By Nolan Higdon
I can remember when the GOP went to crazy town. It was during the George W. Bush presidency, and I watched as seemingly rational people responded to the actual details and propaganda surrounding the War on Terror by shedding their commitments to civil liberties to pursue an agenda of torture, government secrecy, mass government spending on the military, and the silencing of whistleblowers. The drift into a Christian fascist dystopia was swift and frightening.
I assumed that the Democratic National Convention (DNC), despite becoming a college educated elitist party of empty progressive rhetoric, would maintain a grip on reality, and keep the nation stable. They more or less did so by maintaining the status quo with hope-y change-y rhetoric from President Barack Obama. However, the party’s elite soon faced an unexpected challenge from progressives in general and young people in particular, who were hungry for a new political order. They chose US Senator Bernie Sanders as their vessel of change. Sanders popularity concerned party elites and donors so much that they abandoned principles of democracy by rigging the primary in 2016 and manipulating news content to mitigate Sanders’ popularity . It seemed to have worked as pollsters were confident that the anointed neoliberal candidate, Hillary Clinton, would surely defeat a venal reality TV personality, who proudly touted his commitment to white supremacy and patriarchy: Donald Trump.
Surprisingly to many, they were wrong.
Rather than examine how their policy decisions and campaigning style led to the outcome, the DNC lashed out at every other person, entity, nation, and especially critic they could find. Self-reflection became anathema to these neoliberal elites. Rather than evaluate how they lost the Electoral College, despite winning by millions of popular votes, and consider changes to make them more attractive to the say 100 million people (who disproportionately poor and people of color) who do not vote because they feel they do not have a choice; Democrats and their surrogates in corporate media spent the last four years, shedding every principle they had.
In fact, since Trump was Electored, Democrats and neoliberals alike have:
* Abandoned free speech on public campuses rather than speaking up to defend Abby Martin, because she was once associated with Russia Today, and all things Russia = Trump.
* Abandoned academic freedom by staying silent on Professor Mark Crispin Miller’s case at NYU because he had previously criticized Hillary Clinton’s war hawkish mentality and DNC corruption.
* Abandoned freedom of the press by refusing to defend Julian Assange and WikiLeaks – a case that now threats to overturn aspects of the First Amendment – because they helped shine light on bipartisan corruption, but especially that of Hilary Clinton.
* Abandoned whistleblowers in general – an act responsible for exposing Watergate and the excesses of the War on Terror – by refusing to support a pardon for Edward Snowden because he exposed the hypocrisy of Obama’s civil liberties’ rhetoric (and by continuing to legally harass Chelsea Manning).
* Have supported censorship and de-platforming by Big-Tech companies, even when that includes censoring journalists, because the content, regardless of whether it is accurate, may help Trump or hurt Biden.
* Abandoned a commitment to the basic elements of democracy, such as actively working to remove the Green Party off of state ballots and primary-ing progressives (resulting in centrists candidates who experienced electoral defeat in 2020) in order to defeat Trump.
* Have utilized red baiting tactics that weaponize “Russia” as a baseless label for dismissing problematic or inconvenient content, especially about the Democratic Party or candidates.
* Have supported rewriting history in major news outlets to explain away Biden’s horrific role in the Crime Bill because the truth might somehow help Trump.
* Abandoned their contention that we should believe every woman who comes forward with sexual assault allegations because Tara Reid’s accusation would have hurt Biden.
* Welcomed war criminals and racists, including politicians like former Governor Rick Snyder who poisoned the Black community in Flint, Michigan, as well as famed anti-unionist and anti-choice John Kasich into the Biden campaign because they oppose Trump.
* Abandoned a commitment to criminal justice reform by supporting the author of the Crime Bill and a Vice-Presidential candidate, Kamala Harris, who as California State Attorney General jailed parents for truant children and oversaw such poor mismanagement of crime lab samples that 1000 cases were overturned and potentially one case is under investigation to see if evidence was blocked that would have exonerated a death row inmate since executed – again, because they are not Trump.
The list could go on. Watching Trump leave office is certainly near the top of my priority list, and I have no doubt it will feel amazing to see his hateful rhetoric and executive ineptitude become a thing of the past. However, I am concerned about the effectiveness of a liberal plan that can be summed up in the hollow slogan, “vote blue no matter who.” Ok, we did that. Now what? So we have Biden, and he takes office. Then what?
Now, even though Trump may soon be in the proverbial rearview funhouse mirror, we are stuck with a person who has literally been on the wrong side of history for half a century. Biden supported policies that made it impossible for students to remove student loan debt with bankruptcy regardless of their economic circumstances; he empowered industry in a way that defines the economic inequality ravaging the younger generation; gutted the social safety net with so-called “welfare reforms;” and he authored the very Crime Bill that created the murderous and abusive policing environment that civil rights activists are currently seeking to “defund” Let’s not forget to mention his four attempts to gut Social Security, one of the last vestiges of a social safety net that millennials can dream of accessing. Biden championed the very policies that have left their generation struggling. The 2003 invasion of Iraq; Glass-Steagall; the Telecommunications Act; and his obsession with the credit and banking industry – which earned Joe Biden the name: “The Senator From MBNA.” Biden also took part in fostering the hateful environment from which Trump arose by supporting the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA); Don’t Ask Don’t Tell; the Bankruptcy Bill, and made sexist attacks on Anita Hill and Monica Lewinsky.
It is concerning that after four years, there seems to be few ideas and less consensus among liberals about what they are committed to do and how they plan to achieve it. I have heard far too many liberals promise that once Biden is in office, “we need to get out in the streets on day one.” No progressive change ever happened in this country without massive sustained public activism. We need protests and pressure to be put on our leaders to achieve progressive change. Although a commitment to activism is needed in a Biden presidency – and any other president for that matter – liberal principles remain opaque after their behavior the last four years. On the surface it seems like they want to simply go back to brunch and quadrennial armchair politicking, vote shaming, and general finger-wagging at “deplorables.” Without a doubt, actions will speak louder than words. I just hope that the actions are more than liking this article or waiting four more years to shout “this is (again) the most important election of our lifetimes,” or “vote blue no matter who, democracy is on the ballot.” Democracy needs to be on more than the ballot, it needs to be in the streets and on the agenda, every single day.
Acknowledgments: Thank you to Mickey Huff, Mary Katreeb, and Lucas Martin for all of their help on this article. The views expressed in the article are those of the author.
Dr. Nolan Higdon is an author and university lecturer of history and media studies. Higdon’s areas of concentration include youth culture, news media history, and critical media literacy. He sits on the boards of the Action Coalition for Media Education (ACME) and Northwest Alliance For Alternative Media And Education. His most recent publications include United States of Distraction (co-author with Mickey Huff, City Lights Books, 2019) and The Anatomy of Fake News: A Critical News Literacy Education (University of California Press, 2020). He is co-host of the Along the Line podcast with “Dr. Dreadlocks” Nicholas Baham III, and a longtime contributor to Project Censored’s annual book, Censored.
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