Taking US national politics too seriously can make you hopelessly stupid, hopelessly cynical, or hopelessly suicidal.
Let’s see. We had a former Black Panther, Congressman Bobby Rush, endorsing search-and-frisk Bloomberg; while Mike Will Get It Done was making AP headlines: “Bloomberg Once Blamed End of ‘Redlining’ for 2008 Collapse.” We have evangelicals adulterating my I-71 Cincinnati-Columbus drive with giant billboards listing the Ten Commandments, and warning that Hell is Real for those who break them; while they overwhelmingly support “Grab Them By The Pussy” Donald Trump, commander in chief of Commandment breaking. And we have Bernie, who once produced a documentary about his hero Eugene Debs—the real-deal socialist/anti-imperialist imprisoned for speaking out against WWI, the capitalist war of his era; yet Debs would be greatly disappointed with Bring Those F-35 Jobs to Burlington Bernie who, in 2016, campaigned for Hillary Clinton, the great pal of war criminal Henry Kissinger.
Before Bernie Bros send me more hate mail—by the way, the best written of all hate mail I receive—let me be clear: I will vote for Bernie in the Ohio primary; and in the extremely unlikely event that the oligarchy hasn’t successfully orchestrated the nomination away from him, I’ll vote for him again in November. Why Bernie?
A few words to my group—those who recognize the necessity in life of compromise, but who refuse to debase themselves by voting for evil (i.e., politicians eager to serve the oligarchy in return for self-aggrandizement). Blue Team fundamentalists have their own version of Hell is Real, which they cast me in for my sin of not participating in the 2016 Trump-Clinton horror show, for my rejecting their lesser-of-two-evils theology, for not voting for Hillary the Lesser. The 2016 Trump-Clinton choice made me enlist in the “George Carlin—Why I Don’t Vote” army. Candidate Biden, smelling even worse than Hillary to many in my group, will enlarge the non-voter army with a huge chunk of Sandernistas who will question whether Biden—the Wall Street puppet instrumental in launching the Iraq War—is a lesser evil or an equal evil compared to Trump. Blue Team fundamentalists, of course, mock my group as hopelessly immature; we mock their motto, “Vote Blue No Matter Who,” as hopelessly stupid.
Bernie—in contrast to Trump, Clinton, and Biden—does not serve the oligarchy in return for self-aggrandizement. For his entire career, Bernie has been consistent and genuine in his contempt for billionaire oligarchs and in his concern for financially struggling people. Bernie has his hypocrisies; but he is no more hypocritical than the rest of us who, for example, demand other nations return occupied territories while denying the reality that all our homes sit on occupied Native American territory. Hypocrisy is our lifeblood. Bernie is not Gene Debs, but the overwhelming majority of us are no better than Bernie.
Not only could Bernie get deserters (such as myself) from that large army of cynical non-voters, but also deserters from Trump’s armies. While a Trump rally makes it appear that Trump has only one army, “Racist Nationalists” who will never desert him, Trump has other troops—some ready to ditch him. There are Trump soldiers who claim they don’t belong to any of the armies I will list; but most, for purposes of strategy, can be divided into the following three armies.
- The Evangelical Army
This is Trump’s largest army. According to 2016 exit polls, Trump got 81% of the evangelical vote, and evangelicals made up 26% of the entire vote. This means that of the 138 million Americans who voted for president, roughly 36 million identified as evangelicals, and that Trump got somewhere near 29 million of them. In other words, evangelicals made up approximately 46% of Trump’s 63 million total. Is it possible to get some of Trump’s huge evangelical army to—if not vote for Sanders—at least stay home and not vote?
There is a long US tradition of the devoutly religious being devoutly hypocritical and devoutly cruel and cowardly. Frederick Douglass observed, “For of all slaveholders with whom I have ever met, religious slaveholders are the worst. I have ever found them the meanest and basest, the most cruel and cowardly, of all others.” However, the devoutly religious were not all scumbag slaveholders. John Brown, who Douglass knew and admired, was devoutly religious.
There are evangelicals who are worried that Trump is hurting the evangelical brand. On December 19, 2019, before retiring as editor in chief of Christianity Today, the evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham, Mark Galli put out the following editorial: “Trump Should Be Removed from Office.” Galli proclaimed: “That he should be removed, we believe, is not a matter of partisan loyalties but loyalty to the Creator of the Ten Commandments.” Galli warned evangelicals that support for Trump damages evangelical credibility:
To the many evangelicals who continue to support Mr. Trump in spite of his blackened moral record, we might say this: Remember who you are and whom you serve. Consider how your justification of Mr. Trump influences your witness to your Lord and Savior. Consider what an unbelieving world will say if you continue to brush off Mr. Trump’s immoral words and behavior in the cause of political expediency. If we don’t reverse course now, will anyone take anything we say about justice and righteousness with any seriousness for decades to come? Can we say with a straight face that abortion is a great evil that cannot be tolerated and, with the same straight face, say that the bent and broken character of our nation’s leader doesn’t really matter in the end?. . . It will crash down on the reputation of evangelical religion and on the world’s understanding of the gospel.
