The Most Pessimistic Post On This Blog Ever
I don't usually point to Maureen Dowd's columns as worth reading, let alone important. Today's Still Feeling The Bern, a preview of Ari Rabin-Havt's new book, The Fighting Soul: On the Road With Bernie Sanders, is an exception. Reading it caused me to think again how Democratic Party primary voters, given a choice between the most important political leader our country has produced since FDR and a pointless hack, sleep-walked into picking the pointless hack. We will all soon suffer the consequences of that brain-dead decision.
When Sanders met with Barack Obama at his Georgetown office in 2018 to tell him he was thinking about running for president again, Obama offered this advice: “Bernie, you are an Old Testament prophet-- a moral voice for our party giving us guidance. Here is the thing, though. Prophets don’t get to be king. Kings have to make choices prophets don’t. Are you willing to make those choices?”
Rabin-Havt writes: “Obama continued, making the point that to win the Democratic nomination, Bernie would have to widen his appeal and convince the party to back him-- which would mean being a different type of politician and a different type of candidate than he wanted to be. Bernie listened to Obama, but it was clear to me he never accepted that premise. He has a fundamental belief that he could lead an uncompromising movement that would challenge those who ran the Democratic Party while also leading that same institution, one he steadfastly refused to join.”
The author sums up with a trenchant point: Bernie may never see “the promised land,” but he did win.
“While Bernie Sanders will never be president, his two campaigns have transformed the Democratic Party and this country. Old orthodoxies about government spending and foreign policy have crumbled as a result of the unceasing efforts by an old socialist.”
Since it turned out that Bernie’s ideas were more popular than many realized, he got Democrats out of their deficit-hawk mode and convinced them that it was OK to spend money to help people. During the early days of the pandemic, even Republican members of Congress realized they needed to shovel money out the door to keep things going. He’s been the champion of the $15 minimum wage that his party now almost universally embraces.
As the Prince of Darkness, Mitch McConnell, said last year of Sanders’s influence:
“Bernie Sanders is really happy, He may have lost a nomination, but he won the argument over what today’s Democratic Party is: more taxes, more spending, more borrowing.”
That victory may have come at a cost. Republicans, and a shrinking but influential number of moderate Democrats, are attributing the surge of inflation to aggressive government spending. That’s driven down poll numbers for Biden and the Democrats.
If Republicans win in November, as seems likely, Democratic ambitions will shrink, but Bernie’s imprint on the party is going to be long-lasting.
As much as he acted unfazed by the Berniemania of the campaign, he secretly liked it. Once, driving in front of the Capitol, he stopped at a red light and a bunch of shrieking high school students ran up to the car to take selfies.
Bernie chuckled and said to Rabin-Havt, “I’m like Mick Jagger.” If Mick Jagger wore mittens.
Unlike Dowd's column's , I often do point to those by Umair Haque as both worthwhile and important, yesterday's We’re Becoming a Far-Right Planet included. It's miserable, not for the faint of heart and without an uplifting conclusion. "We have many, many Big Existential Threats as a world," he warned. "Climate change, mass extinction, ecological collapse, then pandemics, now nuclear war. But underlying all of these-- and unifying them-- is a deeply disturbing political reality. Over the last decade or two, the planet has swung so far right that it might as well have tilted on its axis. We are beginning to live on a far right planet. And what kind of life, civilization, future is really possible on a far right planet? Not a democratic one. Not a peaceful one. It looks a lot like….this one. War, chaos, hate, rage... The last time we had hints of such a thing was in the 1930s. What’s happening today may be even more troubling, though, because it’s more widespread. I don’t think modern history-- or even semi-modern history-- has seen the entire planet swing far right so fast and hard that the globe is juddering in fear and agony."
In America, it’s true, that Joe Biden’s President — but it’s truer that half the country or more is in open revolt against not just him, but the idea of liberal democracy. To teach kids that gay people exist is now a crime. Women’s rights are being taken away. Minorities are openly scapegoated. Yet another Black man was just shot in the head by a police officer…for nothing…on video. And shortly, every indication is that America’s conservatives are going to sweep into power, and reduce democracy to a shell, having laid the groundwork to snatch the election by whatever means necessary, from perverting electoral mechanisms, to another coup.
