Barry’s Blog # 347: A Mythologist Looks at the 2020 Election, Part Eight

The Democratic Convention: Virtual liberals. The body language of Chuck Shumer and others seemed to express discomfort and insincerity as they addressed video cameras rather than actual people. But this exemplified the fact that – despite the constant presence of women and people of color – the corporate Democrats clearly see the party’s base as their primary enemy, and the GOP as secondary. The Republicans won’t look so fake in their convention, because (minus the ubiquitous con-men) many of them are committed racists, misogynists and self-perceived victims of those same POC. Their anger is real, if utterly privileged.

The virtual liberals were long on rhetoric, short on specific policy. Most criticism of Trump was about his incompetent mismanagement of the pandemic, not about his foreign, economic, environmental or tax policies. This was a clear and uneasy reminder that if it were not for the pandemic and the resultant economic crisis, Biden and his corporate lobbyists would not be leading in the polls. David Moore writes:

For a political party whose platform calls for “sustainable economic growth, which will create good-paying jobs and raise wages,” the Democratic National Committee has appointed a lot of lobbyists for major corporations that oppose wage growth to its top committees. Over one-third of the DNC’s Executive Committee and nearly two-thirds of the Rules and Bylaws Committee are registered as corporate lobbyists, work as corporate consultants, or have backgrounds in furthering corporate influence in politics.

A parade of pro-Biden Republicans: John Kasich, Meg Whitman, Susan Molinari, Colin Powell, Christine Todd Whitman and others (including the ghost of the warmonger John McCain, who had voted with Trumpus 83% of the time) agreed that Trumpus is no good (shocking!), as if there are any undecided voters out there this year who might be impressed. Indeed, four of the 13 main speakers at the 1996 GOP convention spoke. WTF? William Rivers Pitt reminds us that

…establishment Democrats still believe that if they act more like Republicans, Republicans will stop being mean to them. It is the long tragedy of the age…I don’t need to hear from four Republicans who stood by and let Trump happen to their party and then the world tell me how bad things are right now. The monster got out of their goddamn lab, and people like them want to paper over the hole in the wall. Maybe nobody will notice where he came from? Maybe not. Kasich standing at the white-gravel crossroads as he spoke was every inch the shallow, sophomoric symbolism of the modern conservative who is trying to wash off the blood.

In a letter released hours before Biden’s acceptance speech, over 70 senior officials endorsed him. This illustrious group included former CIA Director Michael Hayden and life-long war criminal John Negroponte.

The astonishing, highly visible decision to make Latinx Democrats nearly invisible: All this was going on while Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was allowed one minute to speak (she took a minute and a half), and former candidate Julián Castro, who had given a keynote address during the 2012 convention, whose 2020 platform had called for reform of the police before it was fashionable, was – inexplicably – not asked to speak at all, even though the other major candidates did speak.

Can you guess who is missing?

Indeed, Latinx Democrats (four, and one was the actress Eva Longoria) received the same number of prime-time slots as Republicans, despite the fact that Latinx voters will be second only to white voters as the largest eligible voting bloc in the country. This was so irrational, insulting and utterly amateurish as to fit into a long-term pattern, Biden’s history of self-sabotage (see below). Given his excellent speech, this is troubling.

Other Shenanigans in the virtual smoke-filled rooms: On Tuesday, the day after Bernie Sanders spoke in favor of Biden, the DNC finalized the party platform, quietly removing an amendment calling for an end to federal subsidies to the fossil fuel industry. It was a longstanding demand of climate activists that both Biden and Kamala Harris had claimed to support. (Two weeks before, the platform committee had blocked Medicare for All, as well as a proposal calling for the legalization of marijuana.)

That same day, the Biden campaign disavowed Palestinian American activist Linda Sarsour, attacking her over her support for the BDS movement, after she appeared at the Muslim Delegates and Allies Assembly side event to the Convention. Taking yet another position well to the right of many young party activists, the platform strongly condemned BDS without criticizing Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine. Insiders claimed that Biden, after heavy pressure from pro-Israel groups, had personally intervened to make sure the word “occupation” was omitted from the platform,  even as the Israelis bombed Gaza for the eleventh straight night.

On the final day of the convention, Nancy Pelosi further alienated progressives. She ignored her policy of backing incumbent House Democrats against primary challengers and endorsed Joe Kennedy III over the more progressive incumbent, Ed Markey. Alexandra Rojas, executive director of Justice Democrats, said, “This move reeks of hypocrisy. The party is setting one standard for progressives and one entirely different standard for the establishment.” But this is the age (may it be so) of unexpected consequences. According to one report, Pelosi’s endorsement of Kennedy resulted in $100,000 in donations for Kennedy, and $300,000 for Markey, from 9,000 separate contributors.

