I am sitting at my work desk at school on the edge of the desert, near the outskirts of Cairo, where the wealthy developments have moved away from the slums around the Nile. Here the government is talking about building a new city Akhenaten-style away from the bustle of Cairo, which has been the seat of some of the Egyptian government for most of 4000 years. Cairo itself is an Islamic city, but the Hellenistic Roman settlements that made up coptic Cairo were right near by and so was the ancient capital of Memphis and the tomb complex at Giza. The reason for this is that Egypt has had to make hard choices: float the currency to get more imports in and hurt the poor, or continue subsidies but get have no cash to buy imports and hurt the poor that way. Given the number of impoverished here, either choice was politically destabilizing potentially and, which the five year anniversary of the “revolution” that spring from the Arab Spring coming up, the atmosphere is tense. This and Occupy Democrats are the ashes of the hopes of Occupy and the rebellion against politics as usual.
Politic as usual, however, deserved what it got. These politics will have costs and the costs are painful. In it not just in “revolution” that breaks a few eggs but the march of change breaks this period.
It is with this in mind that write about Donald Trump and the US election. Sleeping through the early stages of polls being called because I was in seven hours in the future thanks to magic of the curve of the earth, I awoke at 5 am Cairo time to my social media feeds in a frenzy of panic: “I hate America,” “Jill Stein cost us a woman President,” “All those who voted for a third party showed that they didn’t value my life, or the people I loves life.” Rachel Maddow apparently almost crying on national television. I have never seen so much panic, and there would have been panic either way.
This, however, is what I predicted would happen, and, in a way, the Democrats played with fire and got badly burned. However, to be completely honest, it does not seem that any of them will let go of their identity as a kind of person to look at why this happened deeply. The confluence of events that has led to the likely defeat. Instead, they will blame third parties, and not why third parties had an appeal. They will blame racism and sexism, and not why the voters in swings states ignored those things. They go into histrionics as the polity that they have so throughly identified themselves with gave two fucks about them. It doesn’t. It hasn’t. It wouldn’t have.
The last two elections the liberal wonks were certain that I was wrong about the anger at them and certain that me calling midterms for the GOP was wrong. I was right. I was right because I listened to trends and patterns because I know that their is a tendency for those who rule to isolate themselves and those who identity with rulers to self-select. Friends who have grown up during the Bush years, but didn’t remember how that happened because they were in their teens forget the tenor of American politics or why the end of the Bush years were unique. They ignored business cycles, and then cynically prompted up abstract economic growth that had not trickled down into the working class, particularly the rural working class for years. These Democrats and left-liberal “independents” embraced most of the very things they had criticized during the GOPs ascension in the late 1990s and 2000s. Then thes good liberal people feel shame for the decisions of their country’s people when they showed a center-right or even populist mood but not shame at what would have let to that anger. This is part of what DeMaistre saw in ancien regimes. DeMaistre, even though he saw the French Revolution as essentially Satanic, did not blame the revolution primarily on the people but on a cycle of decadence in the Ancien Regime itself.
DeMaistre also said, “every country gets the government it deserves.”
I have often said, “nothing is about what anyone deserves.” Perhaps, in a sense, both DeMaistre and I are right depending on the level one is taking about. Almost assuredly most of the existential threats made by Presidents are to non-citizens, and in that sense, both Clinton and Trump made plenty. Ironically, though, it does not lead the conclusion that people voting against Clinton do not care about Democratic lives. Indeed, if anything, they don’t care about non-American lives, but this election proves that this is a bipartisan affair. So that contradiction of sentiment remains regardless of outcome.
This, however, is deeper than that. The Clinton campaign deliberately played with fire and got burnt. I wrote about this a few weeks before Jacobin did, but Jacobin goes into more detail. If there was a vast right-wing conspiracy here, it was from operatives within the DNC and the Clinton campaign themselves. This began in the primaries:
For many, the earlier DNC emails release proved their suspicions that the DNC had placed its thumb on the scales in favor of Clinton’s campaign, such as one email that showed DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz nixing a final debate between Clinton and Sanders. The latest release all but confirms it, with a briefing memo laying out discussions between the Clinton campaign and the DNC about the debate schedule, including the need to “limit the number of debates,” “start the debates as late as possible,” and “keep debates out of the busy window” between the Iowa caucuses and the South Carolina primary. At least the DNC failed to “eliminate the possibility of one on one debates,” as the memo had advocated.
Upon pivoting to the general election, the Clinton campaign has largely eschewed a positive, affirmative vision in favor of stressing how much worse Donald Trump would be in office. “We cannot allow this man to become president,” her campaign recently tweeted. But back in the campaign’s early days, Trump was one of three “Pied Piper Candidates” — along with Ted Cruz and Ben Carson — the campaign planned on “elevating” so “they are leaders of the pack.”
“We don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates,” the memo strategy read, but “tell the press to [take] them seriously.” The Clinton camp hoped their rise to prominence would “move the more established candidates further to the right,” making the eventual nominee unelectable come November. Depending on the Trump campaign’s afterlife, the Clinton team may come to regret helping create this monster.
