Fear and Loathing (and Incompetence) in Cleveland

2011_09_07_Emmanuel GoldsteinThe plagiarism charge is really not a big deal, nobody expects that someone like Melania (or even Michelle) would actually write their convention speech. The larger observation is that the campaign should not look slipshod and half-assed, but it does—and is. The campaign and the convention are supposed to be evidence that the candidate has the chops to organize a team, to head up a large group of people with various functions, and to keep them all on task and on message (and that includes the candidate himself). It’s an application for the job of president. It is the candidate’s and the party’s one shot to seriously address issues that people outside their angry white working class base care about (i.e. issues other than Hillary’s ties to Lucifer Prince of Darkness).

They have blown that chance to broaden their appeal in favor of a series of ad hominem attacks and open fear/hate-mongering, with WWE theatrics thrown in for effect. Whatever you want to call them, the GOP campaign and convention are not serious or grounded in reality. No organizational rigor or collective messaging, no coordinated message at all except “Lock her up”. (Yes, the frenzied delegates eat up the hate and fear and Clinton revenge fantasies – but there won’t be millions of hand-picked convention delegates available to vote in the general.) No serious discussion of real domestic and international issues, just “terrorists want to kill you and Democrats want to let them” nonsense. No serious foreign policy positions on trade, Syria, Russia, Israel, China, Iraq, Iran, Europe, NATO or anything else. No serious domestic policy positions on race relations, policing, women’s rights, immigration (except the fantasy “wall”), fiscal policies/taxes, corporate malfeasance, federal regulations, states’ rights, climate change, or anything else.

The speech by Ted Cruz was one of the most telling moments. The candidate’s team knew Cruz would not endorse, knew he would generate the kind of frenzied hate-filled chaos that in fact did characterize his self-serving “see you in 2020” speech. Campaign operatives were seen to be whipping up the ‘boos’ from the back of the hall, trying to fan the flames. Ted Cruz is, obviously, the campaign stand in for “The Undertaker” (or take your pick of WWE villains), his role to be the evil contrast to the candidate’s “Macho Man Randy Savage” goodness. You know, in the ring.

The Cleveland event is shaping up to be what we should have expected – a transparently amateurish reality show based on crass Hulk Hogan-style fake pageantry and cartoonish good vs. evil fantasy. A megalomaniacal, narcissistic, willfully ignorant display of white tribal hegemony, combined with a nearly fact-free hate-in against the evil “other”. A denial of this country’s growing diversity and pluralism, and a denial of the complex realities that shape the rest of the world in favor of the tired populist mantra of “Don’t worry, I’ll fix it all because I’m so strong”. A WWE-scripted make-believe machismo devoid of seriousness, evidence-based truth, analysis, insight, logic or even basic human decency.

The GOP “Insurgents”

The very structure of our information society precludes anything like a universal, universally acknowledged truth. There can be none. If you don’t believe me, check out the Flat Earth society, or the Creationists, or the Republican Party. These organizations, and hundreds if not thousands like them, have absolutely zero interest in facts, or truth, or anything resembling a coherent logical approach to digesting “information” about the world they live in.

No, such folks are interested only in information that supports their preconceived ideas, and even then only in cases where that support applies to the exact truth they wish to believe: for example,  corporations don’t need regulating (unless they have anything to do with women’s reproductive medicine, in which case they need tons of regulating); law enforcement is universally benevolent and race-neutral when it comes to policing (except the feds, who are “out of control,” as in out to take away the guns of law-abiding citizens, steal state lands, and open up the immigration floodgates); the federal government is itself “tyrannical” and cannot be trusted (except Republicans in Congress like Ted Cruz and Trey Gowdy, who become instantly immune to the effects of Washington when they are sworn in because of their party affiliation; or in the case of a Republican being elected president, at which time anyone who has a problem with his policies magically transforms from a “concerned patriot” into a “traitor”).

