Bernie or Bust/Performative Leftism (revisited)

When I posted on the Bernie or Bust tendency a few days ago, relatively few outside of the far left had much idea of what it was. Now, following Susan Sarandon’s MSNBC interview with Chris Hayes, the thing, if not the phrase, has become a fairly common topic of discussion-or at least what passes for one during an electoral season.

To be clear, Sarandon was not within the category of those who I was characterizing as performative leftists. The reason is that unlike those whose decision to withhold their support from Clinton is exclusively and proudly affective (“I am revolted by Clinton” “I don’t vote for mass murderers.”, “Shillary is a liar and a crook who should be in jail.” etc.), Sarandon is clear about the consequences of failing to support Clinton in a Clinton/Trump or Clinton/Cruz matchup. Specifically she envisions the possibility that the election of Trump “will bring the revolution immediately . . . if he gets in, things will really explode” and she regards these consequences as potentially favorable or at least benign.

Sarandon’s position, like any other advanced during a political campaign, needs to be evaluated on two distinct albeit interactive grounds: factual and rhetorical. Most prominent of those in the first category is whether, in fact, as Sarandon suggests, “the revolution” precipitated by a far right victory is likely to result in tangible improvements in the quality of life of most Americans, including the most vulnerable.

The answer seems to me relatively certain: as a historical matter, periods of far right governance tend not to lead to revolutionary upsurges, but to intensified repression which has the effect of strengthening the hand of the neoliberal opposition which will be able to promote itself as the lesser-evil “reasonable” alternative. Furthermore, it needs to be always kept in mind that the victims of this repression will not be from the most privileged groups, but the most vulnerable. For them a Trump presidency is likely to be catastrophic.

Take, for one example, undocumented immigrants: while it is, of course, impossible to know who will staff governmental agencies under a Trump administration, Maricopa (Arizona) County Sheriff Joe Arpaio is a Trump favorite and a possible or even likely pick as ICE commissioner. It is in no way to defend the storm trooper tactics of the deporter-in-chief Obama’s ICE to note that under Arpaio they would be much worse. Anyone who denies this either is ignorant of who Arpaio is or refuses to look beyond their nose to see an oncoming train.

It’s with examples like that in mind that the other set of questions, those having to do with the rhetorical merits of the Bernie or Bust position, needs to be asked. These begin by taking for granted (probably contrary to fact) that the “revolutionary” backlash against a Trump victory would eventually benefit the most vulnerable and dispossessed sectors. Even if this were so, for this to become a viable political stance requires that they are able to convinced that it is. For example, will undocumented immigrants and their families be convinced that they have little to fear from Arpaio in charge of ICE? Will African Americans who have been verbally and physically assaulted at Trump rallies expect protection from killer cops? Will Cruz’s promises to repeal Obamacare and eliminate Social Security not intensify already metastasizing rates of poverty and homeless in African American communities?

To ask these questions is to answer them, it will be obvious to pretty much everyone. Among these are Clinton loyalist, Times columnist Charles Blow who has already denounced Sarandon’s “dangerous, shortsighted and self-immolating” speculations, which, according to him “smack of petulance and privilege.” But now, rather than having to lie, obscure or dissemble he has been provided with actual facts on which to base his usually baseless assertions about Sanders and his supporters.

It remains to be seen whether Sarandon’s statement was only a minor gaffe which will have little impact on Sanders’s increasing success with African American, Latino and other minority constituencies or something more.

But the general lesson should be clear: not only must the left build its foundation among the most oppressed and vulnerable groups, they must not leave themselves open to the perception, stoked by neoliberal propagandists like Blow, that they are doing the opposite- above it all elitists who are unconcerned or unaffected by the policies we claim to support.

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4 thoughts on “Bernie or Bust/Performative Leftism (revisited)”

  1. A Sanders inspired movement that would surrender to Hillary would only be Obama redux.

    I voted for, and donated to Sanders, not because I think Sanders can change anything, but because I believe only the intelligence and vitality of the people that support Sanders can change anything.

    I voted for Sanders in support of the people who find personal resonance with the words of Sanders.

    Only a popular movement can roll back the reactionary incursions (from Bush to Clinton to Obama) against working people. Obama put Social Security “on the table” and did record deportations, espionage prosecutions, and too many other violations of his voters trust to list here (and that should not need listing here either).

    If elections could change anything they would be illegal.

    But the will of a movement did bend a conservative Nixon to liberal policies. My faith is in a movement, not a candidate.

    Chomsky sees Nixon as a liberal, and policy-wise he was in many respects. But Nixon hated the people and was politically forced to buy them off with programs Chomsky lists in the following:

    Noam Chomsky: Richard Nixon Was ‘Last Liberal President’

    “Three Democrats have held the position of commander-in-chief since the Richard Nixon era, but if you ask philosopher Noam Chomsky, it was the 37th president and infamous Watergate casualty who was truly the last liberal to preside in the Oval Office.

    “During a discussion on HuffPost Live, Chomsky weighed in on the minimum wage debate, blaming neo-liberals for keeping talk of wage increases off the table until now. ”

    1. Elections have changed things substantially in many countries-e.g. Iran in 1953, Arbenz in Guatemala in 1954, Kirchner in Argentina, Morales in Bolivia, Chavez in Venezuela, etc.

      1. All elections are not equal.

        Elections must be able to reflect the sentiments of the people to effectively deal with the needs of the people.

        I take Emma Goldman’s statement, as I do all slogans, not as dogma, but as a point for examination and discussion, being situational. But I believe as a rule that elections do not change policy to the same degree that the broad open distrust and the calling to account of the winners of elections can.

        Calls for change must both precede and follow an election.

        Obama’s post-election dispersal of movement activity and the left’s inability to organize protests of Obama’s policies meant that the social effect that resulted in the bending Nixon’s policies toward the public interest would not be replicated under Obama.

        In an oligarchic state where access to the ballot is highly restricted by self-dealing incumbent parties, laws with respect to party ballot access (such as with the duopoly parties that legislate third party ballot access), and where a study by Gilens and Page demonstrates strong legislative representation of oligarchic interests and the non-representation of broader public interests, indicates that confidence in elections in this situation is misplaced.

        Plus, the election of Hillary will attract Republican attacks in the same fashion as did Bill Clinton’ presidency.

        When Bill Clinton and Obama were attacked strongly by the Republican Party, attacks from the left were dismissed by the Democratic Party right as merely being further attacks from the Republican right. Criticize Clinton or Obama for any rightist policy and be called a Republican by the Democratic Party right.

        This is why I voted in support of Sanders supporters and will not consider a vote for Hillary under any likely present contingency.

        I believe the people need to actively fight for their interests either in support of them or against those who would diminish them. My hope is that the election will be between candidates that will pit the electorates of both parties against the interests of both parties proper.

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