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Wed, Jul

The Democratic Party is a Fifth Column for Right-wing Lunacy

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POLITICAL HIGH STAKES - To write about the strange and unstable present moment, or to engage in political prognostication, is to court not just despair but a certain disorientation, rooted in the duplicitous – not to say schizoid – behavior of the Democratic Party.

“Politics ain’t beanbag,” Mr. Dooley observed long ago, and it’s true: since the dawn of partisan rivalry, party bosses have often behaved less than nobly in the quest to grab and hold on to power. But in today’s postmodern landscape, where engineered perception is all and reality is up for grabs, the self-styled Party of the People is not content to peddle zircon candidates as though they were the Hope Diamond.

The stakes have been raised, and the handsomely compensated consultants who craft campaigns have moved beyond mere false advertising into CIA-style PsyOp schemes, manipulating Republican voters into supporting the most extreme choices in GOP primaries, then turning around and denouncing the extremist recipients of their largesse as, well, too extreme. In the process, the Democratic leadership and their hired guns have helped shift the nation’s political center of gravity – already in dangerously weird territory – even further to the Right.

How does one wrap one’s mind around the fact that at the very moment a Democrat-led House select committee was investigating the January 6 insurrection, the Democratic Governors Association (DGA) was pouring money into the primary campaigns of some of the worst of the election denialists, whose lies fueled the Brownshirt thuggery on that terrible day? Is it possible that the Democrats don’t understand the risks of working to strengthen and consolidate the most virulently racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and anti-democratic forces within the Republican Party?

Yet this sleazy strategy has played out in states ranging from Pennsylvania to California. As any fool can see, it’s a plan born to backfire. It already has, repeatedly.

In Maryland, for example, the DGA spent over $1 million backing the successful primary campaign of GOP gubernatorial candidate Dan Cox, a man best known for sending busloads of like-minded Trumpsters to the January 6 Capitol “rally.” He followed up that gesture with a tweet, sent as the Capitol was being breached, that called Mike Pence a traitor for not torpedoing the 2020 election, thus bringing the American experiment in self-government to an inglorious end. If voted into office, Cox – who spent just $21,000 of his own money on TV and radio ads in his Democrat-subsidized primary bid – pledges to conduct a “forensic audit” of the 2020 election, which Trump lost by some 7 million votes.

After the election, Maryland’s Republican Governor Larry Hogan labeled his own party’s winner a “QAnon whack job” whose victory was the result of “unprecedented collusion between the Democratic Governors Association and Donald Trump.” He’s right about the collusion. But sadly, it’s not unprecedented, and it’s far from unique.

In my own home state of Illinois, I couldn’t help noticing that the political ads were even more numerous, nasty, imbecilic and generally unbearable than usual this primary season, especially in regard to the Republican gubernatorial race. The early favorite was the African-American mayor of Aurora, Richard Irvin. A political cipher, Irvin was the plaything of hedge-fund billionaire Ken Griffin, who supported his campaign to the tune of $50 million, merely to annoy incumbent Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker, Griffin’s fellow billionaire and object of chronic dislike. Pritzker saw Griffin’s bid and raised the ante, donating $24 million to the DGA, on top of the $62 million he spent on his own basically uncontested primary campaign. The DGA then poured his money into ads attacking Irvin and implicitly backing one of Irvin’s fringier foes, wealthy downstate farmer, businessman and all-around yahoo Darren Bailey.

A lover of guns and embryos, but not of city slickers, Bailey in 2019 backed the creation of something called New Illinois, which would be just like Old Illinois only without Chicago, the state’s major city and economic engine. Not big on tact or timing, Bailey tweeted “Let’s move on and celebrate the independence of this nation” less than two hours after the July 4 mass shooting in suburban Highland Park, while the gunman was still at large. He is also on record stating his belief that the Holocaust is as nothing compared with the harm done by women with unwanted pregnancies who would prefer not to serve as involuntary incubators.

All those billionaire bucks oozed through the corporate media like toxic sludge, resulting in a purely ad-driven, ad hominem campaign that made Trump rallies look like the Lincoln-Douglas debates. Lacking any substance, the Illinois primary season was a Hunter Thompson-style orgy of fear and loathing, and voters, not unreasonably, stayed away in droves. In the end, the contest went to the Trump-endorsed Bailey, who has dismissed the congressional committee investigating the January 6 uprising as “nonsense.”