Boy Psychology: Does either candidate really want to win? Now we move from political commentary to psychology, from “Trump vs. Biden” to “Trumpus vs. Hide’n Biden.”

As I wrote in Part Six of this series, our 400-year mythology of American Innocence has conjured up one man who embodies the very worst of our possibilities but who is, literally, us; and the other who models for us all the futile attempt to hide the truth from ourselves; each of them so invested in his persona and so unwilling to consider introspection that he can barely censor himself. One is crying, Stop me before I drive this red sports car into my wall! The other is driving another sports car, with his foot on the emergency brake, wondering why he can’t get where he wants to go.

Trumpus: In 2016 his greatest support came from veterans and retired white people (see my essay on the “greatest generation”), who had defeated Fascism (how ironic), taken advantage of the G.I. Bill, built post-war America and eventually voted for a series of Republican presidents who proceeded to withhold those same benefits from their own grandchildren. This is a prime example of how we literalize the old myths of the killing of the children.

Earlier this month, he horrified these folks by admitting that if he is re-elected, he will permanently de-fund Social Security and Medicare. The news was so shocking that even Forbes, that bastion of free-market capitalism (it literally calls itself a “capitalist tool”), lamented “Trump’s dangerous attack on America’s safety net.”

This news was quickly followed by testimonies that his sabotage of the postal service was already slowing down delivery of vital medicines. Veterans Affairs uses USPS to fill about 80% of veteran prescriptions. The Independent reported:

Nearly 1 in 5 Americans said they received medications through the mail last week…Of those, a quarter said they experienced some delay or lack of delivery. Although only 5 per cent of the nation’s retail prescriptions were delivered to consumers by mail last year, the Postal Service handled perhaps half of the volume, some 100 million prescriptions…But use of mail order for prescriptions rose by 20 per cent when the US outbreaks spread in March, compared with the previous year, as people stockpiled medications during lockdown.

We can certainly assume that a large percentage of the people impacted by this insane decision are seniors who had previously supported Trumpus and every Republican before him. Why alienate them? WTF is going on? Trumpus, more than anyone, is certainly aware of the investigations and prosecutions that will begin if he loses the election – and his treasured presidential immunity. I can see only three possibilities. One is that he is so confident of cheating his way to victory in November that he thinks he can continue to pursue the Koch brothers’ crusade to privatize the Post Office. The second is that he could leverage an electoral loss through his well-known accusations that it could only happen as a result of Democratic mail fraud. Speculations abound. The third is that he is quite deliberately (if unconsciously) sabotaging his own future.

They need that money in order to have the Post Office work, so it can take all of these millions of ballots. If they don’t get those two items, that means you can’t have universal mail-in voting. – Trumpus

For years, the mainstream media had made little of his scandals (see my essay, Normalizing Trump) But now, writes Amanda Marcotte, his cheating is finally news:

Even the fact that Trump confessed on live TV to the conspiracy was no guarantee that the story wouldn’t sink beneath the waves. On the contrary, Trump often uses confessions to make scandals disappear, relying on people’s assumption that his criminality and corruption can’t be that big a deal if he’s so open about it…. (but this time) when Trump confessed on Fox Business to slow-walking post office funding so that he could steal the election, there wasn’t the usual parsing over whether or not he actually said the thing he clearly said…Now that his corruption is threatening their ability not just to vote but to receive all the things ordinary people get by mail, there’s good reason to believe it will finally come back to bite him.

May it be so. May he get exactly what he is asking for. All this was amplified when agents of the Postal Service (more irony!) arrested Steve Bannon for mail fraud…And what about Biden?

Hide’n Biden: Would he, or wouldn’t he was the question on everyone’s mind, wondering if Joe would stumble in his delivery, ending his presidential bid before it even started,” wrote Scott Ritter. Given that Biden was reading from a teleprompter, many supporters were certainly gratified that he didn’t vomit up any of his characteristic gaffes. (What an astonishing low bar!) But he – that is, his brand – performed well. He actually seemed to want to be President, and for all the right reasons. But, asks Ritter,

For every policy that Biden claims he will improve on, the question must be asked why had he not acted on it in his previous life as a senior senator or as vice president of the United States?

Non-gaffes aside, my question of whether he might be subverting his stated intentions hinges on basic political questions. Is he willing to represent the needs and aspirations of his constituents? Beyond their disgust with Trumpus, can he motivate enough people to stand in long, socially-distanced lines for hours, with Republican thugs harassing them at polling stations far from their homes, in potentially bad weather, on a work day (if they have work) to actually vote, knowing that their votes may well not be counted? Or venture into the stinking morass of mail-in voting?

