In the last days of 2016, politics, media and fake news were in flux, and the stench of madness within the gates was more pronounced than ever before. There was now almost no difference between politics, news and pure entertainment. Pundits debated which celebrities would perform at the inauguration – was Trump offering ambassadorships to agents who could secure major talent – would the Radio City Rockettes show up? – while over a thousand incidents of hate speech and attacks were reported.
Even as Trump was raising an “unpresidented” collection of Neo-Nazis, government-haters and mad dog warmongers out of the swamp to cabinet positions and making it clear that his primary enemy would be China, the media was normalizing him and his racist thugs. Meanwhile, Obama doubled down on the theme of Russian hackers with unsubstantiated allegations from the CIA, imposed sanctions on Russia’s intelligence services and expelled 35 Russian diplomats, including the chef of the San Francisco Consulate. Legions of Clinton supporters, egged on by most of the “respectable” media, flooded social media with a narrative that resolutely refused to examine any of the real reasons for her defeat.
In mythic terms – only mythic terms will do – a very low-quality Dionysus had flung open the gates of Thebes, destroyed the palace and the prison and let loose the madness.
Trump posted the usual circus of Twitter innuendos, met with Kanye West, then, with Don King at his side waving an Israeli flag, casually dismissed all criticism. In a televised interview Julian Assange stated that the source of the damning Clinton emails was a Clinton insider, not Russia, but the media ignored him.
Half of Trump supporters still believed that Obama was born in Kenya, even though Trump himself had disavowed the claim. Six in ten of them believed that millions of illegal votes had been cast in the recent election. A quarter of Clinton voters agreed, and about half of them also believed that Russia tampered with the actual vote tallies to help elect Trump, a claim that Obama had specifically disavowed. And “…lest we forget, wrote Michel Chossudovsky,
…the leaked emails revealed that the DNC was busy undermining Bernie Sanders’ candidacy during the primaries through various corrupt and fraudulent practices including smear campaigns directed against Bernie.
This was almost all terribly bad news for those who still hope for the resurrection of American democracy, and not simply the growing acceptance that Trump would be President in three weeks.
Sadly, it was clear that the Democrats were resolved to ignore the evidence of their increasing irrelevancy, as they kept Nancy Pelosi and rest of the old guard in place and even elevated the warmonger and “Senator from Wall Street” Chuck Schumer to Senate minority leader – precisely the worst possible leader, wrote Jon Schwarz, at the worst possible time. The New York Times offered its usual sage advice, repeating what it had been saying for forty years: to win next time, the Democrats should move to the right. With several of their senators facing serious re-election challenges in 2018, this was a prescription for political suicide.
There are many other scenarios swirling around. In one, writes Michael Niman,
There is a chance that Donald Trump will be impeached. If so, the Republicans will lead the effort, and it will probably take place within a year of his inauguration. At that point, the ultra-“conservative” Republican establishment will get what it could never accomplish at the polls – President Mike Pence.
There were those who wondered whether Trump had picked Pence back in August as “impeachment insurance,” noting that the Democrats would certainly think twice about removing Trump with Pence as the only alternative.
Assange asserted that Trump really is an outsider to the Washington (if not the Wall Street) elite, and that he was creating
…a weak structure which is displacing and destabilizing the pre-existing central power network within D.C. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better.
Oy vay. What’s the best possible scenario, at least for those who are not entirely and permanently disenchanted by the two-party system? Is there hope for a revived, progressive Democratic Party? Certainly not if the old guard remains in place. Something else has to emerge. Charles Eisenstein writes:
For the last eight years it has been possible for most people (at least in the relatively privileged classes) to believe that society is sound, that the system, though creaky, basically works, and that the progressive deterioration of everything from ecology to economy is a temporary deviation from the evolutionary imperative of progress…A Clinton Presidency would have offered four more years of that pretense. A woman President following a black President would have meant to many that things are getting better. It would have obscured the reality of continued neoliberal economics, imperial wars, and resource extraction behind a veil of faux-progressive feminism.
Hazem Salem writes,
Hillary Clinton has given us back our freedom. Only such a crushing defeat could break the chains that bound us to the New Democrat elites. The defeat was the result of decades of moving the Democratic party…away from what it once was and should have remained: a party that represents workers. All workers…So here is our silver lining. This is a revolutionary moment. We must not allow them to shift the blame on to voters. This is their failure, decades in the making. And their failure is our chance to regroup. To clean house in the Democratic party, to retire the old elite and to empower a new generation of FDR Democrats, who look out for the working class – the whole working class.
