Two Cents on a Sunday

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As the cliché goes, this post is worth what you paid for it. I share a lot about politics on social media, but don’t write too much about it in my blog. The target is moving too fast. Today we got the news that Nancy Reagan died. With Trump’s ascent, some folks are nostalgic for Reagan, as if he didn’t cause much damage. No disrespect to Mrs. Reagan (who seemed to be cheering Hillary on), but Mr. Reagan was the flip side of Mr. Trump. Smiling, but equally destructive. Just ask anybody who lived through his denial of AIDS. His message was to make white Americans feel like they were “getting their country back,” all with a smile. A few decades later, with smaller white percentages, it’s being done with a sneer.

This is one of those rare election cycles where my friends are split. Many are for Clinton and many are for Sanders. If anybody is for Trump (or any other Republican for that matter), they aren’t telling me, which is just as well.

Some people have written that Trump and Sanders are similar, representing extreme positions that are a result of the end times we live in. I don’t agree, and that’s not just because I like Sanders and don’t see myself as extreme. It’s because it is too easy to see it that way.

There are at least three reasons Trump and Sanders are different:

  1. Sanders represents socialism, Trump represents failed capitalism (aka Socialism in Denial)
  2. Sanders represents humane consistency, Trump represents malleable positioning
  3. Sanders represents the rational, Trump represents the emotional


1. Sanders’s socialism is not communism. It is just admitting what already exists. The state largely exists to redistribute wealth for the common good. And what Sanders has pointed out is that the game has been rigged the wrong way. The one percent receives most of the subsidies and most of the resulting profits. What he is suggesting is that we turn the game around and be sure that the poor and the middle class get some of the wealth they create.

Trump says that he is a billionaire and embraces capitalism. First of all, his primary business, real estate, is essentially government-subsidized through tax breaks on mortgages and often on redeveloped neighborhoods. Trump has gone bankrupt several times, and many of his businesses have failed. Bankruptcy—a legal system managed by the state—has forgiven him. It turns out he is a lousy businessman, and that if he had just left his inherited wealth in a sleepy Vanguard fund, he would be far richer. In other words, he is a failed capitalist.

2. Bernie Sanders has been surprisingly consistent as a politician. Not completely consistent, but more than most. He has won elections because he stuck to his left-leaning and humane positions—the very positions that got him arrested during the civil rights era. In this way, he is unlike Clinton, who moves all over the center, but nothing like Trump, who has no center to move around—if he indeed has any beliefs beyond a preference for things colored gold, like his hair, his apartment, and the sheath his wife occasionally sports.

Jimmy Carter came out today talking about how Trump is less dangerous than Cruz because he is so malleable. Trump is a braggart who will say anything that gets him into the news cycle. The very immigrants he chastises manufacture his apparel and clean his real estate empire. He doesn’t have many positions, but instead says whatever enters his head at any given moment. Which leads me to the third point.

3. Trump is the fast-food candidate. He appeals to the emotional right and center. Sanders appeals to the rational left. He is not a fast-food politician. Frankly, George McGovern and Eugene McCarthy were more engaging. Robert Kennedy was far more charismatic. But Sanders explains his ideas and his programs, which are based on concepts that are not instantly digestible. To be honest, understanding what Bernie Sanders talks about takes a bit of thinking and, yes, education.

Trump is speaking to the middle- and lower-class white male who is losing ground—and losing it fast. As I have written elsewhere, there is a huge demographic shift going on in this country, which is affecting everything. (Read the interview with Jorge Ramos in the New York Times magazine here.) Soon enough, the country will not be a majority white country, and certainly not a white male majority country. Rich white men are going to run the show a little while longer, but they are not running it for the benefit of their poorer brothers.

White men currently in their youth and middle age grew up with such an overwhelming sense of entitlement, supported by the entertainment and news media at every turn (see this years Oscars kerfuffle—why did it take so long?) that they are now struck dumb that the game is over. Right now it looks like the act that’s been played out by the one percent (Romney being their right-wing flag-bearer) is being outflanked by the truck drivers. The rich white dudes should have let a few more coins trickle down. If Bloomberg runs, and I think he might, it will be because the Goldman Sachs Citibank corporate establishment-preferred centrist candidate, Hillary Clinton, can’t get enough voters excited.

I suppose all of this brings us to Hillary herself. She doesn’t appeal emotionally to the electorate on either side of the center. Cleary she doesn’t appeal to the rational left or the emotional right. She is, as a friend of mine said, in the pockets of the corporations. This is not because she is primarily interested in her own wealth. That’s too simple. Those pantsuits can’t cost much. She is interested in power to answer her own existential demons. But that doesn’t make her different from most politicians, actors, or reality-show real estate developers, for that matter.

Essentially Clinton, Bloomberg, and Nelson Rockefeller all belong to the same party. The “we are smarter than you, we can balance our economic growth and social needs” elites. They are in love with their position. Rockefeller bought access, Bloomberg got into politics through business acumen along with wealth, and Clinton got there through law, smarts, and one very strange marriage. If the country isn’t ready for a woman who keeps the capitalist machine going, then maybe they will vote for a short agnostic but super rich Jewish man. They won’t team up together, because neither can be second fiddle. Look for a centrist Hispanic in the mix. Whether you like them or not, they will bet on the future, not the past.

I’ve heard people joke that they cheer on Bernie while voting for Hillary. And maybe keep Bloomberg in their hip pocket to block the flexible fascist. Another friend told me that he will vote third party if Hillary gets the nomination. I argue against that kind of thinking, because ultimately we have to think about the Supreme Court, if nothing else. We are still living with the legacy of right-wing nuts that were appointed by Republicans trying to keep their extreme right wing quiet. The country’s future is held in the balance, literally, by one human being’s vote on the court.

Whatever happens next, I think Bernie has already won. We can now talk openly about socialism and begin to understand that we are always talking about some form of socialism, whether it’s Reagan or Carter or Bush or Clinton or whoever. It’s about where the redistribution goes. And even if we get the centrist Hillary, there will be a Supreme Court justice appointed who cares at least a little about the 99 percent, even if that justice’s benefactor will be a card-carrying member of the one percent. But at this point in late capitalism, a five-four court in our favor is enough for me. It’s better than a blood bath. We are now in the era where we are going to finally be called to task for our original sins, genocide and slavery. How do we want to manage it?

Posted Friday, March 11th, 2016 | Essays
  1. David Levin says:

    You still got it Ken! Both Trump and Cruz are dangerous. They both fascists in their own special way. Our culture still has some of the deeply embedded ideals of the old Confederacy. If only the FBI was taking the names of people who attended the Trump rallies but I’m sure they are much more concerned about the “Black Lives Matter” group. A centrist Democrat to consolidate Obama’s programs may be the most we can hope for in cycle. Bless Bernie for all he has done to bring attention to the real problems that this economy is facing…. I hope Hillary is listening to him.

  2. kelly fehr says:

    Kenny, enjoyed this, especially the pragmatic light you put on bernie’s brand of socialism. But best of all is your irrepressible brand of humor: “Those pantsuits can’t cost much.” love you Kenny

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