Naturally, Governor Pritzker (who is widely believed to have presidential hopes) has already begun attacking his handpicked opponent for the gonzo extremism that Pritzker himself has so widely publicized. Pritzker recently gave an Oscar-worthy performance of feigned indignation at Bailey’s odious Holocaust comparison, insisting on an apology from the man whose political ambitions he has bankrolled.

With a rich man’s insouciance, Pritzker shrugs aside the ethical implications of his own hypocrisy, nothing that he’s just trying “to get Democrats elected and to beat Republicans.” Of course the end justifies the means. Of course politics, like business, is just a cynical game, played by cold-eyed operators and those who can afford their services. Of courseonly chumps and eggheads question the wisdom of amplifying the venomous messages of the quasi-fascist Right, or worry about the corruption of political discourse and its cumulative effect on voter participation and democratic legitimacy.

At least in Illinois, a solidly blue state, there may be some validity to the argument that a hard-Right Republican candidate has less chance of winning statewide office than an ostensibly moderate one. (Although the governor preceding Pritzker was Bruce Rauner, a deeply reactionary billionaire.) But this is not necessarily the case in purple Pennsylvania, where the Democratic death wish manifests itself in the party’s support for gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, a full-fledged MAGA acolyte and QAnon adherent, or at least fellow traveler.

Like Cox of Maryland, Mastriano – who has been subpoenaed by the House select committee – arranged transportation for January 6 “protestors.” Mastriano actually took part in the Mussolini-like march on the Capitol, and was reportedly seen breaching police barricades. Working with the Trump campaign, he led the mendacious effort to decertify Biden’s win in Pennsylvania, a thought to keep in mind should he win the governorship and be in position to appoint his own secretary of state, in charge of running Keystone State elections and counting the votes.

And then there’s Mastriano’s connection to Andrew Torba, a fellow who brings together the less likeable attributes of Steve Bannon, Cotton Mather, Torquemada and the Taliban. Torba apparently serves as consultant for Mastriano, who has spent $5,000 advertising on Torba’s Gab social media site, the platform of choice for synagogue shooters, “Great Replacement” theory true believers and other members of the rabid Right. Torba has declared that the conservative cause is an “explicitly Christian movement” with no room for Jews and other infidels. He has also described the U.S. as “an explicitly Christian country,” a statement that can only be described as sounding not only explicitly anti-Semitic (and anti-everything else), but also explicitly un-American, at least to those who are aware of the First Amendment.

A self-described Christian nationalist who sees evidence everywhere of the “Judeo-Bolshevik” conspiracy, Torba calls Josh Shapiro, Mastriano’s Democratic opponent, a “Soros puppet,” a reference to wealthy Jewish philanthropist George Soros. And he lauds good buddy Mastriano as an outspoken Christian who “answers only to Jesus Christ” rather than, say, his constituents, or at least the non-churchgoing ones.

Lest Jews and others feel threatened by this overtly theocratic stance, Torba explains that, “You’re not going to be forced to convert or anything like this because that’s not biblical whatsoever. But you’re going to enjoy the fruits of living in a Christian society under Christian laws and under a Christian culture and you can thank us later.” Torba underscores his personal commitment to old-time love-your-enemies Christian culture by referring to Shapiro, currently Pennsylvania’s attorney general, as “this Antichrist.”

So how did Shapiro and the Pennsylvania Democratic Party he represents respond to this tidal wave of Christo-fascist bullying and bigotry? By this point, you can probably guess. Shapiro lavished $840,000 on TV commercials flaunting Mastriano’s face and record, more than twice what the GOP candidate spent on himself. Partly as a result of all this media presence, which floated down like manna from heaven, Mastriano won the primary contest handily, defeating the more moderate second-place finisher by a full 23 percentage points.

For an Antichrist, Shapiro sure knows how to turn the other cheek.

“I’m going to have to send [Shapiro] a thank-you card,” snickered Mastriano afterward. But the joke will be on the public, if an election denier with ties to hardcore Christian dominionists becomes governor of the country’s fifth-largest state, thanks in part to a risky, two-faced show of support by his liberal Jewish Democratic rival.

