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Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton: Dazed Reflections On A Turbulent Time In America

By Petr Knava | Politics | June 7, 2016 | Comments ()

By Petr Knava | Politics | June 7, 2016 |


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‘Grapes. What rat-bastard moron ever thought to ferment grapes?’

The thought assaults me a split-second after the alarm. A hell of a way to welcome in a Tuesday, with the toxic byproduct of TMMNW (Too Much Monday Night Wine) coursing through my veins and evacuating the used-up vessel through its pores.

But so much for all that. The thought can’t be stopped, but the alarm can. I shift myself up along the cheap mattress on the floor and I grab the phone and swipe right to disable to hellish buzzing. That’s when a different hellish buzzing kicks in: the news alert. The Guardian newspaper — self-styled ‘bastion of the British left’ but in reality a gatekeeping monolith setting the limits of debate — feels the need to inform me that the Associated Press has contacted some Democratic superdelegates ahead of the day’s primaries in California, New Jersey, New Mexico, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Montana. The AP had asked them about their voting preference, and apparently enough of them had now decided to swing over to Candidate Clinton’s side, marking her out as the presumptive nominee — at least in the world of the pundit class. Of course, the superdelegates don’t actually vote until the convention, and millions of Americans have yet to exercise their democratic right, but for the purposes of this let us assume that the establishment bulwark superdelegates that have been pledged to Clinton since time immemorial won’t be changing sides any time soon.

Colour me a deep shade of Unsurprised And Morbidly Reassured. In a campaign marked by mercurial madness, suddenly some pedestrian truths were beginning a fightback. And thank fuck for that! We’ve had a hell of a ride during this, the American election cycle, the Greatest Show On The Road. We’ve had enough excitement. Too much hope. Too much fear. Too much hope can rile up the blood; never mind if it’s mixed with fear and delivered as part of a potent cocktail, straight through the eyeball — because that’s exactly what has been going on in America; its election served up, shaken and stirred and broadcast around the globe via the blessed and hegemonic Anglo-centric internet machine.

Hell, one could rattle off the twists and turns of the last few months to an inevitable chorus of ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’. In a relatively short while, we had seen the emergence of the dark side of The Republican party’s pure id, in the shape of a fascist demagogue clown called Donald; we had been witnesses to his eventual and terrifying securing of the nomination and his decimation of his equally dangerous and regressive (if ultimately ineffectual) opponents; we’d seen a capable and professional woman march towards becoming the first of her gender to be a major party’s nominee for head of state of her country — bringing the United States of America that much closer to matching an achievement only accomplished in Brazil, South Korea, Indonesia, Nepal, Philippines, Mauritius, Croatia, Germany, Chile, Costa Rica, Argentina, and a few others; we’d seen an obscure and veteran self-described democratic socialist — seen by most of the world as a slightly-to-the-left-of-centre candidate — surge from nowhere on a tide of populist, unprecedented grass-roots support to perform a series of stunning upsets and drag his adopted party, kicking and screaming, to the left in the process. To say that it’s been a rollercoaster would be an understatement, and also a big mistake — no-one as hungover or possibly still drunk as the author here should be talking or thinking of rollercoasters right about now.

Still, much to process. There’s bramble in our hair and we’re covered in scratches. We’ve been brawling, haven’t we? We started arguing, and before we knew it there was shoving and grappling and we fell down the slope through the barbed bushes. Yes indeed, none of us are innocent in this. Passions tend to run high in politics (except when they don’t), and that’s a good thing. They should be high.

I make no claims to objectivity or a clean set of hands. My political inclinations are no secret. I have been a Bernie supporter from the start, and it’s been a hell of an emotional journey. I bristled when a minority of his apparent supporters turned to hateful and inexcusable language and behaviour — these people could not actually be on our side. The cognitive dissonance required to apparently believe in fairness, social equality, and wealth redistribution — principles and policies that their self-confessed candidate of choice believed and fought for — and at the same time behave in a way that reeked of hate and misogyny… No, no, no, something was wrong here. These vile pig-people could fuck off and rot by the side of the road. They were political dilettantes, opportunists skirting around the edges of things, using any excuse to hate. Trouble is, the pig-people are loud, and the landscape now rewards those who can shout the loudest. Echo chambers often do.

There were of course millions who didn’t do this, who would never condone it, who condemned it. But instead of providing this vast and overwhelming mass with proportionally appropriate coverage, the media chose to close ranks and ignore them. The pig-people were more of a story. Derisively dubbed ‘Bernie Bros’, the label spread outwards, becoming a cheap and easy way to tar all Sanders supporters — white, black, Asian, male, female — with the image of an entitled and tone-deaf college-aged white dude. Make no mistake, these scum exist, but as a part of the larger picture, they are a speck. A speck that doubles as a good diversionary tactic from the prospect of real change. But then the pig-people reared their head again, in Nevada, when party machinations and biased party leadership led to a violent and savage lashing out by Sanders supporters, including chair throwing and telephoned death threats. Except, as it turned out, none of that happened. No chairs were thrown, and the odious death threats were delivered by people of unverifiable identities. The truth, however, as is often the case, didn’t matter by then. The impression had been made, the message sent. The coverage given to the shooting and burglary that had targeted Sanders’ campaign in the very same state months before? A fraction of the coverage. As Swift or Twain or Ames, or one of those other loquacious types once said: ‘A lie can travel halfway around the world before the truth can get its boots on.’