Using Galli’s words in a Biden campaign would ring hollow; Trump armies know that Biden too has a blackened moral record (called a “corruption problem” in the Guardian). But Bernie could use Galli’s words to put the attack-dog Trump and other Republican office seekers on their heels.
Beyond using Galli’s words, there may be some fun ways to get evangelicals to worry that supporting Trump is costing them their kids’ respect. Check out the 3 minute video: “Why Trump Curses: If The Trump Administration Were A Movie, It Would Be Rated?” One 15 second spot could use a 7 second segment from this video (from the 43 to the 50 second mark) of Trump growling: “You’re not going to raise that fuckin’ price, you understand me? Listen you motherfuckers, we’re going to tax you 25%”; add another 8 seconds showing parents taking their young children to church with a voiceover stating: “How do I explain to my children why I voted for this man? Social-network this 15-second spot everywhere. Or utilize Trump’s tweet attempt to be as loving as Jesus: “Every time I speak of the haters and losers I do so with great love and affection. They cannot help the fact that they were born fucked up!”—makes for a nice poster.
Evangelical support for Trump is, in large part, based on Trump’s Machiavellian opposition to abortion. It is naïve to think that the majority of evangelicals are like Galli, caring more about evangelical credibility than abortion, but there are some evangelicals such as Galli. And it will take only a relative handful to turn the tide. With Hillary lowering the Dem 2016 turnout in key states, Trump won Michigan’s 16 electoral votes by 10,704; Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes by 22,748; and Pennsylvania’s 20 electoral votes by 44,292. That’s 46 electoral votes by a total of 77,744 votes. If Trump had not won those 46 electoral votes, the Blue Team would have won.
- The Shit-Life Syndrome Army
Unlike evangelicals, there was no exit polling asking voters if they self-identify as a “shit-life syndrome” sufferer. In a piece earlier this year, “‘Shit-Life Syndrome,’” Trump Voters, and Clueless Dems,” I quoted the 2019 Brookings Institution findings: “53 million Americans between the ages of 18 to 64—accounting for 44% of all workers—qualify as ‘low-wage.’ Their median hourly wages are $10.22, and median annual earnings are about $18,000”; and I used Will Hutton’s 2018 Guardian definition of “shit-life syndrome”: “Poor working-age Americans of all races are locked in a cycle of poverty and neglect, amid wider affluence. . . . It is not just poverty, but growing relative poverty in an era of rising inequality, with all its psychological side-effects, that is the killer.”
Of course, not all Americans who are financially suffering, in physical misery and psychological despair, are Trump voters. There are Trump-hating penniless antifa anarchists, some sleeping on the streets of our cities. Among non-white Americans who are financially suffering, physically miserable and psychologically desperate, almost none are in Trump’s army.
Trump’s shit-life syndrome army is predominantly white and rural. I live in Cincinnati in Hamilton County, which went for Hillary; but 80 of Ohio’s 88 counties—rural, white, and mostly poorer ones—went for Trump, which helped give him Ohio by over 400,00 votes. Drive through rural sections of Ohio or its bordering states that also went for Trump—Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and Indiana—and you won’t find any Starbucks, but you can’t miss shit-life syndrome. And Alabama writer Curtis Price, in “‘Shit-Life Syndrome’ (Oxycontin Blues),” describes the syndrome in the Deep South.
If you are suffering from shit-life syndrome, it’s difficult to not feel like a victim. Suffering anarchists know that they are victims of billionaire oligarchs and socialism for the rich. Trump’s shit-life syndrome sufferers see themselves as victims as well, with many of them agreeing that they have been victimized by establishment politicians; though Trump’s army is certainly not on the same page with anarchists or socialists about other sources of their victimization.
In my previous piece, I recommended the Dems attempt to get a few of Trump’s shit-life army to stay home on Election Day by reminding them of how Trump betrayed them to gain favor with the establishment; but with an ultra-establishment Biden candidacy, this tactic will fail. Bernie, in contrast, could actually get deserters from this army to vote for him, especially if he channels a younger Bernie who pulled no punches criticizing the Democratic Party establishment.
