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Saturday, November 12, 2016

Did Democrats Lose The Election Because The Left Won The Culture Wars?

This post is adapted and enormously expanded from my response to a comment in the Moot to this post. The comment was by my friend and long-time friend-of-blog "jollyspaniard," who said: Dale I beg to differ on your winning the culture wars argument. The old bigotries are back, they never left or were decisively defeated. They were routed and are regrouping in a new package. The conspiracy theory movement/paradigm. These people aren't going to be persuaded by a candidate who tells them to read her policy documents on her website. They've also pulled off a neat trick, convincing people that voting for right wing authoritarians is a subversive, rebellious act. That's an illusion that will become harder to maintain. A lot of them don't really believe it, they're just angry.

Anger is an emotion which, if it could speak, would say something like: "an injustice has been done [usually, but not always, to me]." There are lots of people with more righteous anger at this moment that I care about infinitely more than the stupid angry assholes who enabled Trumpism, but setting that aside for a moment I guess maybe Trump voters might turn their apparently endlessly fascinating and celebrated rage back on Trump and Trumpism (a lying literal-elite billionaire con-man, after all, with a populist message already providing a pretext for the usual Republican privatization and looting and support-dismantlement and wealth-concentration politics) if they come to realize he treated them like chumps.

But of course this can only work so long as the realization that they have been lied to and fucked over doesn't come from what they take to be liberals or "establishment" types gloating or calling them names. And frankly the fragility of these brainless belligerent bigots seems so utterly boundless I honestly don't know how to avoid such accusations without actually indulging in their bigotry and ignorance itself at this point, which I won't do because they are evil and wrong and anyway they are an ever more marginal minority even if apparently still sufficiently large that certain kinds of foolishness on the left can still provide openings for them to prevail in. As a queer who has spent a lifetime (I'm 51, relentlessly queerbashed in Trump states like Kentucky and Indiana growing up, politicized through ACTUP and Queer Nation in Atlanta, trained in critical theory in Berkeley by Judith Butler where I teach as a precarious adjunct today) sparring with evangelicals who regard anything but my closeted terrorized powerlessness as an incivility and an insult to them, I know full well that playing nice is not the way to combat aggressive bigotry of the kind Trump enabled and which has enabled Trumpism.

Realizing the multicultural left won the culture wars directly connects in my view to the facts that Clinton won the popular vote, indeed won more votes than any white male candidate has in history, including the one who prevailed over her, that raising the minimum wage and providing family leave and undermining more of the racist war on drugs via medical and recreational cannabis legalization and the voting of many women of color into high office for the first time also happened in this election, that Trump won fewer votes than Romney did and that slightly depressed turnout in a handful of less-diverse swing states lost her this election. This loss was far from destined and was scarcely a loss for all the reality of the loss of power, hope, progress, decency, standards, sense it will bring on.

It is not to make excuses but to insist on the recognition of facts the widespread denial of which feeds the utterly false conferral of a reactionary mandate on a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing country which actually repudiated this electoral college result that I must now and always and ever point out the following: Clinton's popular victory and only razor-thin electoral loss given her historically high negatives and exploitable narrative associations from the outset, whether fair or not. And this in the context of campaign vicissitudes like the late-breaking irresponsible and possibly illegal FBI-cabal Comey letter debacle. And this in the context of a dying media clutching after profits with false-equivalence and horse-race narratives that misinformed voters and normalized an utterly unqualified dangerously unstable authoritarian bigot candidate. And this in the context of unprecedented daily WikiLeaks poking through her underwear drawer while her opponent broke multi-generational norms for candidate disclosure of assets and associations. And this in the context of explicit voter disenfranchisement after the dismantlement of the Voting Rights Act. And this in the context of unprecedented torrents of unaccountable Citizens United money unleashed down ticket with stealthy reverse coat-tails for Trumpism. And this in the context of general suffering and resentment at the devastatingly slow economic recovery engineered by blanket Republican obstruction of Obama's Jobs Bill proposals, infrastructure spending proposals, minimum wage increase proposals, family leave and pre-K care proposals, efforts to provide a public option as part of the ACA and so much more (of course the beneficiaries of all this political pain were the very Republicans who caused it, knowing full well that this would be the result). And this in the context of gerrymandered House districts that reward polarization and dysfunction. And this in the context of an electoral college in which the votes of unrepresentative rural minorities count decisively more than those of urban and suburban majorities.

I will not call Trump "Our President" -- his campaign was premised on and proceeded with the rejection of too many Americans to pretend his is the same "we" to which I refer by that pronoun -- I will call Trump "the Republican President." I will burn that tie of Trump to the GOP into the American memory as indelibably as I can, and then I will work to see the Republicans pay for what they do. I will not concede Trump or Trumpism a mandate because the election did not confer one and for the same reasons I won't pretend the multicultural left lost the culture wars when I see no sign we did and I think it foolish to relinquish the power that victory might invest the Democratic party with if only we sought to understand it on its actual terms.

