Democracy After the Flood
A pause for hope in a time of distress
In an atmosphere of high distress and deep uncertainty, there are two facts of the 2016 Presidential Election outcome from which comfort can be drawn, however cold. The first is that the Trump victory was obvious to anyone not cocooned in the echo chamber of the liberal press. Politics is a great deal more predictable if you are willing to concede that a cold reading of the reality might necessitate sacrificing a preferred strategy in favor of what will work. The second is that electoral democracy appears to have remained a legitimate function of the people, even if in the most grotesque way imaginable.
The rise of the populist right in times of economic downturn is perhaps the most documented and salient feature of western democracies. Professor Noam Chomsky noted six years ago that “the United States is extremely lucky that no honest, charismatic figure has arisen… If somebody comes along who is charismatic and honest this country is in real trouble because of the frustration, disillusionment, the justified anger and the absence of any coherent response”. History has been nothing if not a relay of fascist demagogues emerging from disenfranchised and impoverished majorities. The phenomenon of Trump’s rise was broadly predicted in alternative media, but the clarity with which this reality was allowed to ascend into public consciousness was stifled by a tightly controlled liberal press who openly campaigned for Hillary. With unprecedented co-ordination, the media establishment patronized and ridiculed Trump and his would be constituency. However unappealing or disdainful, presidential candidates and voters ought to be taken seriously in public discourse if they are to be understood as voters with the power to elect. This is a non-negotiable feature of the democratic contract.
"The phenomenon of Trump’s rise was broadly predicted in alternative media, but the clarity with which this reality was allowed to ascend into public consciousness was stifled by a tightly controlled liberal press who openly campaigned for Hillary."
Part of the strategy of the liberal press in campaigning for Clinton was to shame critique of her by leveraging both the politics of fear and the language of identity politics. By conflating critique of Clinton with misogyny, the discourse of emancipatory movements was co-opted by the liberal establishment and weaponized against the left to silence dissent. With the exception of liberal feminism, the defining feature of most feminisms is a structuralist critique of the capitalist patriarchy. In a slick two-step, the liberal press extracted the most compelling rhetoric from deep within the annals of emancipatory movements, and belligerently buried the substance. The politically correct position was to celebrate Clinton’s individual gender but ignore her neo-liberal and war prone politics. Reducing feminism to the mediocrity of identity politics and populism, the media spin collapsed into a free fall of pseudo intellectual drivel, divisive rather than inclusive, and utterly empty of any genuine concern for social justice. In the infamous words of feminist Andrea Dworkin, “feminism has become a lifestyle word”.
This effectively hamstrung an already disenfranchised leftist voter base at a time when it was still wounded by having a deeply unpalatable candidate forced upon it by a partisan DNC. Against a right wing populist uprising, division in the ranks of the left is fatal. The only answer the left has ever had to any incarnation of the far right is solidarity, built on inclusiveness and common interests, which are almost without exception economic and class based. In a move of staggering arrogance, the liberal elite used identity politics to ridicule almost everybody, dismiss the class struggle as secondary, and accuse its own core base of sexism, racism and privilege. In a democracy, it is not possible to ridicule everybody and still win the majority vote.
In spite of this, the Trump victory has yielded some surprising seeds of optimism which can be salvaged and potentially harnessed in the dark days ahead. The survival of democracy is never a foregone conclusion, and it will always perhaps seem compromised by the unavoidable reality that for better or worse, every idiot it gets a vote. What has become strikingly apparent over the last 24 hours however, is that no matter how coordinated the assault by the establishment on the polity to manufacture consent, voters will vote as they please. Any candidate or party therefore, who seeks to win election, needs to accept the agenda the electorate is concerned with. This is quite a liberating prospect. It is after all, the highest ambition and predicating principal of democracy. In these ominous times, the future is certainly perilous, but democracy at least, is intact.