And the list goes on. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee spent hundreds of thousands of dollars meddling in a Michigan primary pitting Peter Meijer – one of only 10 House Republicans to vote for impeaching Trump following the January 6 uprising that he provoked – against former Trump administration official and election denialist John Gibbs. Of course, the DCCC money backed Gibbs, an extremist by any standard, who supports the honking mad “Spirit Cooking”conspiracy theory, which holds that top Democrats routinely engage in demonic rites involving a smorgasbord of bodily parts and fluids. It’s clear to Mr. Gibbs’ fevered cerebrum that the Democrats are cannibalistic fiends who will stop at nothing to impose their satanic liberal vision on God’s own City on a Hill.

The Democrats reacted to these demented attacks by building up Gibbs’ campaign, leaving his saner opponent – who imperiled his nascent political career by voting his conscience – to dangle in the wind. Meijer ended up losing to Gibbs in a tight race, which might have gone the other way were it not for the DCCC’s loon-boosting gesture.

In California, Big Lie advocate Chris Mathys ran against David Valadao, another honorable conservative who sided against Trump. During the primary campaign, Nancy Pelosi’s House Majority PAC spent over $100,000 to broadcast a shameful ad that trumpeted, “David Valadao claims he’s Republican – yet David Valadao voted to impeach President Trump!” Nevertheless, Valadao won in a close race.

This result probably would have saddened Speaker Pelosi, except that she was busy at the time organizing the House committee investigating the January 6 attempted putsch, which was rooted in the election theft malarkey peddled by her boy, Mathys. Recently, Pelosi wept crocodile tears about right-wing threats made against the FBI, blaming the GOP for “instigating assaults on law enforcement” – as her own party, under her direction, incites Republicans to vote for the major instigators.

In Colorado, Democratic PACs and allied “nonprofits” spent about $7 million (and probably far more) to raise the profile of three far-Right House, Senate and gubernatorial candidates. The trio of aid recipients were believers in the stolen election canard, with one of them (Senate candidate Ron Hanks) actually attending the January 6 pre-riot rally. Fortunately, all three Trumpian bitter-enders lost, despite the best efforts of their supposed ideological adversaries.

And let’s not forget Kari Lake, a telegenic one-time news anchor and full-time reality rejectionist running for governor of Arizona. Like her idol, Donald Trump, she enjoys dodging questions, slagging the media and alleging fraud prior to the actual election. Her goal, should she become governor, is to finish the “big, beautiful wall”on the Arizona-Mexico border. She won the primary in a close contest.

Lake’s Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs, describes the upcoming general election as a “choice between sanity and chaos.” The Arizona Democratic Party sided firmly with chaos during the primary season, e-blasting a press releasethanking Lake’s opponent, the relatively moderate Karrin Taylor Robinson, for past donations to state Democratic candidates. This malicious little favor on behalf of a sworn enemy of election integrity paved the way for Lake’s victory in another swing state.

Said anti-Trump Republican Adam Kinzinger of the Democrats’ pattern of interference: “Don’t come to me after having spent money supporting an election denier in a primary, and then come to me and say, ‘Where are all the good Republicans?’” Kinzinger himself has been rewarded for his staunch defense of democratic principles by being redistricted out of his central Illinois seat by Democratic legislators in Springfield, who seem to believe that no Republican good deed should go unpunished – and no Republican bad actor should go unfunded.

And so the Democrats pursue this strange, ambivalent relationship with the most troglodytic Trumpsters, backing and then assailing election denialists the way the Party in Orwell’s 1984 both engenders and attacks Emmanuel Goldstein, its compatible and necessary “enemy.” The Democratic power brokers insist that throwing their weight behind foaming-at-the-mouth Trump cultists – at the same moment they’re working to expose Republican extremism and persuade a reluctant attorney general to indict the ringleaders – is just politics as usual.

And the sad thing is, it’s pretty much true. As members of a Wall Street-funded, consensus-seeking, status quo-oriented, non-boat-rocking, professional class-based party that is conspicuously short on social vision or political convictions, the mainstream Democrats are in no position to run on their own merits. Fully aware of the party’s irrelevance to working-class voters, leaders feel they have no choice but to go deep-down negative, to the point of aiding and abetting the most toxic and dangerous elements within the “opposition.” Whatever the Bidens and Schumers and Pelosis say, the party’s own actions and spending decisions reveal it to be not so much a counterforce to the extreme Right as an enabler of its most repugnant excesses.

