Hell hath no fury like Chuck Schumer scorned.
If I read Chuck Schumer correctly, he generally assumes his progressive opponents are powerless wimps and that he can just serve his Wall Street and AIPAC masters without taking our views or feelings into account. Or even that we’re “fucking retarded,” as Schumer evidently believes but it took Rahm Emanuel to actually say. Schumer, by contrast, typically goes about his business of screwing progressives without getting too emotionally or verbally worked up about us.
But occasionally—I hope ever increasingly—we progressives manage to get under his skin and Schumer does (usually not says) something incredibly spiteful. And potentially incredibly stupid, provided Schumer has severely underestimated his progressive opponents’ numbers, resolve, and strategic savvy.
Now, given progressives’ long years of political impotence—the same history of futile tethering to the anti-progressive Democratic Party that prompted Rahm Emanuel to ask, “Where the hell will they go?”—Schumer’s calculus of screwing progressives without backlash has worked incredibly well. Perhaps an occasional grumble of protest (say, by the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights) when he actually sought to violate the Constitution, as Schumer’s irrational level of aversion to the BDS movement (abetted by Congress’s largest AIPAC-sponsored donations) rashly compelled him to do. But nothing like career-threatening backlash from his rashness; such a powerful shield is Schumer’s prowess as a Wall Street fundraiser for Democrats that it’s been long years since he’s even faced the indignity of a primary.
But now a new generation of progressives—ones at long last serious about forcing Democrats to address humanity’s climate emergency—has nettled Schumer into a gesture of unprecedented rashness and stupidity, one that could inflict enormous lasting damage on his political career. I refer to his promotion of fossil fuel puppet Joe Manchin to the post of top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.
See, given the Trump administration’s and Republicans’ “criminally insane” climate and energy policies, it’s hard to imagine Schumer inflicting worse harm on the common good than promoting the Democrat most likely by far to rubber-stamp those policies to serve as lead Democrat on a powerful energy committee.
Whatever Manchin’s political survival needs as a Democrat in a red state traditionally dominated by the coal industry, his fossil fuel ties and embrace of an “all of the above” energy policy make him the most perverse imaginable choice for such a post. Especially at the potentially “game-changing” moment young climate activists, such as Congressional freshman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) and the Sunrise Movement, have placed unprecedented pressure on Democrats for serious climate action and a Green New Deal. With deeply irrational ecological and political rashness, Schumer decided to spit in their faces. One can only imagine he’d had far too much of newbie Ocasio-Cortez (who warned against promoting Manchin) and “those snot-nosed climate brats” brazenly challenging the party leadership and decided to exercise some harsh discipline. At the price of a livable climate.
The Deep Existential Roots of Schumer’s Wrath
Superficially, it’s easy to imagine the haughty, experienced Schumer feeling simply furious at AOC’s and Sunrise’s brazen challenges to the Democratic Party leadership—and above all, to his own authority as the nation’s most powerful Democrat. But, as is often the case when generations conflict, the roots of his intense, politically imprudent wrath probably go deeper, perhaps involving a threat to his worldview and very identity. On any other terms, it’s hard to imagine such an intelligent, calculating politician being so suicidally rash.
In fact, this article’s title, with its deliberate allusion to the subtitle of Naomi Klein’s groundbreaking book This Changes Everything, hints at the existential crisis quite plausibly underlying Schumer’s crazy compulsion to spit in the faces of AOC and the Sunrise climate movement. Readers will recall that Klein’s book is subtitled “Capitalism vs. the Climate”; by substituting Schumer’s name for “Capitalism,” I mean to imply that Schumer’s style of politics, intimately tied to a brand of neoliberal capitalism utterly incompatible with saving the climate, is likewise incompatible with preserving a humanly livable climate.
Schumer’s brand of rich-donor-serving politics—a brand to which he’s devoted most of his political life—must go the way of the dinosaurs if we are to save a livable climate and human civilization with it. As a result, it’s inevitable that Schumer must fight a life-or-death battle with the first truly demanding climate activists to come along. AOC and the Sunrise Movement, by demanding a Green New Deal, have threatened Schumer’s very political identity; achieving a Green New Deal is utterly incompatible with Schumer’s Wall Street, K Street, and AIPAC donors continuing to exercise veto power over climate-preserving policy. At some level of consciousness Schumer knows this, and the only way he can save his political identity is by brutally quashing AOC’s and Sunrise’s Green New Deal aims.
In a sense, Schumer’s promotion of Manchin is a form of de facto climate change denial, and Schumer’s motives for his de facto denial closely parallel the motives Naomi Klein brilliantly attributes to more straightforward (generally Republican) climate change deniers. As Klein writes (in reporting on a Heartland Institute convention devoted to right-wing climate change denial), “Indeed, if you ask the Heartlanders, climate change makes some kind of left-wing revolution virtually inevitable, which is precisely why they are so determined to deny its reality.” Precisely—and the “left-wing revolution” represented by a Green New Deal threatens Schumer’s brand of rich-donor-dominated politics just as much as it threatens right-wingers’ largely government-free brand. Schumer’s model of donor-determined policymaking demands quashing the sheer amount of popular say over policy required by a Green New Deal. Schumer knows that, so climate be damned!
