Saturday, June 22, 2024

Speaking of Which

I woke up Thursday morning with my usual swirl of thoughts, but the one I most felt like jotting down is that I prefer to take an optimistic view of the 2024 elections, contrary to the prospect of doom and gloom many rational people fear. I find it impossible to believe that most Americans, when they are finally faced with the cold moment of decision, will endorse the increasingly transparent psychopathology of Donald Trump. Sure, the American people have been seduced by right-wing fantasy before, but Reagan and the Bushes tried to disguise their aims by spinning sunny yarns of a kinder, gentler conservatism.

Even Nixon, who still outranks Trump as a vindictive, cynical bastard, claimed to be preserving some plausible, old-fashioned normality. All Trump promises is "taking back" the nation and "making America great again": empty rhetoric lent gravity (if not plausability) by his unbridled malice toward most Americans. Sure, he got away with it in 2016, partly because many people gave him the benefit of doubt but also because the Clinton spell wore off, leaving "crooked Hillary" exposed as a shill for the money-grubbing metro elites. But given Trump's media exposure, both as president and after, the 2024 election should mostly be a referendum on Trump. I still can't see most Americans voting for him.

That doesn't mean Trump cannot win, but in order to do so, two things have to happen: he has to make the election be all about Biden, and Biden has to come up seriously short. One can ponder a lot of possible issues that Biden might be faulted for, and come up with lots of reasons why they might but probably won't matter. (For example, the US may experience a record bad hurricane season, but will voters blame Biden for that and see Trump as better?) But we needn't speculate, because Biden already has his albatross issue: genocide in Gaza. I'm not going to relitigate his failures here, but in terms of my "optimistic view," I will simply state that if Biden loses -- and such an outcome should be viewed not as a Trump win but as a Biden loss -- it will be well deserved, as no president so involved in senseless war, let alone genocide, deserves another term.

So it looks like the net effect of my optimism is to turn what may look like a lose-lose presidential proposition into a win-win. We are currently faced with two perilous prospects: on the one hand, Biden's penchant for sinking into foreign wars, which he tries to compensate for by being occasionally helpful or often just less miserable on various domestic policies; on the other, Republicans so universally horrible we scarcely need to list out the comparisons. Given that choice, one might fervently hope for Biden to win, not because we owe him any blanket support, but because post-election opposition to Biden can be more focused on a few key issues, whereas with Trump we're back to square one on almost everything.

But if Biden loses, his loss will further discredit the centrist style that has dominated the Democratic Party at least since Carter. There are many problems with that style, most deriving from the need to serve donors in order to attract them, which lends them an air of corruption, destroying their credibility. Sure, Republicans are corrupt too, even more so, but their corruption is consistent with their values -- dog-eat-dog individualism, accepting gross inequality, using government to discipline rather than ameliorate the losers -- so it comes off as honest, maybe even courageous. But Democrats are supposed to believe in public service, government for the people, and that's hard to square with their individual pursuit of power in the service of wealth.

So, sure, a Trump win would be a disaster, but it would free the Democrats from having to defend their compromised, half-assed status quo, and it would give them a chance to pose a genuine alternative, and a really credible one at that. I'd like to think that Democrats could get their act together, and build that credible alternative on top of Biden's half-hearted accomplishments. It would be nice to not have to start with the sort of wreckage Trump left in 2021, or Bush left in 2009, or that other Bush left in 1993 (and one can only shudder at the thought of what Trump might leave us in 2029). But people rarely make major changes based on reasoned analysis. It usually takes a great shock to force that kind of change -- like what the Great Depression did to a nation previously in love with Herbert Hoover, or like utter defeat did to Germany and Japan in WWII.

If there was any chance that a Trump win in 2024 would result in a stable and prosperous America, even if only for the 51% or so it would take for Republicans to continue winning elections, we might have something to be truly fearful of. But nothing they want to do works. The only thing they know how to do is to worsen problems, which are largely driven by forces beyond their control -- business, culture, climate, war, migration -- and all their lying, cheating, and outright repression only rub salt into the wounds. When people see how bad Republican rule really is, their support will wither rapidly.

The question is what Democrats have to do to pick up the support of disaffected Trumpers. One theory is to embrace the bigotry they showed in embracing Trump. A better one would be promise the grit, integrity, independence, and vision that Trump promised by couldn't deliver on, partly because he's a crook and con man who never cared, but largely because he surrounded himself by Republicans who had their own corrupt and/or deranged agendas.

I had more thoughts I wanted to write up, mostly involving what I like to think of as dialectics, but which can be defined as how seemingly stable states can suddenly be transformed into quite different states. One example was how Germans went from being Nazis to fawning Israelphiles, while Israelis became the new Nazis. Alas, no time for that here, but the theme is bound to recur.

I didn't get around to gathering the usual links and adding my various comments this week. Better luck next time.

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