NOTE TO READERS: This is the follow-up to my previous, provocative piece “Can’t Hillary Haters All Just Get Along?” While I’ve written this essay—in light of its possible historical importance—to work well as a standalone piece, I encourage readers to at least skim my previous article so as to better catch my drift in this urgent call to leftist unity based on relentless repudiation of Hillary Clinton.
This is NOT a normal election cycle—and anyone who describes it using the shopworn rhetoric of “business as usual” is almost certainly either living in a cave or acting as a corrupt tool of the “toxic Establishment.” When a seeming dynastic shoo-in like Jeb Bush is a now hopeless also-ran, or when a small-state, self-proclaimed socialist like Bernie Sanders just humiliated globally connected dynast Hillary Clinton in the New Hampshire primary, something unprecedented is clearly going on. Indeed, it’s evident that the electoral insurgencies of Democrat Bernie Sanders and the Republican Donald Trump, when combined, represent a solid majority revolt of Americans against today’s “taxation without representation” by both major parties, and (apart from the insane climate change denial and xenophobia of Trump supporters) it makes a strategic alliance of Sanders and Trump supporters possibly worth considering.
(Read Sam Husseini’s interesting article on that prospective strategic alliance; for the compelling reasons stated parenthetically in the previous sentence, I disagree with Husseini’s assessment, but as a flexible strategist hell-bent on consigning the toxic Establishment to the dustbin of history, I can’t rule out anything.)
But my point, for now, is not to endorse any potential alliance with Trump supporters (very likely a desperation move), but to suggest how we can best exploit the considerable revival of energy and increasing, convergence of opinion on the political Left—a convergence of opinion I, as a pragmatic leftist, find cause for rejoicing. Whether leftists burn incense to Bernie Sanders is a matter of personal taste (or conscience) but, given the crisis of legitimacy Bernie’s creating for today’s sold-out Democrats (see here, here, and here), leftists should all be burning frankincense to the Zeitgeist.
CounterPunch as Revolutionary Barometer
As a left-wing activist seeking “news I can use,” I read a lot of the alternative-media Left. My singling out CounterPunch (CP) as a “revolutionary barometer” is not intended to demean any other source I read or publish in. Rather, it’s because CounterPunch represents a special sort of attitude: a perennial skepticism (what I’ve elsewhere called a “hermeneutic of suspicion”) toward anything that goes down in our two major parties, combined with an abiding interest in (and virtual reverence toward) revolution against our corrupt political system. In so describing these prevailing CP attitudes, the last thing I intend is to caricature or demean them; they’re in fact attitudes I deeply share. If an insurgency within one or both of our major parties can pass the severe CP sniff test, I consider that compelling evidence of an opportunity leftists should take seriously and work to exploit.
Recently, countless CP articles have exhibited, at minimum, acknowledgement of (and in one case, considerable malicious glee at) the havoc Bernie’s wreaking in the Democratic Party. To avoid sacrificing narrative flow to documentation, I’ll list a sampling of these CP articles, by category, in an appendix. In giving a representative sampling, I hope not to misrepresent any CP writer; if I do, I’m easy enough to contact and castigate. Rather, I just wish to cite the recent musings of rather hard-boiled CP skeptics as corroborative evidence that the Sanders campaign has created issues of legitimacy for Democrats that leftists should unite to pounce on and exploit. The plan of exploitation I’ll suggest is purely my own—or rather “ours,” since I write as Revolt Against Plutocracy’s (RAP’s) co-founder and representative. But since the CP-style Left plays a considerable role in RAP’s scheme against Democrats’ lesser-evilism, I wish to convince fellow leftist writers how logically that scheme derives from their own views.
To launch my narrative, I’ll cite three articles, two from CounterPunch and one not, to provide an interpretive framework for the CP pieces I cite in my appendix. These three articles, an Esquire piece by Charles Pierce and CP pieces by Vincent Emanuele and Brian Foley, provide compelling evidence that history has caught up with Democrats.
Pierce does so by citing a current of “subversive counter-establishment energy” in the Democratic Party, starting with Jesse Jackson’s presidential runs, “that refused to be quelled” and that “people ignore … at their peril.” Emanuele and Foley, in timely assaults on a once-sacred cow, explode the intellectual nullity of identity politics, the ideological fig leaf Democrats have long used (most effectively in the case of Barack Obama) to cover their abandonment of the New Deal and Great Society and embrace of lackey service to well-heeled banks, fossil fuel interests, and the military-industrial-surveillance complex.
Pierce’s piece is probably the weakest of the three and could be vastly improved by citing nonelectoral, non-Democratic movements like Occupy, Black Lives Matter, Fight for 15, and the climate justice movement as additional instances of “subversive counter-establishment energy” that “refused to be quelled.” But, consciously or unconsciously, Pierce has identified probably the most important historical trend of our times: an enduring—and strengthening—undercurrent of repeatedly frustrated populism that, though temporarily suppressed, only reappears with multiplied force a little farther down the timeline. Pierce’s trend line, enhanced by my nonelectoral examples, is probably best explained by poet Langston Hughes’ deeply insightful reflection (in his classic poem “Harlem”) on what happens to “a dream deferred”: it explodes. What I argue here is that the populist dream has been deferred to such a point that it has exploded—to the point that a little-known, small-state, self-proclaimed socialist, Bernie Sanders, has a far-greater-than-zero chance of becoming U.S. president.