When we hear Darrel Issa or Paul Ryan or Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump say ridiculous, unproven things about the Democratic presidential candidate (such as that she is “unqualified” to be president or that she is a “criminal”), they are not speaking in the way that you or I might speak about our day to day lives. We would not say “the mailman is probably evil in his heart” at home among our family and friends, because it makes no sense. It only makes sense if we are engaged in some kind of power struggle with the mailman, and our desire is to undermine his position and, if possible, destroy his reputation. In that case, it makes all the sense in the world to imply that the mailman “probably” has some base evil quality about him – nothing we can pinpoint, but you know – probably. Just look at all the things people are saying about him. Where there’s smoke, you know…just got to dig deep enough.

The dynamics of the ‘smear campaign’ are foreign to most of us, because we have no day to day interest in conducting smear campaigns. But what if I told you there was an organization in America that has been promulgating a smear campaign against a single citizen for over a quarter century? Do I need to say more? Do I need to explain what this organization is, or whom they’ve been trying to paint as “criminal” for over 25 years? No, I don’t. You know very well who the target is, and you know that she’s been a political target for decades, ever since the Clintons upset the Reagan-Bush trickle down party in 1992.

For decades, the sharpest right-wing minds in the country (*cough*)  have been bent on “getting the goods” on Hillary Clinton. Whole careers have been made (and unmade) in the process, with Darrel Issa being one of the most prominent politicians to have basically made his entire congressional salary off of “suspicion” of progressive policies and politicians. He doesn’t have to do anything, or create anything, or even propose anything of substance to earn his pay as one of our “leaders”. No, like Trey Gowdy and Mitch McConnel and so many other so-called leaders, he has not been required to lead anyone anywhere for one single moment of his career as a leader. Instead, he follows – like a bloodhound – every move made by those who are actually doing something in the name of progress – people like Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton – people who are actually leading the way. But Issa, and his me-too Congressional cohort, and their pet news organizations, and their angry white voter base, are perfectly content to fill this insurgent role. It’s their ticket to relevance and something resembling a legitimate purpose in life. They are “constantly working” on a job that nobody in the private sector would consider actual work: the destruction of their political enemies through a concerted, non-stop, top-priority Republican policy objective that can be summed up neatly as: “Stop them before they do something good or popular.”

You could almost call it a vast, right-wing conspiracy. Except conspirators operate in secret, and the GOP foot soldiers currently waging full-time war against progressive politics in general and the Clintons in particular is a wide-open scorched earth campaign operating very much in the public eye.

It’s not a conspiracy, it’s the party platform.

So we have a national mise-en-scene, as it were, that no longer even resembles a “government” being administered by people who believe in the legitimacy of the government they are running. Instead, it reminds us more of a government (composed of Democrats and a few lonely moderates) in constant battle with a GOP “anti-government” insurgency, one that has made no secret of its desires (as evinced by its frustratingly smug puppet master Grover Norquist) to eviscerate itself in the name of “limited government”. In order to convince a majority of Americans to vote against their own interests (Medicare, Social Security, public infrastructure like the interstate highway system and national parks, etc.), what must one do? One must make the “alternate evil” worse than – more dangerous than – the privation and hardship that will result from following the oligarchs to the land of unregulated corporations, crumbling infrastructure, and a vanishing social safety net for American workers.

I’ve not even mentioned the combed-over walrus in the room, the GOP presidential candidate who, more and more, does not appear to actually want the job of president. He is pretty much all that’s needed to get Democrats to the polls this November. And no, we don’t need operatives like the GOP’s Gowdy and Issa and McConnel to conduct a decades-long smear campaign against the Orange One. The candidate has (thoughtfully?) smeared himself, repeatedly, all during the primaries  and so far during the general election cycle. And quite handily too. Come to think of it – he’s been smearing his own reputation for his entire adult life and probably before that.

So, again, what do you do when you have a popular progressive current president, a driven and experienced Democratic candidate for president who has proven to be unassailable even after decades of attacks, and a GOP presidential candidate who has no idea what he’s doing, and who doesn’t even appear to want the job very badly?

What else? Double down on the one shred of hope you have left: that you might finally convince someone who matters that Hillary Clinton is a “dangerous criminal” who should be “locked up” (we’ll overlook the GOP convention speaker who said she should be “shot for treason” for now).  But here’s the hard part: if you ever actually get to a trial phase for whatever crimes you so fervently believe were committed, judges and juries and defense lawyers will require something of you, something you’ve never had to rely on in the past, something possibly unfamiliar to your way of thinking:

They will require evidence.