The multicultural left won the culture wars -- America is indeed a diversifying, secularizing, planetizing society, and representational practices both cultural and political are inadequately but ever more noticeably reflecting those realities -- and I fear it is the anger of racist whites who lost those culture wars has cost the multicultural left yet another election. Yes, cultural "winners" can readily become political losers if they take the wrong lessons from their victories. During the Obama years, Democrats have lost the House, lost the Senate, lost statehouse after statehouse. This is no less a real reality than that the diverse progressive coalition of the ascendant which twice elected President Obama and grows by the day is the REAL "Real America." Reactionaries repeatedly deceive, divide, disenfranchise, depress the majority then assign false mandates to the resulting prevalent minority. It is bad enough that the majority lets this work, but it would be worse still for the majority to accept the false result and false narrative with which it is pitched.

And don't get me wrong: in politics there are no happy endings, only happy warriors doing the work. No victory is permanent, every accomplishment must be defended, ineradicable wells of hurt, fear, greed, cruelty, rationalization forever reinvigorate old falsehoods and frailties and ferocities. White supremacy, patriarchy, hierarchy are older and deeper than the skirmishes the multicultural left won in the culture wars, and new and renewed culture wars play out even now in immigration and climate change and healthcare policy.

Still, it actually matter that we grasp that the left won the culture wars, if only to grasp clearly the opportunities brought into being by that victory BOTH to the Democratic left and the Republican right.

The multicultural left is of course very much at home in the America of the Obama coalition, and it is prone in its comfort, on the one hand, to a dangerous complacency that dismisses real reactionary political threats of the moment as well as, on the other hand, to an overconfident misreading of the pragmatic possibilities of the moment yielding divisive purity-politics, both of which depress participation, muddle and minimize the voice of the majority.

At the same time, the lived experience for the comparative beneficiaries of long-prevalent white-supremacist patriarchal christianist incumbency of the America of the victorious multicultural left is that of existential threat: It is because they feel like strangers in a strange land over which they long ruled (for all the good that did them) that they indulge in paranoid fantasies that their guns are about to be taken away, and that a democratic government of a We The People that includes them is, to the contrary, the Big Government of the They that is out to get them.

Of course, nobody is out to get them, no one is harmed simply because people different from them or who disagree with them happen to exist in the same world, none of them is threatened except to the extent that the Republicans they support ensure the ongoing neglect of their health problems and job insecurity and failed educations and retirement precarity: It is the sight of a citizen in a hijab in a bus, the sight of two men holding hands in the street, the sight of an interracial couple in a cereal commercial, the sight of a women's health clinic that makes Trump voters want to burn it all down even if the fire takes us all down together, it is the visibility of any emerging equity-in-diversity that provokes Trump voters to accumulate their private arsenals and to drown in hate talk and conspiracy media and that brought them to the voting booth to deregulate and empower the Wall Street they hate, to destroy the systems of social support on which their own lives and communities depend, to accelerate the climate catastrophe that will unleash the pandemics, droughts, famine, greenhouse storms, and resource-descent warlordism in which their own children may well die in tears screaming in the dark.

Make no mistake: Donald Trump is a life-long racist, and he ran for president unambiguously as a racist, and racism won Republicans control of all branches of government. Those who cringe at the recognition that Donald Trump voters are racist (which need not be exactly the same thing as asserting they are all "racists," consciously embracing racist ideology and indulging in assertive racist animus) are denying the plain and repeated racism of his campaign language, are in denial about the real significance of those who decry "political correctness," are in denial or shock at the rise of racist and sexist hate crimes and bullying that saturated the campaign and is exploding into terrifying bloodletting on our streets and on our screens and in our schools already and more, much more, to come. Many voted for Trump because of his racism -- and if you deny this you are lying, possibly also to yourself -- but everybody who voted for Trump did so knowing he was a racist running as a racist, and deciding that this didn't matter or other things mattered more is racism too.

The country has not yet recovered from the social support and labor union dismantlement Reagan years, the country has not yet recovered from the accelerated rollback of the Great Society engineered by the Gingrich Contract on America, the country has far from recovered from the illegal immoral wars and occupation based on lies and Great Recession authored by George W. Bush (with an admitted assist from Clintonian triangulation with a Republican Congress on financial and media deregulation and mass incarceration), and the fragile accomplishments of the Obama administration, miraculously won in the grip of catastrophe and in the face of unprecedented obstruction, are about to be destroyed one after another after another, and with every single act of destruction we will all feel again what we felt when he won the electoral college, we will feel the death of yet another path to a future worth living in, we will feel the foreclosure of more and more futurity capable of sustaining a free people. White supremacy -- and its blood-soaked history of genocide and slavery and their endless re-enactments from Jim Crow terrorism to occupational military policing into the present -- is the original and abiding sin of this country. Far from ending in the Obama Presidency, it may end the country with the Obama Presidency.

I am a democratic eco-socialist feminist anti-racist atheist vegetarian queer academic aesthete. I am a member of the Democratic Party and proud to be a part of the diverse disputatious majority it imperfectly represents. I am a citizen of the great state of California which is the future of America if America is to have a future. I believe that the radical politics we engage on the street, on the page and in the classroom between elections shapes the terrain of the possible and the important within the terms of which the partisan politics we campaign for and vote for play out in elections. I guess I am an angry white guy... who is angry at the angry white guys (and white ladies) who are destroying this country in a fit of pique at the prospect of the loss of white entitlement.

