The Midterms are Coming, Alas Alas
I’m not into making predictions, but at this point it’s fairly easy to predict not what is going to happen, but rather what has to happen to avoid what might otherwise be irremediable consequences.
All commentators think the Republican Party is going to win back the House. That will be pretty terrible in that the House leaders have no interest in any possible piece of useful legislation, but only in vengeance; and in the advancement of neo-Fascism; and in making the budget process as regressive as they possibly can.
To lose the Senate too, though, would be worse. Only Biden’s veto power and the filibuster (Kristen Sinema and Joe Manchin won’t look so bad) would stand between the nation and derailment of all social progress, of which there’s been so much under Biden. Mitch McConnell’s mastery of deactivating a Democratic Administration would once again be on full display.
So this is the simple truth about the Senate. It looks as though Republicans are likely to win every contested seat they’re defending: Wisconsin, Florida, Ohio, North Carolina, to be precise. The only GOP seat that looks available by now is Pennsylvania. And if John Fetterman doesn’t win that seat – if his health and appearance and money-raising and progressive record on policing together send him down – the Democrats will lose the Senate.
Even if he does hold on to his slim lead in the polls, which is hardly assured, then the Democrats can hold on to the Senate if and only if they hold their seats in either Nevada (which looks bad) or Georgia, which begins to look possible. (Only a top-flight secondary could stop Herschel Walker in the open field, but now the defensive line is piling on him.)
So here it is: The Democratic Senate candidates must win Pennsylvania and hold either Nevada or Georgia. That’s it. Nothing less will do. If Tim Ryan somehow tips Ohio, or Val Dennings topples the totally worthless Marco Rubio, that will change. Both of these are now ranked as Leaning Republican by 538.com.
This rather downbeat analysis, of course, raises the question of Why? Why is it so hard for all the talking heads to face the hard facts that the polls seem to be telling us? Why do such excellent candidates as Val Dennings, Cheri Beasley, Mandela Barnes and Tim Ryan seem so likely to fall by the wayside to candidates who are far beyond contempt. Money is not the answer, or not the only one;in New York, Kathy Hochul could stop raising it and still win easily.
What’s more to the point, however, is that the failures of interpretation and prediction in the Era of Bad Feeling are still being downplayed by the people who made them. If for example you feed your political self on a diet of The Nates–-Silver and Kohn–-you can only be struck by the reluctance with which they finally came to the obvious truth about the strength of conservatism and neo-Fascism in American politics. Even with respect to the House race, 538 emphasizes the 1% lead of Democrats in the generic poll, but does not mention that because the distribution of urban vs. rural voters the Party is in trouble when that lead falls below 4%.
This hopefulness is even more evident on MSNBC, whose angrily liberal hosts keep inviting pundits who–often with an air of surprise–explain the contours of the latest anti-democratic disaster or Trumpian triumphs; or worse yet, candidates for high office who are doomed to lose: not to mention the latest exposers of right-wing iniquity, such as members of the January 6th Select Committee, which hasn’t made a visible dent in public opinion..
All of these hand-wringers, including myself, have one thing in common when weighing the likely outcomes of elections: a conditioned refusal to accept that Republicans are actually Republicans; and the neo-Fascists and haters among them are actually neo-Fascists and haters. I’m ready to give that up.
The Right Wing is not an historical mistake; it’s a perennial response–one perennial response–to the contradictions of capitalism, including its social democratic variants, though they fare better on the whole, if not always.
That is to say, they–let’s say loosely those “on the other side”–are not persons who have some kind of false consciousness about the world, who “fail to recognize their own interests.” This kind of analysis divides people into the analysts–that’s me and you– and the analysands, who need to have reality explained to them so that they finally grasp what outcomes are really good for themselves: stop being deluded psycho-neurotics, so to speak.
In other words, they could see more clearly what the polity so badly needs: If only Democrats could adopt and explain the right policies to them: about climate change, and demographic diversity, and infrastructure, and labor unions and–uh-oh, was I about to say equal justice, or human rights, or a better system of public education–or is it just time to shut up and vote?
What, then, does it actually mean to be a Republican or neo-Fascist – often of course both – today? Why overthrow democracy? Why is autocracy preferable? And of course this isn’t a question about the United States; that seems to have nothing to do with it. We’re looking at a world-wide movement: what might be called The Fourth International. No more Marx of Lenin or Trotsky or Stalin. Replacing Mussolini and Hitler, Donald Trump and Vlad Putin are its prime birthers, the latter having spent all possible efforts to install and maintain the former, as well as other nationalists in Europe and elsewhere, in power. A demolition of the entire second half of the Twentieth Century.
As for intellectual influence, It’s on the surface astonishing that Tucker Carlson and other American hard-liners had made a pilgrimage to Budapest – the Capitol of a minor player on any scale – well before The Man, Viktor Orban himself, showed up at the latest CPAC Conference; along with Mussolini’s spirit-raiser Giorgia Meloni, the new and improved Sarah Palin. The last-named also makes us think of Marine Le Pen in France, Frauke Petry in Germany, as well as such American firebrands as MTG, Lauren Boebert, Kristi Noem.
They are, all of the above and many others in the US, victims of neither misrecognition nor maldistribution. They are successful persons by any measure. Rather, they give additional testimony to the existence of a latent drive toward autocracy and the surplus powers it conveys. Violent racism and violent nationalism, in the hands of a charismatic leader, can harness that latent drive.
