Brand loyalties dominate our life choices—but party brands are hardly created equal

Sorry, but a convicted scoundrel struggling to stay out of jail only to become a fascist commando sounds like a miracle way to lose.

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SOURCENationofChange

In this corner, a certified, civil adult; in the other, an unruly, petulant, holy terror 

To understand current politics, if not informed voting, we can’t ignore the overriding centrality of well-coiffed, dominant brands and branding. We and the era are flooded by promotion, advertising, manipulation, and propaganda. By and large, brands pander to what we already know, believe and feel – deflecting pertinent evidence, common sense and the big picture. Facing constant consumer choices, we favor brands that work and reject those that disappoint. In a society racked with material consumption and intrusive opinions, time to assess when supposedly personal values serve both our own and collective needs. No one is an island, whatever our fantasies about free will and individualism. 

Brands (reinforced by invented needs) matter even more when presidential candidates excite mainly hardcore fans. The public brand is the real message and style exposes inner character. To be clear, 2024 IS the most important election this generation (or this century or ever) but ONLY if Trump wins – and enforces his promised shock waves. Were Biden re-elected (veering that way IMO), not much will change – and progressives still await 2028 for a different Democrat. Even a Biden win, without fixing the Supreme Court, taming the Electoral College or dumping the filibuster, won’t reform key systemic failures. Yet when does holding fast to electoral Constitutionalism not beat fascist chaos? 

Clearly, talking explicit policy, even “populist” deliverables, ain’t what it used to be — as the right suffers from craven insufficiency, lurching still without a party platform (unless fascism qualifies). Dicey Black Swans always matter and current Biden downers, like Israeli excesses he cannot restrain or legitimate student protests beyond his ken, should recede by November. So that reduces this election (besides money and campaign savvy) to two variables: 1) vision, as in fire and brimstone religiosity on the right vs. legislative gains and diversity tolerance from Dems; and 2) character, even style and personality, distilled to trustworthiness, acceptance of consensual reality, and truth-telling. 

Does the president’s character not reflect America’s?

True, cultist Trumpism has shredded the past centrality of “moral character,” but endless, squalid trials (and convictions) are returning this measure to center stage, at least for non-partisans. “Drenched in tabloid sleaze” is Joe Conason’s headline on the Criminal-in-chief. Along with his bloodied charisma, Trump is so immoral and ruthless, so creepy a career, law-breaking menace, that Biden’s stolid decency – simply absent crudeness, scandals, and nasty venom – lifts his virtuous standing more than some say he deserves. Will current issues, like overseas militarism, decide the battle? Hardly as Trump ferociously backs Israeli belligerence, which leaves abortion, immigration, the economy and culture war nonsense on the table.

The best, most revealing tell driving the Trumpist hustle is its unceasing (often stupid) addiction to his brand mix of gut instinct, contempt, violence, brutality and vengeance – seasoned with laughable, self-generated victimhood. By what analysis do such dark visions succeed, magnified by having a convicted, serial criminal – naturally demanding absolute WH immunity – in becoming the nation’s top law enforcer? By what perverse logic does a dictator-in-training, who reveres belligerent, lawless overseas autocrats, win over a still democracy-inclined electorate? The good news is that Trump struts his brand – the liar he is and the totalitarian he wants to be, crowned with “dictator-for-a-day” (ha!).

The other really good news (for Dems) is the earth-shaking contrast between juvenile Trumpism and the adult, if ho-hum Biden brand. Faulted for being too steadfast (indeed wishy-washy), too open to compromise (half a loafing) and too judicious in seeking expert advice, Biden suffers from the odd (modern) plight of applying rational choices to insolvable problems, namely Middle-east peace, House flamethrowers or unsuccessfully showing an ex-president what being president means. Entering with low expectations, Biden’s resume delivers real achievements across many realms that help real people without causing far more damage than good (the Trump way). Above all, Biden understands and respects what truly has made America standout: the rule of law, the sovereignty of voters, and the ideal of justice for all. 