Naomi Klein adds:
Trump’s message was: “All is hell.” Clinton answered: “All is well.” But it’s not well – far from it…Neo-fascist responses to rampant insecurity and inequality are not going to go away. But what we know from the 1930s is that what it takes to do battle with fascism is a real left. A good chunk of Trump’s support could be peeled away if there were a genuine redistributive agenda on the table. An agenda to take on the billionaire class with more than rhetoric, and use the money for a green new deal. Such a plan could create a tidal wave of well-paying unionized jobs, bring badly needed resources and opportunities to communities of color, and insist that polluters should pay for workers to be retrained and fully included in this future…It could fashion policies that fight institutionalized racism, economic inequality and climate change at the same time. It could take on bad trade deals and police violence, and honor indigenous people as the original protectors of the land, water and air.
Many progressive writers including Sanders, however, seem to be focusing primarily on domestic issues, important as they are, without acknowledging the elephant in the living room: the American Empire, its fundamental, mendacious immorality, its astonishing wastefulness, its environmental destruction, its support for brutal dictatorships, its colonization of the minds of millions of young men desperate for real initiation, and the fact that it is by far the primary cause – both by design and by effect – of terrorist violence and the ongoing epidemic of fear that motivates support for reactionary politicians. Add that criticism to your picture of a reformed Democratic Party and we’re in business! May it be so!
Noam Chomsky teaches about two views of democracy, exemplified by Aristotle and James Madison. Both agreed that if we have full democracy, the poor will eventually unite and take away the property of the rich. Aristotle’s solution was to reduce inequality. Madison, articulating the basic contradiction of American mythology, argued that the solution was to reduce democracy. But American myth gave us our demographics, and long-term demographic changes will lead to the collapse of the myth of Innocence, if we can survive long enough. Here are the facts:
1 – Voters over the age of 45 opted for Trump by nine points. But white people, angry or not, are dying off while people of color are increasing, even in the flyover states.
2 – Young people with each generation care less and less for the racist, homophobic, misogynistic, militaristic, climate-denying, puritanical and fundamentalist rhetoric of their elders. They don’t care about your sexuality, your drug habits or who you sleep with. They see and feel the contradictions and the suffering of the world better than their parents.
And if they can identify candidates worth voting for, they get engaged in the electoral process. They are, after all, about rebirth and renewal. Although Clinton lacked Sanders’ personal appeal or any progressive intentions whatsoever, even she carried the under-30 vote by an 18-point margin – and in the primaries Sanders collected more youth votes than Clinton and Trump combined.
Here’s a map of the Electoral College results if only those aged 18-25 voted in November (from a poll done a week before the election, and it may not even include all those non-resident college students who were not allowed to vote where they went to school:
This is not a universally rosy picture of the future, as Chauncey DeVega writes, but it seems generally to be the case. And it’s our only hope. May it be so. Eisenstein writes:
We are entering a space between stories. After various retrograde versions of a new story rise and fall and we enter a period of true unknowing, an authentic next story will emerge. What would it take for it to embody love, compassion, and interbeing? I see its lineaments in those marginal structures and practices that we call holistic, alternative, regenerative, and restorative. All of them source from empathy, the result of the compassionate inquiry: What is it like to be you?
Our migrations, geographic and emotional, have brought us to the very edge. In the words of the Beat poet Lew Welch: This is the last place. There is nowhere else to go.
As I suggested, Dionysus has flung open the gates of Thebes, destroyed the palace and the prison and let loose the madness. Trump is a classic con man, and in that sense, he embodies an aspect of the Trickster archetype. He is, of course, no Pentheus; he is neither young (except in his emotional immaturity) nor a King. He will soon, however, revert to what he really symbolizes: the outmoded, destructive values of the old House of Thebes that, in its delusions of divinity, would slaughter its own children.
But as a very low-quality Dionysus, he has enacted an apocalypse – he has lifted the veil and shown us the truth of who we actually are, when we are at our worst. There’s no hiding now from ourselves. For that we must thank him and Clinton too, for being so incompetent. The simple truth is that we must know who we are at our worst before we can begin to imagine who we might be at our best. Now it’s up to us. As the God says at the end of The Bacchae:
And if you had known how to be wise when you did not wish to be, you would have acquired Zeus’ son as an ally, and would now be happy.