Is he willing to say what they want to hear? More practically: are his handlers willing to gamble that he can win, despite the massive voter suppression and computer fraud that are certain to occur, without offering anything substantive to the young, the POC and the progressives who make up his actual base? I have my doubts.

As I mentioned above, his (or the DNC’s) exclusion of Julián Castro from the speakers list and their insulting limit of one minute’s time AOC – the two best-known and respected non-entertainer Latinx figures in the country – is absolutely inexplicable.

These decisions will most certainly come back to haunt him.

Biden’s fanatical devotion to Israel has alienated hundreds of actual activists, the kind of people who might have been counted upon to motivate thousands of others to get out into the streets and work for him, and to stand in voting lines to counter the right-wing bullies.

Ralph Nader summarizes what the convention did not address:

The gross distortion of the federal budget with over 50% of operating expenditures going to the Pentagon, the bloated military contractors, and the pursuit of a boomeranging, draining Empire. Speakers could have felt secure by quoting President Eisenhower’s farewell warnings regarding the military-industrial complex…

There was much talk of expanding social safety net programs, but little or no discussion about how to pay for these vital programs…no demand, other than a passing reference in Biden’s speech, to repeal the $2 trillion Trump tax cut for the super-wealthy…no demand to cut enormous corporate welfare payouts…no push for a financial sales tax on Wall Street trading…It would have been easy and popular to call for more law and order and adequate enforcement budgets to catch corporate crooks…

One would think that the unconstitutional, illegal, mass surveillance by federal agencies, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, would be worth a shout out…What about telling people about changes the Democrats want to make in the country’s foreign policy? What about the role of monopolistic corporations escaping taxes by using overseas tax havens, fomenting trouble, and exploiting indigenous people in foreign lands? Wouldn’t you think Convention speakers would report the crimes, misdeeds, and corporate takeovers of our government’s agencies and departments by Trump’s big-business henchmen? Look at EPA, OSHA, the CFPB, and the Departments of Interior, Labor, Agriculture, and other health/safety regulatory agencies and the life-saving and economic protections Trump and his cronies have shut down…

But even Nader misses the elephant in this particular living room. In this time of pandemic, with twenty-seven million people having lost their employer-provided medical insurance, with expensive Covid tests, long hospital stays and permanent heart damage to many of the survivors, his refusal to endorse Medicare for All – and his well-publicized statement that he’d veto it if Congress passed it – is the clear winner, or, we might say, loser.

Look, eighty-freaking-seven percent of Democrats want Medicare for All. That’s as close as you can get to unanimous in politics (topped only by the 91% of the public who support the USPS). Sixty-nine percent of all voters! Biden brags about working across the aisle with Republicans. Well, forty-six percent of them want it! Do I have to put this in all-caps?

Of course Biden is utterly beholden to the insurance companies and Big Pharma. But to not jump on the MFA bandwagon, to not acknowledge which way the wind is blowing, is pure idiocy – or pure sabotage. What’s shocking is that he refuses to do the obvious political move: endorse MFA, campaign on it, distinguish himself from Trumpus on it, get a massive boost in the polls from it, get elected on it, and then quietly bury it in some committee for years.

Every president has done this with certain issues. Johnson ran on peace and gave us Viet Nam. Nixon had a “secret plan to end the war” and invaded Cambodia. Reagan promised small government and left the largest deficits in history. George W. Bush promised to be a fiscal conservative and left massive deficits. Trump promised to drain the swamp, etc, etc.

There are very few instances in American history when the prevailing winds are so clear. To not at least pretend to favor MFA is pissing in the wind. Pure self-sabotage. But at this point, we have no choice but to reframe this. Psychological speculations aside, Biden has a political history of knowing those winds, and would be willing, we hope, to be pushed. Back in March, Charles Pierce wrote that Biden has always been a loyal party man who went along with its turn to the right in the 1990s. And…

…how sincere do you believe Joe Biden is in his newfound adoption of positions that would have been unthinkable 20 years — or 20 months — before[?]…If he thinks that’s where the party’s headed, he will go along. His history proves that he will, and that he likely will do it with gusto.

Biden reads the winds. If it continues to blow leftward, he may decide to blow with them. May it be so.

But he cannot wait until after the election. Otherwise, as I wrote earlier, we have to acknowledge that not giving a hundred million people reason to think that their votes might matter represents a profound contempt for democracy, a barely disguised wish for self-destruction, and a stolen election.

We really are in one of the most bizarre moments in the history of democracy. In such times, as Michael Meade says, anything worth saying is worth exaggerating. We are holding our noses to vote for a candidate who has nothing but contempt for our values, and we may well be wanting him to succeed more than he does.

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