This hazardous, morally bankrupt back-the-wingnut maneuver is more than an electoral ploy. It is a shaping, all-purpose strategy, intended to help the party finesse its internal contradictions and marginalize what centrist leaders consider the true long-term threat to their power and privileges: the progressive insurgents within the party’s own ranks. It is these outsiders who threaten to inject the awkward reality of class conflict – the hippopotamus in the living room of American politics – into the discussion. Such talk is drowned out by the buzzing idiocy that is Trumpism.

Half conspiracy, half tantrum, the radical Right and its never-ending culture wars serve a vital purpose for politicians on both sides of the aisle. In a nation where money talks, billionaires reign and an organized Left barely exists, the Trumpists’ way-out beliefs and aberrant behavior draw attention away from the intractable problems of ever-growing inequality and the ongoing collapse of the public sphere.

Thus we see why, as the middle class dwindles and democratic values fade, both major parties collude to push the system toward breakdown. For the Republicans, Trumpism turns politics into an emotionally cathartic Two Minutes Hate that shifts blame from the nature of the system itself onto selected, socially acceptable targets, under the pseudo-reassuring gaze of a demagogic strongman. Meanwhile, the Democrats furtively nudge the “opposition” toward ever-expanding craziness, in order to revitalize a party so compromised and tired out that its only message to progressive, working-class and minority voters is, It’s either us or Trump, so hold your nose and do your duty … or else.

The thought that Donald Trump is the best friend of the Democrats is an odd and dispiriting one. But from a certain angle, we can see that he is a godsend for a party that (apart from its Sanders-Squad wing) has little to say for itself and acts not as a dynamic force in the public arena, but rather as a pathetically weak reed against further political regression.

Lacking an energizing, forward-looking program or an expansive, well-defined base, and possessing a purely negative identity, the corporate Dems are bound to their supposed antithesis – the corrupt, despicable Trump and his “basket of deplorables” – in a tight dialectical embrace. (Just as Trump is enmeshed with the demon liberals who in fact agree with him on fundamental goals – preserving capitalist and imperialist hegemony – and disagree mainly on means and tone.) The mainstream Democrats, who offer mealy-mouthed bipartisanship and paralysis in the face of burgeoning fascism and systemic collapse, can maintain any sort of distinguishing progressive image only by drawing out the most repulsively backward and authoritarian elements within the GOP. Which is to say, by exacerbating governmental crisis and making a bad social and political situation worse.

It is fair to note that if Trump didn’t exist, it would be necessary for the Democrats to invent him. And indeed, to some extent, they did just that.

During the 2016 campaign, the Hillary Clinton campaign made a secret, top-level decision to “elevate” Trump to “leader of the [GOP] pack” status, as it seemed impossible that such an obvious grifter, liar, ignoramus and sociopath could win the general election. (The tactic was exposed by WikiLeaks founder Julien Assange, one reason the Democrats have cooperated so enthusiastically in his persecution.) Known as the “Pied Piper” strategy, this Machiavellian meddling reveals a party that does not trust the strength and appeal of its own message and candidates, and so feels obligated to sabotage the other side. It’s the sort of dirty trick that shows not only deviousness, but also profound insecurity. And we know how it worked out.

The growing presence of the extreme Right, combined with a reactionary Supreme Court and systematic state-level GOP gerrymandering and voter suppression, allow the mainstream Democrats to do what they do best: whine helplessly, give in quickly and fundraise tirelessly. With every new judicial or legislative outrage against democracy and/or decency, Democratic political organizations spam the liberal universe, asking its friends not to rise up in the streets, but rather to dig deeply into their pockets, in order to further enrich the already bulging war chests of the Democratic incumbents on whose watch these outrages occurred.

The Pied Piper stratagem, with its philosophical core of crackpot pragmatism, can work, at least for politicians whose sole aim is to hold on to power for its own sake and who have no objection to poisoning the wells of public trust and democratic norms. In 2012, the gambit worked for former Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill, who spent $1.7 million on primary ads touting the dubious virtues of a fanatical Teabagger and loose cannon named Todd Akin, best known for explaining to a skeptical world that sexual assault cannot lead to pregnancy, as “the female body has ways to shut that whole thing down” during a “legitimate” rape. No dewy-eyed sentimentalist, Akin also noted that folks with cancer who couldn’t afford private health insurance “have to start being held accountable for their decisions.”