America’s new wave of laws attacking women and minorities and even teachers-- tip lines, informants, secret polices-- have roots in the Fugitive Slave Act, which deputised anyone to be a vigilante, and inspired the Nazis. That is how regressive its right wing revolt really is. America is therefore already ranked as a flawed democracy.
...This phenomenon stretches right around the world. It’s not just the rich world, the West, turning so far right that Adolf Hitler’s grinning approvingly, it’s also, obviously, the rest of it. Just two short decades ago, there were high hopes that Russia would evolve into a mature, stable, healthy democracy. Instead, it imploded into Putinism-- and war. The same, more or less, is true in China and India. Across Asia and Africa and Europe, too. The planet is turning far right.
This is a scary thing. It has never really happened before. Yes, really, never.
Political scientists, scratching their heads, began to call this phenomenon “democratic backsliding.” But that turn of phrase is inaccurate. It implies that democracy is failing from both sides, left and right. We don’t live in an age, though, where the far left is overthrowing legitimately elected democracies. We live in one where the far right is. “Democratic backsliding” is therefore another way, really, to say-- not say, in fact-- “we are beginning to live on a far right planet.”
So why is all this happening? And will it ever end? Or is this a secular, long-run change? Is the far right now the politics of the future, and are the rest of us-- the sane and thoughtful ones-- just doomed to live amidst the wreckage of a far right planet? Can it be stopped?
The explanation a good economist would give you goes like this. In 2008, we had a huge financial crisis-- and they tend to be followed by right-wing swings, because governments tighten their belts, and austerity makes people poor, and as people grow poorer, they get resentful and angry and vote right wing. That’s a good explanation, with just one problem.
It should have stopped by now, too. Hard right swings after financial crises also correct themselves. People snap out of it after a time, and come back to their senses. They’re not. The very opposite is happening. The far right is gaining ground. In America, a coup didn’t bring it back to its senses. In France, it’s more powerful than its ever been. In Britain, people don’t even understand they’re a far right nation now. In Australia, they’ll proudly tell you that they’re liberal, while they send refugees to offshore concentration camps in breach of international law, not to mention five centuries of thinking about a little thing called “freedom.”
This doesn’t appear to be a cycle. It appears to be a long-term tectonic shift. A secular trend, if you like.
The orthodox explanation can’t be correct. The wave should have grown, surged-- and then ebbed. But the far right ascendant doesn’t appear to be a wave at all. It’s something more like climate change. It appears to have no real stopping point. It just keeps going and going, like the temperature rising. And in that sense, we should all well wonder: is this permanent? What is going on here?
The explanation that matches the phenomenon better-- a far right which just keeps rising and rising, to the point that it’s eating the world, from corner to corner of it-- is that a paradigmatic failure has happened. Not just banks-- but a whole world system.
What do I mean by this? The far right appears-- everywhere-- to be driven by the failure of globalization. Some even openly cite it, from Dugin, Putin’s “brain,” who Steve Bannon basically translates into English, to Le Pen.
Globalisation appears to be the paradigmatic failure driving the far right into ascendance around the globe. Why would that be? Well, probably because its only real winners are oligarchs, who loot nations-- and the lawyers and bankers who help them buy penthouses, mansions, art, superyachts, hidden offshore accounts to hide all their dirty money in. For the rest, though, globalisation has become an abject failure. Western living standards stagnated-- and as Westerners grew poor, public purses dwindled, so systems of public goods began to decline, like Britain’s NHS or BBC. Meanwhile, it’s true, “middle classes” in India and China rose, but only in a kind of illusionary way-- they never enjoyed true stability, democracy, or even rights, and their incomes, in absolute terms, were still abysmally low, far too low to enjoy the Western style living standards they’d been promised.
For most, globalisation resulted in debt, instability, insecurity. Those brought with them a loss of confidence, trust, and optimism.