To put this argument in its simplest form, authoritarianism is not the “natural” human drive, but it’s one version of what it is to be human. Where and when it gets activated on a mass scale is because of structural contradictions that cannot be overcome by “normal” political conventions or leaders.
Capital, as Marx insisted, is international; in the modern era, so than at the present historical conjunction. Even for the super-power USA, competition without mercy is the order of the day; and the effects on the nation as a whole have unequal effects on groups and classes within the nation. Thus we should forget all the accusations out of the consummate liar J.D. Vance, or the progressive Thomas Frank, about how the neo-Liberal Democratic Party deserted the working class and prepared the way for Donald Trump–as though the Southern Strategy of Richard Nixon and the more nuanced racism of Ronald Reagan never existed; as though the word “white” has been excised from the language; as though “contradictions” only existed in Das Kapital.
(We should note here that for decades now, despite the vagaries of economic policy brought about by globalization and financialization, to which Carter, Clinton, and Obama capitulated, the political scientists who keep track of voting in the Legislature have always found that the most conservative Democrat has a voting record to the left of the most liberal republican–usually Susan Collins.)
What are these domestic contradictions? Basically, for a soi-disant democracy, the clash is between the authorized rule of the people and the unstoppable rule of capital. Every time (well, almost) a machine or a technique replaces a large number of human beings, capitalists benefit: up to a point, of either overproduction or under-consumption; and up to a point of changes in a particular nation’s position in the world economy. And every time masses of semi-skilled labor are replaced by the demand for more skilled providers of services, the impacts of class structures are unequally felt. Booms and busts continue to occur, and there is little obvious choice in how to deal with them.
European social democracies, and the American New Deal, for a while were able to overcome this contradiction to some degree: but not forever. Technology advances too fast and too uncontrollably. You get on or you get off, and the political party that’s in power has no choice where to stand. Who rides the tiger…
The fundamental and so often successful response of the Right, however, is to assert, over and over again, that there is nothing wrong the capitalist social order that can’t be fixed by the repudiation of all socially critical Lefts, whomever and whatever they might represent, conjoined with a scape-goating of any handy ethnic or sexual minority. And here the real problem, as David Corn points out in his new book, American Psychosis: A Historical Investigation of How the Republican Party Went Crazy, is the recurring internal migration of conservatives and conservatism – of the GOP – to the Far Right.
Corn traces the origins of this movement back to the era of McCarthyism. I would go even farther back than this. In September 1945 Congress created a Committee for the Investigation of the Pearl Harbor Attack. Two admirals had been cashiered for lack of preparation and failure to follow through on warnings; the Investigation was primarily an inquest into their behavior.
However, two Republican Senators, Brewster and Ferguson, turned the hearings into an inquisition of the late FDR for, in effect, treason: for inciting the attack and having the two admirals framed, in order to justify going to War on behalf of Britain and, of course, the Soviet Union. Fast forward…
To elaborate on Corn’s argument, since Lincoln’s Party turned itself into the Party of unregenerate capitalism, the GOP has worn, in twists and turns, two ideological hats. Both represent a critique of the post-Enlightenment turn in culture and politics. One is that of what we think of as “conservatism”: defending conformism, the traditional family and the myth of The Nation. Figures such as Charles Evan Hughes, Harlan Fisk Stone, Earl Warren, Theodore Roosevelt, Warren Burger, and many others represent this tradition–often associated with Edmund Burke in a self-serving manner by conservative political philosophers.
The second hat, though, is the one excavated by David Corn. It is and always has been there beneath the polite surface. What makes it into a world-historical fact, however (to borrow from Hegel) is the moment when social orders are in turmoil, and a Leader from the ideological depths takes over the Party–one of the two major Parties in the nation– and bends it to his autocratic bidding,.
In one fatal move Donald Trump, like Hitler before him, succeeded in adding the ranks of society’s aggrieved–white Christian men who fear they are losing their previously dominant position– to its previous electoral base, and convert them to his insurrectionary desires. Thus the Party now can represent that previously inert mass into a movement for “change,” even while openly kowtowing to the interests of the wealthy.
All this has been accomplished with virtually no dissent from so-called conservatives. Why no dissent? Because that’s how the authoritarian Right (or Left when it’s had that power) always operates: of all deadly sins, dissent is the worst. He won for the Party; its adherents follow him, as we have seen so far, without question.
On the other side, it’s difficult to make and stand by an analysis promising reform and betterment that runs against the grain of a social order, of capitalism. There’s so much to be done, so little time to do it in, and in the American case so many built-in obstacles to making anything happen.
The most well-known instance of that difficulty–because so overt– was Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson’s inability to follow-through on the Party’s platform once the City threatened to generate a run on the Pound that would decimate British industry. A version of that threat is always on the agenda; it’s the rock-bottom of capitalist democracy. Capitalists are above any ideology except class interest.
For reformers, then, it’s always easier to settle for a little less. On the Right, by way of contrast, it’s easier to promise relief not by doing anything that might require some sacrifice at all, but by promising instead to let loose those inner demons that have a long history of rewarding those who make no egalitarian demands on the National State: of authoritarianism and its seductive appeals.
Those who respond to that promise implicitly agree not to make an equal claim on public services or benefits, or respect for accomplishments, or just treatment by the law or male authorities, but instead an equal claim on recognition as beneficiaries of the dominant class, as participants in the battle for tyranny.
In an election, no one knows what will work best until the votes are counted. The current GOP has learned–uniquely, but not without input from the Fourth International–how to get rid of the democratic nuisance of free and fair elections. All too soon, we’ll see how that works.