Gah! It’s too damn hot today. No-one should be forced to think when it’s this hot. Even the coffee doesn’t taste right.

But some things have to be acknowledged now. By both sides. Superdelegates are a colossal, swaying elephant in the room with people on both sides of it, tugging at the ropes, and right now I’ll let them fight it out amongst themselves. This isn’t the place for it.

But two things should be said before the demons come home to roost: 1) class is not just a single, self-contained issue — a curiosity for crusty Marxists and pinko Europeans, and 2) foreign policy is a thing that matters. Sometimes it feels like Americans, because of their country’s quite unique little history, need to be reminded of this.

This shouldn’t be seen as an insult. All nations have their foibles. The United States, curiously, adopted one of those from its surrogate father — Britain — while ignoring the other. It picked up the mantle of Colonial Master Of The Universe, numbing its population to the murderous and industrial-scale harm its righteous policing inflicts around the globe; and it stuck its fingers into its ears and went ‘LA-LA-LA NOT LISTENING!’ when it came to issues of class.

Confusing, turbulent times. Times in which that principled and outspoken critic of imperialism, Muhammad Ali — just taken from the world — would probably not have found fertile ground to grow. Syria, Iraq, Honduras, Libya — the blood from each conquest on the United States’, and specifically candidate Clinton’s hands has barely had time to dry before the neo-con project demands more and Clinton acquiesces, or even leads the charge. Those lives matter too. Just because we cannot see them — just because their violent, unjustified deaths have been whitewashed by a colossal PR machine — does not mean they should become a footnote in the debate.

Bewildering, chaotic times. Times in which a revolutionary like Muhammad Ali’s one-time contemporary, Martin Luther King Jr., would no doubt seek to echo his previous diagnosis:

We must recognize that we can’t solve our problem now until there is a radical redistribution of economic and political power… this means a revolution of values and other things. We must see now that the evils of racism, economic exploitation and militarism are all tied together… you can’t really get rid of one without getting rid of the others… the whole structure of American life must be changed. America is a hypocritical nation and [we] must put [our] own house in order.

Poverty is a slow, structural violence that destroys generations and eats away at the heart of a nation. Candidate Clinton, unfortunately, shows minimal signs of engaging with this viewpoint. Call it wealth distribution, call it class, call it justice — it sits at the heart of all things; but apart from paying occasional lip-service to this idea, the neon letters above Clinton’s head always seem to spell out the divine code: ‘The Establishment Will Look After The Establishment.’

Or, according to a book by journalist Doug Henwood and reported here:

Henwood’s accusations are damning and detailed. As his analysis makes clear, Clinton’s record has repeatedly demonstrated: her desire to cozy up to power and her disinclination to rock political boats; her commitment to expediency above any political principle; and her trafficking in greed of several flavors.

In Arkansas, during her pre-Washington days, Clinton served on Walmart’s board for six years and never spoke against its anti-union activities or against its discrimination against women, and in her Senate campaign, Clinton supported the death penalty, welfare restrictions, and a balanced budget.

Once in the Senate, she voted for the Iraq war — without, as Henwood notes, even reading the intelligence report on Iraq — while opposing the 2001 bankruptcy reform bill, which made it harder for ordinary Americans to file for bankruptcy, more often than not caused by unaffordable medical bills.

Overall, Clinton’s legislative record was scant, and as Henwood caustically concludes, purely nominal — the equivalent of “opposing cancer.” In this regard, Clinton is in no way unique among career politicians, but she’s certainly no transformational outsider either.

And so much for all of that.

But if we are to assume then, as is looking highly likely, that candidate Clinton will be the Democratic Party’s nominee for the wintry showdown with the orange-haired bloviating sack of fascist fart-gas in November, then we may as well also assume that she will win. Because that is probably what will happen. The strong polling support that Trump occasionally shows will evanesce and wink out in the face of the actual moment, and America will have elected its first woman president, directly after having its first black one. It will be, on the surface of things, a beautiful and symbolic moment.

What then, though? What of the progressive movement headed up momentarily by Bernie Sanders that has given voice to the long-marginalised and forgotten wing of American politics? It’ll be a hard road ahead. Change comes slowly in America, because it doesn’t want to come at all — or rather, those who don’t want it to come have ways of making sure that it doesn’t. Flashy, whizz-bang presidential elections are but the tip of the democratic iceberg poking its way up through the waves, and, hell — they’re designed to draw the eye away from the banality of the day-to-day work needed to actually make something happen. Waving a magic wand every few years and expecting an individual to change everything is asylum-level thinking. The quagmire is thick and it is designed to discourage. Think internationally, vote locally. Vote always.

If progressives from both camps — Clinton as well as Sanders supporters — take anything away from this colourful and whirling fiasco, then it should be that change is hard, but possible. It requires millions of souls to think and to care and to act, not letting themselves be distracted by shiny baubles and the endless din of soft propaganda. Just because an idea’s time has come doesn’t mean that it won’t take work to bring it to fruition. And to my fellow Sanders supporters I say: remember the man’s own words — this was never about one person. What needs to be done is bigger than any of us. Bernie is not the end of this, he is the beginning.

Though, goddammit if it isn’t sometimes exhausting. It’s enough to drive a person to drink.


———-

Petr Knava lives in London and plays music




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