To the credit of CounterPunch writers (my chosen barometer of where we stand), they’ve overcome all potential ideological blinders—based on well-deserved suspicions of both Sanders and Democrats—to grasp the potentially historic reality of that prospect.
Calling All Leftists—to Stiffen Sandernistas’ Spines
If I use the term “Sandernistas”—rather than, say, “Berniacs”—to denote the majority of Sanders supporters, that’s a conscious hat tip to CounterPunch chief editor Jeffrey St. Clair, who (after the passing of his CounterPunch co-founder Alexander Cockburn), has successfully maintained the editorial flavor I consider unique to CounterPunch. To St. Clair’s great credit, he has had sufficient journalistic horse-sense to resist potential impulses to ideological purity and allow a genuine, wide-ranging debate about the potentially historic candidacy of Bernie Sanders. To the best of my knowledge, St. Clair coined the term “Sandernista,” which he intended as pejorative—and so do I.
Sandernistas reflect the genuine tension among Sanders supporters: between the minority who believe in political revolution and the majority who do not—at least not yet. Revolt Against Plutocracy is currently a minority movement among Sanders supporters and, like the majority of writers at CounterPunch, is ultimately more loyal to political revolution than to Bernie Sanders himself. But perhaps unlike most CP writers, we acknowledge an eternal debt of gratitude to Bernie Sanders, who sacrificed his respectable status as a political independent to accept the degradation of running as a Democrat—all for the sake of reaching the largest possible political audience. CP writer William Kaufman captures this splendidly in his insightful portrayal of “the Sanders paradox.”
Probably Bernie’s motives are not so pure, or we’d characterize Bernie’s acceptance of degradation by running in the Democratic Party as a “Christlike” sacrifice. But what strikes RAP most clearly (however Bernie and most of his supporters characterize matters) is that independent Bernie running as a Democrat is, in de facto terms, acceptance of self-degradation for the common good. And exactly like fellow Jew Jesus, Bernie has been thoroughly dishonored as a prophet in his chosen “own country”—today’s Democratic Party. Consider, for example, the response of elite Democratic politicians (today’s Pharisees?) to Bernie: a piddling TWO endorsements from Democratic Congresspersons and governors—compared to the hundreds of endorsements for Hillary. And never is this “dishonored prophet” parallel more forceful than when considering how much Bernie—far from being a radical socialist—incarnates Democrats’ core New Deal philosophy.
But, leftists being hardly so religious, we recognize a self-defeating, excessive “turning of the other cheek” in Bernie. And Jeffrey St. Clair, again to his credit, probably summarizes this best. If Sanders and most of his supporters can play so nice with Democrats—after the Democratic establishment stabs him in the back for doing nothing more radical than representing the party’s New Deal philosophy—how can Bernie and his supporters pull off anything so radical as a political REVOLUTION? Answer: left to themselves, they simply can’t, but with their spines stiffened by a political Left devoted to seizing a unique historic opportunity, they potentially can.
“Bernie or Bust” Pledge CAN Unite a Leftist Revolution
The problem with Bernie—and, above all, with his Sandernista supporters—is their counterrevolutionary unwillingness to see Hillary Clinton for what she is: a morally repulsive ENEMY of Bernie’s revolution. That’s exactly why Bernie’s revolution—which he’s been so successful in starting, by undermining Democrats’ legitimacy—is probably doomed to disappear in a few months without a forceful (and perhaps not quite welcome) hand from the harder Left. Revolutions always have bitter enemies, and Bernie has misled his followers into treating Hillary Clinton and her toxic Establishment as anything but such. By his own showing, one can only assume that his motive is lesser-evilism, the sense that Democrats must win the general election at any cost—even the cost of making such a vile piece of sewage as Hillary Clinton U.S. president. Granted, Republicans are worse, but when the only rational arguments for electing Clinton are “better than Hitler” arguments (such as Noam Chomsky makes), it seems Bernie’s candidacy is an emergency opportunity on which leftists must act.
And the proper time for leftists to act is during the primaries, when it’s not a question of risking the election of “little Hitler” Republicans. By our using leftist alternative media, and by encouraging timid Sandernistas—by force of sheer numbers—to follow in leftists’ footsteps, the pledge could easily reach its projected goal of a million takers in a very short time. And, beyond the prospect of defeating Hillary the hideous (by impressing on Democrats how many progressives refuse to vote for her) in a very short time, the gains to the harder left and Sanders supporters from finding a common bond could be immeasurable. More on those prospective common gains in my next article.
APPENDIX: COUNTERPUNCH ARTICLES ON SANDERS’ CRISIS CREATION FOR DEMOCRATS
Outright Conversions to Critical Support for Bernie
Sanders as Wreaking Havoc among Democrats
Sanders as Creating an Opportunity for Greens