In 2016, some in this army who went on to vote for Trump had affection for Sanders. Bernie could get some of them back by connecting with their victimization, pain, and craving for some joy in their lives. Unlike Biden, candidate Bernie could say: “I know how it feels to be shafted by establishment politicians—it happened to me in 2016 and that was painful, but I beat them in 2020 and that feels great. And now I’m going to beat Trump, who has lied to you about making Mexico pay for a wall, lied about getting you decent-paying jobs, and is simply a proven liar. You deserve a decent income and healthcare. Donald Trump’s billionaire cronies should not be the only ones having fun. You work hard, you deserve joy in your life.”
- The Stock Market/Money-Grubber Fundamentalist Army
A little more than half of Americans own stock. Within this group—which includes those with $50,000 in a 401k along with those with $50 million in a hedge fund—more than a few are “one-issue voters,” caring only about the stock market. They couldn’t care less if Trump pardons Roger Stone or Charles Manson, as long as the market is up. After Trump’s first three years, the Dow Jones Industrial Average increased approximately 49%, and they were pleased with Trump. However, this army has zero loyalty, and Trump knows this; and so he is terrified of a Dow plunge before Election Day 2020. After the 2008 stock market crash, this army was pissed off enough with the Republicans that the Blue Team could get an African American elected president; and in 2012, with the Dow increasing 65% in Obama’s first term, he got re-elected.
This army does not care that Trump’s tax cuts, deregulations, and luck won’t prop up the Dow forever. They do not care that the last time a Republican got re-elected, George W. Bush, the Dow plunged 21% over his second term. Most in this group don’t even take into account getting financially screwed by gigantic health insurance deductibles or by staggering student-loan debt for themselves or their children. They are addicts hooked on the Dow. In terms of “treatment” to deal with this army of junkies, I’ve got bupkis, but damn near anybody could beat Trump if the stock market crashes badly enough.
Returning to Trump’s evangelical and shit-life syndrome armies, I cannot resist considering this farfetched fantasy—which I provide only for fun and to provoke thought:
At a Sanders televised talk, let’s get Bernie supporter Cornel West to question him: “Brother Bernie, second only to Jesus, you are now the most famous Jew in the world who loves the poor and scorns the rich. This causes me to worry. Given the reality that the U.S. oligarchy regularly takes out leaders who walk with Jesus, and that the U.S. oligarchy subverts democratically elected democratic-socialist governments around the world, isn’t it naïve to think that after you get elected, we cannot expect a coup or an assassination attempt on you? So, Brother Bernie, after we elect you president, do you have a plan to counter such a coup or crucifixion?”
Thickening his Brooklyn tough-guy accent, Bernie responds: “I’m glad you asked that, Dr. West. The simple answer is yes, I have a plan. While those CountePunch critics have for years been calling me a hypocrite for my efforts at bringing those F-35 Lightning II fighter jets to the Vermont Air National Guard, I was thinking ahead. Now that the F-35s are arriving in Vermont, I can tell you my plan. Bringing the F-35s to 158th Fighter Wing of the Vermont Air National Guard is my ‘coup insurance.’ As we speak, the Green Mountain crews who will be flying them are being trained to come to my aid if there is a coup attempt by the deep state.”
Juxtaposing Jesus with Brother Bernie may be one of my dumber vote-getting ideas, but if Bernie uses the term deep state, he could well win over enough disenchanted shit-life syndrome Trump voters to take Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and maybe even my state, Ohio.
Exiting fantasy and returning to reality, I hear the “George Carlin—Why I Don’t Vote” army laughing and predicting the following: “Dumbed-down-Dem voters will fall for the corporate media propaganda that Bernie’s Medicare for All is unaffordable making him unelectable; Biden will be the nominee; short of a stock market crash, Trump will win with ads that will persuade shit-lifers and evangelicals that Hunter Biden’s dad is even more immoral and corrupt than Trump; unlike his hero Debs, Bernie, terrified of being ostracized like Ralph Nader, won’t make a third-party run; Bernie, despite dutifully supporting Biden, will still be crucified by Blue Team fundamentalists, who will blame Bernie for Biden’s defeat because Bernie rudely brought up Biden’s stands on social security, healthcare, and trade in debates.”
And once again, Carlin cynicism will ring true again for the army of non-voters, who will again feel validated.
Bruce E. Levine, a practicing clinical psychologist, writes and speaks about how society, culture, politics and psychology intersect. His most recent book is Resisting Illegitimate Authority: A Thinking Person’s Guide to Being an Anti-Authoritarian―Strategies, Tools, and Models (AK Press). His Web site is brucelevine.net