Here are four self-evident truths, notable because the party allegedly in power remains oblivious to them—indeed, the less conscious engines of human behavior:
1) Mandated choices, especially by media-plied (and lied to) voters, are driven more by emotions than reason, logic or facts (even to verify minimal job competence, let alone simple truths);
2) Today’s slick 24/7 media profits by maximizing irrational, often negative responses, for the right—fear, outrage, and anxiety; Obama managed to induce positive feelings of hope and optimism;
3) Electoral “campaigns” no longer have beginnings or ends, thus “elections” don’t legitimate winners, just provide rather old-fashioned hurdles for non-stop politicking to leap or knock over. When losers don’t concede, and certified results are defied, even slandered, the paramount distinction between order and anything goes disorder vanish.
4) Sustainable leadership means running campaigns that leverage unconscious or gut instincts (likability, T.V. appeal, drama and entertainment, passion for novelty (new horses) along with rejection of baggage-laden old-timers.
Biden Democrats are in epic denial on these matters, refusing to shift political operations despite what barbaric Trump, Trumpism and FOX TV make uncomfortably clear: irrationality, grievance, and divisive cheap shots capture more coverage than reason, evidence, and reality. Can a party favoring reason out-slug a party aiming low and addicted to lying, law-breaking, slander, and misdirection? Can Dems learn to appeal equally to reason and emotion?
We shall see whether 2020 was the exception that proved the rule—or whether the pendulum has shifted. Biden’s stolidness routed tarnished charisma because voters made the simplest of choices: a known entity with knowledge and respect for law and elections vs. a delusional, belligerently unqualified (remarkable after a full term), twice-indicted loser. Even primitive Americans couldn’t stomach one more day of a criminal nincompoop with a negative learning curve. The longer he reigned, the worst he got. Trump scoffed at majority interests—and aptly got whomped; then he stupidly refused to concede, thus doubling down the insult to the majority.
However, before exposing his every character defect, Trump manipulated media well enough to command attention (outlandishness sells). He played on alienated supporters, pandering ad nauseum with simplistic, loaded sound bites to foster a cult following—offsetting his disqualifying resume where only non-accountability outranked rule-breaking. He turned the electoral system on its head. In fact, playing on fan irrationality, Trump turned exhibitionist lying, until then an instant disqualifier, into leverage, positing that enough gall would cancel his blistering nonsense. Trump “lying” riveted his brand, distorted by grievance desperadoes into “telling-it-like-it-is” delusion, almost akin to truth-telling.
Pulverizing truth was essential so Trumpery could then assault expertise, knowledge, and reason when they (and reality) defied his dumb-as-a-rock prejudices. Only by pommeling truth could this grifter dish out the bizarre fiction he alone had all the answers to all the questions. On full display Trump’s malignant narcissistic personality disorder, and the longer it has held center stage, the more predictable today’s ongoing disintegration. Getting the 2024 GOP nomination nails the party coffin shut for a decade.
Dark voice, darker message
Yes, Trump unearthed the darkest side of modern PR—that make-belief, melodrama and hallucination can countervail whatever passes for sense, judgment and perspective. This new plague remakes politics into a far more vulnerable whirlwind of emotional swings befitting a religious cult. What Democrats still ignore is the Trump breakthrough, politics as joining the entertainment business rather than the finding-solutions-that-help-real-people business. Shoddy showmanship mesmerize more voters than ever, less about picking the “best person” than falling for phonies who share unenlightened prejudices (true for Dems, too, though less so).
That is why, despite Biden holding his own (under adverse conditions) and majority polling backing party proposals and values, Democrats are scheduled to lose the House., maybe more. While Democrats command the Public Reason Forum, they seem incapable of reversing the standard mid-term routines. That’s what Trump (and the right) hawk: a package that panders to knee-jerk biases without any real-world deliverables. Thus Trump, McConnell and McCarthy still amazingly refuse to propose party platforms, elections be damned. Why bother if the GOP doesn’t stand for anything positive, just variations on takeaways? Today, parties differ because the regressive, ruthless gang executes nasty negative political pitches while the stodgy liberal, left-leaning one does business as usual, low polling be damned.
So, absent a stirring, transcendent party mission, when inflation (over which presidents have minimal control) hits, Biden gets blamed. When Afghanistan departure comes with painful side-effects (despite high consensus), Biden alone gets blame. When two backward senators, in bed with corporate powers, reject a complicated Democratic package, Biden gets blamed. When COVID doesn’t end on schedule (despite proactive solutions), Biden gets blamed. In the meantime, right-wing red states pass a slew of radically anti-democratic, anti-choice legislation, exposing exactly how they do politics—and there’s no unified backlash from Democrats, from the top down, that pushes back hard against the demolition of American values.
Biden acts as if Republicans (and reactionary laws) exist on another planet. He doesn’t attack such infamy as if bipartisanship were still a thing, despite evidence to the contrary. If powerful leaders (not just left-leaning cable commentators) don’t effectively dramatize the awful damage from right-wing regression (aside from Trump madness), centrist voters won’t get it, forever distracted by the waving gestures of culture wars. Big, neglected insight: the right has no interest, nor competence in what used to be called governance, let alone fairness or tolerance. Governance is just another word for nothing left to lose, in jeopardy unless enough voices equate it with national survival. Otherwise, we throw our fate to random winds, awarding power and success to any better run country (like China). Are countries that different from sports teams, armies or corporations—wherein sustained, reality-denying incompetence means disgrace?
Ill-informed voters are hardly marvels of logic, knowledge, or detachment from instincts; today, given permission to extremism (the speciousness of “ever man a king”), too many are AWIF, Against Whatever Is Fashionable—or empowered. Congress, a bunch of hacks. Courts, corporate shills. A president, a demonic figure at the heart of darkness. If the ruling party can’t “educate” as well as Trump and his ilk manipulate, our political legacy is no more. If the Democrats cannot bridge their plausible domestic agenda with a convincing, majority belief system, the future will lurch from crisis to crisis—or worse, inviting the very chaos on which authoritarian strongmen feed.
Democrats do well to follow John Kenneth Galbraith’s advice, “In all life one should comfort the afflicted, but verily, also, one should afflict the comfortable, and especially when they are comfortably, contentedly, even happily wrong.” Laws are constantly battered, ruthless fanatics are running amuck (what’s your religious faith, on a scale from 1-10, asked imbecile Lindsay Graham to the Supreme Court nominee), and the Yahoo Great American Destroyers (YGADs) are not being directly confronted, let alone taken to task.
Next up, a plan on a blueprint to win, including how to spread a solid, persuasive belief system that fits what’s left of American democratic values.