The misery of the sick who lose access to healthcare, the terror of the undocumented who strain to hear the knock on the door, the heartbreak of women with unwanted pregnancies that threaten to blight their plans, the sorrow of the queer or nonchristian child who faces a cruel mob, the hopelessness of the young groaning under the paralyzing weight of debt, these are evils to be resisted even in the midst of this devastating demoralizing distress. I will not give in to this despair, I will not hide in fear from the braying bullies in their armor, I will not be silenced by professional considerations or by the threat of state surveillance, I will not acquiesce and retreat into conspicuous and comfortable consumption or into the self-congratulatory fauxvolutionary radicalism of purity cabaret disdaining the necessarily compromised and pragmatic and incremental imperfections of Democratic Party politics, still the site of the best-organized best-resourced best-available tools on hand with which to defeat Republicans and implement some measure of sustainable equity-in-diversity in this country.

Donald Trump may be President but his bigotry and authoritarianism has disqualified him from the office of the Presidency of a free country and I respect facts too much and civil liberties too much and justice too much and decency too much and progress too much to pretend otherwise. I feel old and tired and hopeless and scared but I will fight. I will fight Donald Trump and the Republican Party and the ignorant fearful bullies who have delivered my tomorrow and my students' tomorrow unto Trumpism.


Anonymous said...

Your remarks about the tendencies on the left towards purity-politics are interesting, but I'm also wondering about the tendency on the left to brand the right with similar 'purity politics'. Taken altogether of course, these analyses cancel each other out, but for instance we read here that 1.5 million people "who voted for Trump did so knowing he was a racist running as a racist, and deciding that this didn't matter or other things mattered more is racism too." With all due respect for your opinion of the vile racist hatred he has always propagated, I think the flaw here is in your "did so knowing". Many people (on all sides) vote with no reading, scant knowledge, and certainly no independent thought or analysis of their choices. This is why social media is so powerful. In the old days these folks would enter the voting booth with a "cheat sheet" from their favorite paper. Furthermore, with this line of thinking, if everyone who voted for him was a racist, can be so optimistic that everyone who voted for her was an anti-racist? What about the third party voters? This is less of a criticism than a recognition of the challenges with being forced onto sides when living in a pluralistic country.

Dale Carrico said...

I honestly doubt there is anybody living so deeply under a rock that they would not get an inkling that something rather extreme is afoot in the Trump campaign in matters racial. But I think I may take your point. The distinction between racist animus and structural racism still obtains -- and the idea that Trumpism functions as a permission structure activating structural racism into outright overt bigotry and violence is also important. I am a beneficiary of white privilege and part of what taking racism seriously as a person who rejects it is recognizing that there are going to be moments when my entanglement or complicity or selective bias or ignorance is going to get exposed or called out, whatever my intentions or best efforts are, and there isn't going to be a comfortable or even possible way for me to apologize or atone or satisfy those who are harmed by it and that is an ugly and shattering and painful thing and it seems to me that just as racism is painful to those who suffer it so too it should be painful for those who would resist it. I think it is racist to refuse to accept such painful reckonings, or to dream of a circumvention of them, even in those who are in many ways exemplarily anti-racist. The point is that there s racism and racism and racism. There are people who are just bigoted assholes who were enabled by Trump, there are people who are aware of Trump's bigotry but who don't think it is important which is an insensitivity that cleaves closer to animus than most would want to admit, there are people who are insulated and uncritical and benefit from racism or simply surf racist norms in ways that consolidate it but who would reject other forms of racist violence, there are people who will refuse this occasion to examine their privilege... one can find optimism, if that is the word for it, in the awareness that while the violence of white-supremacy depends on the inter-implication of these different registers of racism the work against white-supremacy can also be lodged at many different places, the racism of the Trump campaign is not a single thing even if it is all terrible, and so on. As for cheat sheets and the like, I do rather wonder -- this is a hindsight is 20/20 insight -- if Democrats did not make a mistake in celebrating the Clinton organizational ground game and denigrating the Trump's historically unprecedented lack of one, while at once forgetting that it is not campaigns that traditionally have done all or even most of this organizational work but now-decimated unions in states like Wisconsin and Michigan while gun organizations and targeted social-issue Koch-funded mailers were filling what Democrats mistakenly fancied were organizational vacuums. I think too much is made of third party voters -- I don't think they deserve the blame for the 2016 result and however I may disagree with their voting rationale as a person who treats his vote as a pragmatic instrument and not a selfie it is supposed to be a free country for heavens sake, expect that 1-3% of the population are going to do their thing and focus on things that matter like the half of the eligible voters who don't vote at all because messaging didn't activate them or disenfranchisement stopped them. (I'm not directing that at you, there is a lot of that blame-gaming afoot right now and it bugs me is all.) I do look forward to the day the Democrats have a sane opposition as a brake on corruption but for now Republicans are the most destructive organized force on earth and taking sides is indeed the order of the day, seems to me.