Despite all this, many groups on the radical Left, including groups that had advised against tactical and strategic alliances with Democrats in the past, other groups tactically sided with Jill Stein, and other groups and individuals outright endorsed Trump as a means accelerating the contradictions, including the recently much maligned Platypus Affiliated Society and even Zizek. The smug answers to liberals on this was “why don’t these leftists ever learn?” while also demanding that the Marxists vote for them because Trump was going to send everyone to FEMA camps run by Putin, or something. Nevertheless, in a frenzy of speculation, opportunism, and borderline civil war, most of the gains made by the left were lost. While not to blame exactly, the elephant in the room was the naiveté around both Bernie Sander’s and the ability to march back into the Democratic party and endorse an outsider after trying and failing to hold even Obama’s feet to the fire.
Furthermore, consistently calling anyone who had any skepticism revolving around the erasure from class from most racial dialogues themselves suspect was a self-fulfilling prophecy in regards to many on the left.
Yet what I did I see today? Everyone blaming everyone else. I will bring up something I said years ago:
There is a strange tendency Americans have to say shit like “Americans are so stupid.” This seems like a habit particular to US politics: to claim you represent the majority but also to insult the majority as stupid. That’s trying to have your cake and eat it too: Yes, there is a lot of idiocy coming out of the US, but honestly, the populist opinion out of most countries I have been exposed to has a tendency to be “regressive,” at least in parts, and definitely ignorant of history. There is something interesting about US culture that so many feel the need to both be representative of and be smug against the majority of the culture. And, honestly, a majority of the people I encounter from the US do this at some point.
This attitude of wanting to be the majority while also insulting it has arisen lately in a way that shows cracks in US self-identity. The inversion of exceptionalism that doesn’t fix economic problems but shames people for their problems just like conservatives are said to do. It’s as if the the Puritans are ashamed that since they are not the shining city on the Hill, they must be not just utterly depraved and deplorable, but uniquely damned. This is not an attitude in just the left or liberals either.
Furthermore, when you believe that your existence is at stake over the executive because for the past 30 years the believe in executive power has even outstripped its usurping other checks and balances, then is it surprisingly that the majority of the country feels like you would do the same to them? Isn’t it easy to see how this hyperbole and histrionic behavior could, actually, bring about something akin to the very thing that wouldn’t have happened without it?
I have been asked for the prospects of the left again? I don’t know. The world’s political memory is both ancient and very brief: we remember our myths of the past, and the past eight years. There is a global recession brewing, nationalism is in the air across the planet, and trade is down globally.
Furthermore, there are many trends missed in this black swan year. The youth vote was not mobilized, but probably out of the contempt. The Democrats could not dependent on the automatic support of several minority communities. New York dominates our politics at the executive level because regional politics has been declining year by year. The Democrats have had, and not even really attempted to have, any electoral game outside of Urban areas, and their hope that the inversion of the Southern strategy was somehow not racist in and of itself is beyond me. The Religious Right is coopted and dead. The neoconservatives have split into three camps depending on their social inclinations and how much they valued trade. Clinton had no incentive structurally or electorally to move to left to capture the Warren or Sanders vote. Both sides engaged in heavy conspiracy mongering, but the press largely gave the Democrats conspiracy mongering a pass, and ignored aspirational “whiteness” among many voting demographics as well. These trends were, indeed, marginal, but with polls as close as they were as last two weeks of mega-scandals, the margins mattered.
What is apparent: People don’t trust the wonks anymore at a time when US wonk culture has become the global culture of the world. The educated students I have worked with in Mexico, Egypt, and South Korea all knew more about US popular culture and US politics than about any other country aside from maybe Britain, often including their own. Trust in democracy is down world wide, and yet the advent of American liberalism dominating the educational system of the states has affected the young elites of the world. They are somewhat disconnected from the events on the streets of their own country, even if those myths and conspiracies are wrong. They don’t know them.
Brexit has happened, and yet few in the Labour circles around the UK foresaw it. Indeed, many had adopted much of the language and lifestyle politics of the US left while also opposing Americanism. Indeed, not entirely realizing the fracturing of their own thought in relationship to the US domination of Anglosphere media. Indeed, that so much the UK’s editorials in the Guardian were devoted to the US election is telling.
The problems that have led the liberals to the this point are world wide. Larger than just the states. Yet the disgust will be aimed at traitors who wouldn’t vote for a candidate that began with 55% disapproval rating and lose a primary just eight years ago. They would not revitalize a Democratic party that was increasingly represented by pale, white faces of people in the sixties and seventies who claimed to represent progressive ideas and the pulse of the opinions of people of color.
Of course, though, when all seems lost and you are bleeding from fresh wounds, it is best to blame everyone else for things and not see that very act as part of why you lost in the first place. That’s a totally winning strategy.
So, perhaps, DeMiastre was right here after all.