McCaskill’s false-flag ad barrage far outspent Akin’s own campaign. Thanks to his opponent’s kind support, Akin won the GOP nomination, then lost to McCaskill in the general election.

But McCaskill now warns fellow Democrats against automatically following her lead. “It’s certainly different now today than it was a decade ago,” she recently explained to an NPR interviewer. “When Todd Akin said what I expected him to say, something that was off the wall in the general election, unlike today, the Republican leadership all came together and rejected him. … I’m not sure you could count on Republican leaders to stand up and reject a candidate that said things that were abhorrent to most voters.”

Indeed, things are different than they were 10 years ago, in that hazy pre-Trump era, before the Republican Party went hog-wild for its grubby little narcissistic fuehrer, the incarnation of everything cheap, vile and rotten in American culture. But we should not forget that mainstream Democrats of the calculating McCaskill sort are co-conspirators in the Trumpification of U.S. politics, and that they are almost as dependent as the GOP on the braying voice and unhinged presence of the spray-tanned sadist.

So what is to be done? On an immediate and surface level, liberals and progressives must become aware of the Democratic Party’s fork-tongued policy of funding and fanning the noxious views it supposedly abhors. As a tactic, it is self-evidently cynical, fraudulent, demoralizing and dangerous. It is, to use a quaint term, wrong. It must be made clear that support for the far Right is support for the far Right, whether it comes from a billionaire named Koch or one named Pritzker – and that such behavior, under whatever pretext, is reprehensible and unacceptable.

On a deeper plane, those who wish to save the Democratic Party from itself – assuming that it’s worth saving, an arguable proposition – must work to democratize an institution that every day makes a mockery of its own name. The right-wing kook-coddling and Pied Piperism that have become Democratic SOP isn’t just hypocritical flim-flam. It’s a kamikaze tactic that reveals desperation and a lack of long-term prospects, not to mention principles. It’s the kind of scheme that could arise only from a party with little connection to the ordinary people that it supposedly champions, but that in actuality treats as a dimwitted demographic to be gulled and patronized before the election, and ritually forgotten afterward.

At this point, the Democratic Party is essentially a faux-political marketing organization, run by mercenaries and driven by advertising. It is good at denouncing trolls – a worthy and necessary task – but bad at the hard, collective work of generating real platforms, ideas, values and solidarity. Lacking galvanizing goals or aspirations, the party gravitates toward fear and anxiety, the great motivators in an atomized, competitive, surveilled society. For the party to function year after year, that fear must be constantly renewed and intensified. Just as the state security apparatus requires the looming menace of terrorism to justify its existence, so the Democrats need a psycho Right. Hence they do what they can to ensure that the one-time Party of Lincoln becomes completely and eternally the Party of Trump.

By now, the dynamic is firmly entrenched. The only way to change the party is to liberate it from the jaded insiders who run it and create some sort of accountability to those whom it claims to serve, but always betrays. By rejecting fear as its major (indeed, only) argument and embracing a progressive social democratic program – that is, mobilizing the tuned-out masses to create a more just and sustainable society, one with a decent floor and a reasonable ceiling, where billionaires are not pandered to but rather taxed out of existence – the rejuvenated Democrats could halt the tectonic rightward shift of American politics. If the Democrats were to shift direction and offer voters hope and connection and genuine democracy instead of fear and loathing and a marginally less awful plutocracy, the Republicans, I suspect, would have no choice but to come to their senses and reject their own reality-denying ways. And the country would no longer dance on the brink of the abyss, as it has at least since November of 2016.

It’s a radically broken world we live in, and only radical change can mend it. If we fail to demand those changes, the Democratic Party will remain what it is, the left wing of the great big, media-policed right wing that is allowable American politics. The Democrats’ role in funding and supporting the radical Right is compelling evidence of just how tightly integrated and coordinated the system is, and how superficial and theatrical are the apparent oppositions within a larger, unified whole. At bottom, the passionate partisan conflict that absorbs so much of our attention is an elaborate good cop/bad cop routine. It’s high time we realized that they’re all just cops – with their own agenda, which is not ours – and demand something more truthful and meaningful, and less conniving and absurd.

 

(Hugh Iglarsh is a Chicago-based writer, editor, critic and satirist. He can be reached at [email protected].  This article was featured in CounterPunch.org.) 

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