Achieving a Green New Deal—and thereby aligning U.S. policy with a global effort to save the climate—depends on the Sunrise Movement and politicians like AOC realizing this is a war to the death as much as Schumer does. The Green New Deal will be achieved—if at all—over Schumer’s politically dead body, and Sunrise simply can’t join the battle too soon. I strongly urge them to join it over the Manchin appointment.
This Looks like a Job for … Sunrise
If this section’s subtitle suggests to readers a call for superhero intervention, the allusion is quite deliberate. In a very real sense, the gutsy young climate activists of the Sunrise Movement are my superheroes. And, as an ardent admirer of Naomi Klein, I was delighted to discover that they appear to be her superheroes as well. Covering Sunrise’s Nancy Pelosi protest, Klein wrote,
Decades from now, if we are exquisitely lucky enough to tell a thrilling story about how humanity came together in the nick of time to intercept the metaphorical meteor, the pivotal chapter will not be the highly produced cinematic moment when Barack Obama won the Democratic primary and told an adoring throng of supporters that this would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” No, it will be the far less scripted and markedly more scrappy moment when a group of fed-up young people from the Sunrise Movement occupied the offices of Pelosi after the midterm elections, calling on her to get behind the plan for a Green New Deal — with Ocasio-Cortez dropping by the sit-in to cheer them on.
Now, for any close student of Klein’s work, her own ardent embrace of Sunrise will hardly seem surprising. Just consider Klein’s incisive, deeply insightful, analysis of our U.S. political situation in the immediate wake of Trump’s shocking victory. The very day after Trump bested Clinton, Klein wrote, “The Democratic party needs to be either decisively wrested from pro-corporate neoliberals, or it needs to be abandoned.” A party as inauthentic, hypocritical, and anti-populist as the Clinton-Schumer-Pelosi version of Democrats is capable neither of addressing our climate emergency itself nor decisively defeating “criminally insane” Republicans who amount to the best friends human extinction ever had.
In a political system with only two electable political parties, and with Republicans beyond all appeal to reason, Klein rightly diagnoses our political quandary (as Sunrise would put it) as forcing Democrats to “do their job.” Or—a much more difficult matter—replacing Democrats with a party that will. In order even to make replacing Democrats thinkable, we must make rational, morally compelling public demands on Democrats and force the general public to realize—in a newsworthy way—that Democrats are simply too corrupt, too owned by donors like Schumer’s, to either defeat unspeakable Republicans or address humanity’s climate emergency.
It’s precisely Sunrise’s unprecedented readiness to take its fight to Democrats—in a newsworthy way—that elevates the movement to superhero status. And never was its superhero intervention more needed than after Schumer’s anti-climate crime of promoting Manchin.
I can only hope Sunrise embraces the superhero job of forcing Manchin’s demotion, perhaps even his total removal from the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The danger I sense is that Sunrise will view the struggle to demote or remove Manchin as a distraction from its efforts to achieve a Green New Deal.
In fact, nothing could be further from the truth. Chuck Schumer, a formidable—and perhaps the foremost—obstacle to achieving a Green New Deal, has thrown down the gauntlet to Sunrise, showing nothing of any importance has changed and he can spit in the climate movement’s face just as he has always spat in progressives’. And just by itself, entrusting fossil fuel puppet Joe Manchin with such power does the climate and Green New Deal cause immense potential harm, adding a de facto “Democrat in name only” climate change denier to a powerful energy committee.
But I’d like to make a final crucial point, based on my own religious reading of left-leaning alternative media. If one reads articles in leftist publications by authors supporting Sunrise, such as Naomi Klein or Sonali Kolhatkar, one notices an absolute deluge of comments by skeptical leftists pooh-poohing or even summarily dismissing Sunrise as “the controlled opposition” or as a movement consciously or naively “sheepdogging” to lure leftists and progressives into an unreformable Democratic Party. Needless to say, in the face of determined and sneaky enemies like Pelosi—and even worse, Schumer—Sunrise will need to escalate its protest actions and will therefore need as many friends and allies as it can possibly win. Taking on Schumer—a major villain to leftists everywhere—for the reckless crime of appointing Manchin, will go incredibly far in convincing leftists that Sunrise is the real deal.
Finally, Schumer, by his political commitments alone, is guaranteed to remain a determined—and preferably veiled—enemy of the Green New Deal, just as he has always been the veiled enemy of progressives. It’s hard to imagine a more strategically savvy move for Sunrise than letting Schumer know it is “on to” his fierce opposition to the Green New Deal from here on.
I hope Klein, like me, realizes the urgency of getting our superheroes to heed this call.