And so the 1930s began to repeat themselves. Sensing this plunge into despair and hopelessness, demagogues arose. In Britain, they scapegoated…Europeans. LOL. In Europe…Syrians. In America…Mexicans and Black people and women and the LGBT. In Australia..indigenous peoples, the Chinese, anyone not “pure” of blood. And so on. Scapegoats were found for the woes of the pure and true. It’s an old, old story. Sarah Kendzior and I have tried to tell it to you many times, having, sadly, predicted it all more than a decade ago.
And now we are living on what’s becoming-- fast-- a far right planet. Russia’s the vanguard of this rising global fascist current. It’s true that the West is fighting Russia-- but that doesn’t mean it’s immune to being Russified itself. For how long will the West fight? What happens if Trump’s re-elected? If Le Pen’s elected? If the EU splits, or NATO breaks? You begin to see the problem. Just because the West is against Russia doesn’t mean it is immune from becoming part of a far right planet-- in many ways, its leading nations are not so far behind Russia at all. America’s fanatical conservatives want it to resemble Russia almost precisely-- and they are more likely to succeed than not.
Then there are China and India. They, too, once held the promise to become mature, stable, healthy democracies. And yet today they are two of the world’s biggest question marks. They didn’t develop towards democracy-- but towards autocracy, hate, bigotry, and authoritarianism. In both nations, hate and fear rule, politics is demagoguery, and the rule of law is a bad joke. They are right behind Russia in being exemplars of what it means that we are becoming a far right planet.
So where does this end?
It probably doesn’t. If you understand the above, we really are becoming a far right planet. Our world system has failed-- to distribute resources equitably. That, we know from the ashes of the last World War, is what’s key to building peace. But peace must be exactly that-- built. With fairness. Our world system is a fractal of unfairness. In the West, billionaires cheat and loot the average person, and the average Westerner has barely enough left to leave enough then for the rest of the world. All the gains go to the very top. A world system like that cannot be a peaceful one. It never built peace with fairness, with equitably distributing resources from food to water to medicine to money. And so people are riven into old, foolish tribal divisions. We hate the Europeans! We hate the Mexicans! We? We hate Muslims! We hate anyone who’s not! And so and so on.
Where does that vicious cycle end? War. And genocide. Russia was the first to declare war-- but this is more than a war. Russia wants Ukraine not to exist. This is where far right politics always-- always-- end. Genocide. Because the root of far right politics is the belief that “those subhumans are stealing from us. Our soil, women, land, property resources.”
That we are seeing genocide return to this world on such a scale is a stark sign of a terrible truth. We are living through a repeat of the 1930s. Only, yes, it’s promising to be worse. The fascists have nukes. On our side, the side of democracy, fascism has made enough inroads that it is not nearly as strong and resolute as it used to be-- it’s not to be taken for granted that the side of democracy will even stay being that. The fascists, meanwhile, have accelerated to genocide in a matter of months-- not even years. And on the side of democracy, there is very little understanding of any of this-- the failure of a world system, how it itself is corroded and infected by the far right too, how peace must be built by rooting out that virus and then genuinely investing in a shared future for all.
We are in a battle against a far right planet, and we are losing it.
It all seems like a distant memory now. Peace. The idea of fairness, which is now openly laughed at. Heads of state who wouldn’t break laws, and giggle. Laws in which the rule of law itself wasn’t held in contempt. Anything mattering to anyone. Except just another way to survive another day, finding someone to hate, exploit, attack, abuse.
I miss that world. I grieve for it. I look up at the sky and wonder why I feel so old. And then I understand it’s because we are now in an ancient place. Good versus evil. Hate against love. Truth against lies. Peace against war. It’s a place as old as dust.
The old world? I know it’s not coming back. Not in my lifetime. Me and you? Our lifetimes will be this battle, against fascism, hate, stupidity, war, violence, greed. That’s it. It will define us-- failing or succeeding at that. I hate knowing that. I treasure knowing that. It gives me no comfort. It gives me a little strength. This is our lifetime’s battle. Against a far right planet. Some of us just don’t know it yet.
Would this column have been written if Obama hadn't told Jim Clyburn to sabotage Bernie's campaign so they could give that hopeless wreck of a sad hack, Joe Biden, one last shot at the nomination he craved for so, so many careerist decades? I somehow don't think so.