odds. And if I’m wrong, the worst case scenario will be an early retirement where I can drive across this great nation over new roads and rebuilt bridges, and take advantage of the radically improved infrastructure that these projects made possible. I’ll walk away from the Oval Office happy and proud, because I’ll know we made a difference, and that is what I was elected to do.”

(He also could, and should, have continually invoked FDR’s famous—and quite effective—“I welcome their hatred” mic drop.)

Obama was either too credulous or (worse) haughty to believe he actually needed to make a case, and be prepared for the full-scale war the GOP declared on him the second he was elected. (His refusal to bother himself getting involved in the health care brawls all summer of 2009 is the second largest blunder of his presidency: he not only allowed the malevolent Republicans to define the narrative (wrongly), he let the Tea Party lunatics get a foothold and, with the absence of any consistent, intelligible message, determine that opposing government—instead of the Masters of the Universe, and the Republicans who serve them—was the correct, patriotic thing to do. By the time he saw the grammatically-challenged writing on the signs, it was arguably too late. Meanwhile, against all probability, the masses with their pitchforks and flames, had—for lack of a tangible target for the ire—latched on to the Fox-spewed propaganda filling the inexplicable vacuum of what passes, these days, for political discourse. Put simply, the health insurance industry and the pols they have in their pockets are cartoon villains and the Democrats still were unable to game out an effective strategy to expose them as such.

Aside from Obama’s (take your pick) naïveté, arrogance or indifference, it shouldn’t have taken him well into his second term to think about messaging. Priority number one for Democrats, effective immediately, is not rolling in the hay with Br’er Redneck, but crafting a story that’s consistent and, as no less a salesman than Henry Kissinger once said, has the added advantage of being true. Any introductory class in marketing or communications (or English Literature for that matter) will emphasize the importance of narrative; the necessity of telling the story you want to tell.

The reason this is crucial is because the Republicans already did it and, aside from a few hiccups and intrusions of reality, it’s worked swimmingly ever since. In an exploit that still resonates for its audacity, once upon a time Ronald Reagan drew a conservative line in the sand, assailing the presumption of government as a constructive agent, not by nitpicking but taking aim at its raison d’être. With a country still reeling from the apathy and cynicism of the post-Nixon nadir, he pre-empted that anger and uttered the immortal words: “Government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem.” And for the first time in half a century the Republicans steadily assumed control of a new storyline. It was simple as it was shameless; it was the most facile strategy fathomable, and the GOP finally had a patron saint to render it sacrosanct.

The Reagan Revolution built its momentum on a shameful vilification of America’s poor and lionized (some would say fetishized) the wealthiest percentile and transformed them into folk heroes. In less than two terms, Reaganomics and Wall Street vandalism laid waste to the working class and put us on a path where the richest of the rich were entitled, by Divine Right, to pay ever-smaller tax rates. Meanwhile, young pillagers in training, like Mitt Romney, perfected the business acumen of bankrupting companies for profit into a repugnant performance art. This reached its apotheosis when truth Trumped reality (in every sense of the word) and we ended up electing an actual Gordon Gekko, sans charisma and liquidity.

(That the media, and the Dems, got rolled so historically, by letting Trump get away without releasing his tax returns, is something we should neither forgive nor forget.)

Incidentally, and depressingly case in point: If Trump is smart, he’d insist he is going to repeal and replace Obamacare. The second he’s inaugurated, “replace” it with “TrumpCare” which is the exact same thing as Obamacare. All of his voters, and a vast majority of Republicans, will embrace it and love it. You own the narrative, you own reality.

iii. The Power of Political Narrative, Revisited

In a piece entitled The Power of Political Narrative, I wrote the following:

After the disgust and disbelief settles, one feels obliged to give props to the Republican ratfuckers. Over the last few decades while they have dabbled in the vicarious thrill of foreign occupations and the odious gutter-dwelling of racial and sexual identity politicking, the cretins behind the curtain have focused on some tactical battles in which they have more or less achieved their ends. This strategy has many moving parts, but can be boiled down to a series of inviolable commandments, the enforcement of which ensures that no one is ever off script. And make no mistake, this script is like religion—except belief is not optional.

The fifth, final and most audacious (of these commandments) involves the mantra that government does not work. It’s a neat trick in which, when Republicans take power, they spend their time ensuring this assertion is true, all while consistently expanding the size of government along with the size of the national debt. Then, like clockwork, once the people have finally seen enough, a Democrat comes in with the thankless task of cleaning up the mess, and the disloyal opposition becomes a cadre of small government deficit hawks. That this same farce was pulled off so spectacularly after our recent recession says as much, if not more, about the aforementioned media and the supine Democrats as it does about the unabashed GOP.

Of course, in Democrats’ defense, a reasonable person understands that actually attempting to govern is messy, difficult and frustrating. Particularly as our nation has become increasingly ignorant, self-absorbed and childish: we don’t want any government interference, we don’t want to pay taxes and we demand to see all of these pesky problems go away and take care of themselves. We have become a country of children who want to skip the main course and go directly to dessert, every meal, and then complain that we’ve gotten fat. And that in itself is a problem: it allows Republicans to continue to frame the idea of shared accountability and responsibility as an inherently negative or intrusive notion.

Back in 2014, as the Dems, running away from Obama’s accomplishments (obviously) and downplaying the demonstrable good Obamacare had already done (naturally), I wrote the following:

During the Tea Party shenanigans in ’09, I kept asking myself: when is Obama going to start reminding everyone that this Big Bad Government has historically been the bulwark between our people and an Industrial Revolution lifestyle? Does it need to get to the point where the Republican Party literally says “let them eat cake” before people start to realize wages are stagnating, prices are rising and the only people getting fat are the wealthiest one percent? Apparently it does.

Which brings us to today.

The Republicans have won a huge battle, to be certain. But there’s a larger war to be fought, on both literal and figurative levels. In terms of the former: life goes on; we live to fight another day, another cycle, another generation (You know, “Was it over when the Germans bombed Pearl Harbor?”). With regards to the latter: there’s a longer game the Republicans would like to win, and that involves impeding a progressive alternative by any means necessary. This is why you have to choose sides. This is why you can ill afford to let current circumstances lull you into a state of impotent rage or, worse, apathy. Because aside from the ceaseless corporate welfare they’ll fight for, their ultimate ambition is to render the actually literate and sentient amongst us fed up and indifferent. Without awareness, and with no resistance, they can more easily continue their unchecked assault on our collective well-being.

Get angry. Get involved. Do what you have to do.

*This piece originally appeared at The Weeklings on 11/15/16.

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