Oddly, the Biden stability brand comes with an unintended, painful irony: he runs a stable ship because of age, staying power and tested experience (so surprise! he’s old). Yet, in these degraded times, the honing of leadership skills, across domestic and overseas crises, draws cheap shots about his age (now thankfully receding). Compare the opposition: incapable of learning from WH experience (indeed, getting worse), the equally aged Trump brand blusters away as the gun-slinging lout, the wannabe loudmouth strongman who plays the victim when rebuffed on anything. The laughable Trump mindset (thanks, Roy Cohn) still confuses being on permanent offense (and being offensive) as good strategy, then denies or ignores when disasters follow, namely Covid, inflationary tariffs or axing pro-American international agreements. Is there any question that Biden, warts and all, has the essential adult skill of learning from failure – whereas Trump, the unapologetic tantrum thrower, doubles down after every failure and absurdly concocts blunders as “perfect.” Okay, he can together be a perfect fool and a perfect knave, then brag about it.

A campaign contrast for the ages

So no question these brands present a greater contrast than anyone since Nixon vs. McGovern, even Hoover vs. FDR. Never has a candidate assaulted all aspects of our justice system, treating every legitimate indictment as from Mars and every judge and jury his instantly sworn enemies. “Law” in Trumpworld comes without principles, simply what he (and lackeys) can get away with. How else does the extremist minority connive to dictate rules, holding their own on abortion, immigration and craven House leadership? So what America confronts is simply the Guru of Grievance vs. the Champion of Continuity. Or perhaps the Icon of Insurrection (already threatening violence before he’s even lost) vs. the President of Perspicacity – the unshaken, savvy defender of democratic outcomes, diversity, opportunity, moderation, and justice.

That this election is still even close is a fierce indictment of the know-nothing electorate banking irrationally on miracle cures from a mock messiah. Recall the blown “miracles” that maxed out deaths from Covid, a serious but manageable challenge. Sorry, but a convicted scoundrel struggling to stay out of jail only to become a fascist commando sounds like a miracle way to lose. If the Constitution had only specified our presidents must not only be 35 years old but have the adult maturity to match, this competition would be over.

Despite this era of muddy media, dirty tricks, overflowing outrage, and brands pumping out shocking distortions, I don’t fear a contest between the Trump brand vs. the Biden brand. Polling remains a lagging indicator, and what ploys can the Self-destroyer-in-chief unearth to offset today’s avalanche of negatives? And wait for the further blow to his general election brand by picking a VP sycophant too wimpy and characterless to ever upstage him. Then, as a thought experiment, assuming neither lives until 2028, ponder the prospect of President Harris vs. any on Trump’s short VP list: SC’s Sen. Scott or Gov. Noem, the puppy killer from ND, Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, Sen. J. D. Vance, even the spineless, if power-hungry Sen. Rubio – or anyone like Pence the evangelical. Okay, hands please, when the choice is Harris or M. T. Greene in charge of the Executive Branch. Gosh, except for age, that replicates the Biden vs. Trump clash.

FALL FUNDRAISER

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For over a decade, Robert S. Becker's independent, rebel-rousing essays on politics and culture analyze overall trends, history, implications, messaging and frameworks. He has been published widely, aside from Nation of Change and RSN, with extensive credits from OpEdNews (as senior editor), Alternet, Salon, Truthdig, Smirking Chimp, Dandelion Salad, Beyond Chron, and the SF Chronicle. Educated at Rutgers College, N.J. (B.A. English) and U.C. Berkeley (Ph.D. English), Becker left university teaching (Northwestern, then U. Chicago) for business, founding SOTA Industries, a top American high end audio company he ran from '80 to '92. From '92-02, he was an anti-gravel mining activist while doing marketing, business and writing consulting. Since then, he seeks out insight, even wit in the shadows, without ideology or righteousness across the current mayhem of American politics.

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