I won’t be watching the Democratic National Convention this week. I don’t care for pomp in a time of hardship; I’m not interested in seeing elites congratulate themselves on their moral rectitude; and most of all, I watched enough of the dismal Republican get-together and there’s only so much shit I can swallow in a month’s time.
But this is certainly one of the more turbulent political convention seasons in recent memory. Just this week, an e-mail leak has revealed that Bernie Sanders supporters were right all along when they charged the national party of deliberately undermining their candidate’s chances in what would rightly called ratfucking if the Republicans were behind it. (Curiously, many liberals and media people have made the argument that the real scandal is that the leak came at the hands of Russian hackers and may have been orchestrated on behalf of Donald Trump. This, as has been noted, is like a man whose wife has caught him cheating getting outraged that she violated his privacy by finding the dick pics on his phone.) The DNC has dutifully followed the Ronald Reagan playbook of blaming the people who exposed the wrongdoing rather than the people who did wrong in the first place, but at the very least, the scandal caused the political demise of the loathsome Debbie Wasserman Schultz.
Trump has also been the beneficiary of a post-convention bump in the polls; this is entirely predictable — it has happened every four years like clockwork for at least half a century — but it has nonetheless caused mainstream liberals to have a meltdown and double the rate of their “vote for Hillary Clinton or American descends into a nightmare morass of fascism and lunacy” warnings, which were already coming so fast they buried the needle. The argument is less convincing every time one hears it, and, accompanied as it is by a great deal of respectable cluckings at the Sanders supporters who had the nerve to ruin everyone’s good time by making unpleasant noises while the rich people were trying to talk, it can’t help but remind careful listeners of a long-departed American’s warnings about the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.
If Trump, who is still less Hitler with a bad toupée than he is Berlusconi with less charisma, truly represents a critical moment in American history, it is not that he would be the worst president we ever had. In fact, he’s not even worse than the last president we had; George W. Bush and his pointless war in Iraq, as well as his utter inaction on the factors that led to the 2008 economic collapse, may still prove to be the man who presided over America’s demise. But the press craves fresh narratives, and remember what a complete disaster Bush was won’t help the story that Trump is an entirely new kind of evil. What he actually represents is the point at which the Democrats get to stop trying. Since Trump is such an apparent worst-case scenario, and will continue to be until he loses in November and is replaced four years hence by an even more unthinkable candidate, the opposition doesn’t even really have to run on an actual platform of ideas anymore. All they have to do is wait and see what human hairball the G.O.P. will cough up next, and point it and say “Pretty bad, eh? We’ll expect you to go blue at the polls again this year, thanks heaps.”
It’s not really a new story; the Democrats have been plying it for a good 20 years now. But it’s reached the level of normality now, the point at which the liberal party doesn’t even have to pretend to care about the left in order to win elections. Politics has become entertainment — the nerds have won, and Game of Thrones comparisons are the new version of having read The Twelve Caesars — and governance has become patronage, with the right people being given the right jobs for having the right opinions and nobody possessing the righteous fear of crossing the will of the people. Even now, with Bernie Sanders defeated and a Republican worth $40 billion being featured as a speaker at the Democratic National Convention, there is still a loud and vocal element who insists that the leftists who rallied behind Sanders be punished and humiliated for their recalcitrance. The true crime is not war or corruption or betraying the masses for favors from the billionaire lobby; it is not doing as you are told.
Anyone who thinks that the Clinton campaign will move further to the left is likely engaged in some serious wishful thinking, or is outright delusional. She barely budged in the face of the biggest intra-party skirmish in modern history, and she’s unlikely to start listening to her critics now that threat has been vanquished. Now is the time for purges, for payback, for remembering who didn’t toe the line; and even now, the newspaper pundits we were called crazy only a week ago for suggesting might be getting their talking points from Democratic HQ are drawing up indictments of Sanders as the new Ross Perot, the new Ralph Nader, the new Emmanuel Goldstein. It seems distinctly odd to pretend that the resentments and suspicions and mistreatments and distrust that propelled Sanders to national prominence didn’t exist before he started articulating them, or that they’re going to go away now that he’s lost the nomination, but that’s been the argument from more than one Beltway insider. Hell, why not just call him the new Leon Trotsky? It’s a more apt analogy and at least it’s got some pride in it.
Why does the left stand in the way of true progress?, they will ask, as the old union stalwarts who fought for every workplace right we have wonder where their pensions went. Why is the left so hostile to minorities?, they will ask, as the Jews and women and blacks who fought at the vanguard for every civil rights cause in history wait their turn to be forgotten. Why is the left so willing to risk the rise of fascism?, they will ask, as the bodies of American socialists who gave their lives to defend the working class of Spain, the bodies of German communists who fought the Nazis when no one else would, and the bodies of Russian Soviets who put an iron wall of humanity in the path of Adolf Hitler, lie moldering in the ground. It’s their game now, at least as they reckon it, and they’ve earned the right to ask. We’ll answer as best we can, waiting for four years from now, when we’ll have some questions of our own.