In this issue of ‘Banter M’:
The Rise of The Human Politician – Ben Cohen looks at the dramatic surge of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders in the US – two politicians who appear to be real human beings.
Trump’s Exploitation of the GOP’s Racist Southern Strategy is as Effective as Ever – Bob Cesca examines Donald Trump’s cynical use of racism to gain support for his presidential campaign
To Live and Die Apathetically in L.A. – Chez Pazienza muses about living in a city of blissful, perpetual apathy.
The Rise of The Human Politician
by Ben Cohen
In Britain and America, leftist candidates are surging in the polls in bids to lead their respective parties. In Britain, Jeremy Corbyn is handily winning the Labour party leadership contest, and in America, Bernie Sanders is in with a very good chance of taking the Democratic primary and leading his party in the general election. Corbyn and Sanders are throwbacks to 1970’s liberalism – an era where social welfare spending, support of labour, and financial regulation were not only acceptable to discuss, but actual policy in Britain and the US. After decades of neoliberal orthodoxy and the ridiculing of Keynesian economics, the rise of Corbyn and Sanders marks an important shift in the political Zeitgeist and offers hope for an alternative to the status quo.
The re-emergence of these two figures has many in the party establishment in both Labour and the Democrats extremely worried given both men would struggle against their right wing counterparts in a general election. Labour MP Yvette Cooper and Hillary Clinton are favored by their respective establishments, with both women deemed more viable against David Cameron or Donald Trump. The anxiety is so deep that major party figures have come out and penned urgent articles pleading with liberals to back centrist candidates. Wrote Tony Blair in the Guardian:
There is a politics of parallel reality going on, in which reason is an irritation, evidence a distraction, emotional impact is king and the only thing that counts is feeling good about it all.
So when people like me come forward and say elect Jeremy Corbyn as leader and it will be an electoral disaster, his enthusiastic new supporters roll their eyes. Neil Kinnock, Gordon Brown and I have collectively around 150 years of Labour party membership. We’re very different. We disagree on certain things. But on this we’re agreed.
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And Barney Frank in Politico:
Republicans fear that if Hillary Clinton is nominated fairly easily, while they are locked in a bitter, lengthy, ideologically charged series of primaries with a large cast of characters of varying degrees of plausibility, she gets a head start for the real fight.
Of course Republicans recognize that at its most vigorous, a debate between Clinton and Sanders on how — not whether — to toughen financial regulation or diminish income inequality will fall decibels short of the fundamental arguments between Ted Cruz and Jeb Bush on immigration, Lindsey Graham and Rand Paul on military intervention, Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee against many others on how sharply to press against same-sex marriage, and Donald Trump and all of the others on the role of rational discussion in politics. But they believe boosting Sanders’ candidacy is their only way to prevent Clinton emerging as the nominee with broad support early in the process, strengthening her position in November.
They are correct.
Activists detest this type of thinking – cautious pragmatism has no place in the mind of a passionate liberal. To them, leaders should say how the feel and act how they want rather than negotiate or carefully build consensus. To the more seasoned observer, strategy is paramount and there should be little room for emotion when making difficult decisions.
This is the age old conundrum faced by political parties throughout the ages – too much passion but not enough pragmatism is self defeating while too much pragmatism and not enough passion is uninspiring. Neither are winning formulas for taking power and keeping it. If the party establishments in Labour and the Democrats got their way and handed the leadership contest to Yvette Cooper and Hillary Clinton they would lose a significant amount of an excited base, motivated by an opportunity to move away from the corporatist center that has rendered true liberalism dead since the election of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan over 30 years ago.
But times are changing, and Corbyn and Sanders represent a new type of politician, marking a huge shift in public perception of our leaders and who they want to represent them in office. We may now be entering an era when real human beings are preferred over coiffed mannequins who will say and do anything to get elected.
In the modern media age, politicians barely resemble human beings – their image carefully crafted, their appearances highly staged, and their rhetoric focus group tested and designed to play with a target demographic. This culminated in the labored election of Mitt Romney to the Republican leadership in 2012, a sad flail from a dying party in such dire straights that a Mormon hedge fund manager was its best bet to take the White House.
The public isn’t oblivious to all this and voter participation has broadly declined over the past 60 years – a damning indictment of just how meaningless politics has become for most people. When a politician emerges who appears, for all intents and purposes, to function like an actual person, it is a big deal.
Jeremy Corybyn and Bernie Sander aren’t exciting politicians. Their rhetorical flare is middling at best, and each possesses the charisma of an aging Bingo announcer. But they are normal human beings, running on a platform of sensible, humane, progressive policies. More importantly, they appear to be honest – a truly shocking evolution in the mass media age where spin and calculated sound bytes reign.
Here was Corbyn talking about the ignored reality of crony capitalism:
Without exception, the majority electricity, gas, water and railway infrastructures of Britain were built through public investment since the end of WWII and were all privatised at knock-down prices for the benefit of greedy asset-strippers by the Thatcher and Major-led Tory governments.
And here was Sanders
We got a collapsing middle class. We have more wealth and income inequality today than we’ve had since the 1920s. We have all of these enormous issues. And what big money can do is put an unbelievable amount of TV and radio ads out there to deflect attention from the real issues facing the American people.
To anyone reasonably well informed about the functioning of the modern capitalist state and the corruption of the electoral system, this isn’t exactly a huge revelation. But when was the last time you heard a viable politician talking about it? The socialization of risk and the privatization of profit is the unspoken hypocrisy of modern capitalism, yet no one dares mention it for fear of upsetting the status quo. Wealth inequality is another huge issue and big monied interests spends an insane amount in order to distract people from it (they built an entire news network around it for heaven’s sake).
Centrist candidates will sometimes allude to these malignant contradictions in our respective democracies, but never explicitly given their reliance on corporate support to get elected and stay in office. It is worth mentioning that Hillary Clinton’s donors are massively dominated by corporate interests, whereas Bernie Sanders’ top donors come largely from labor unions. Clinton may pay lip service to reforming the political system, but as the age old saying goes: you don’t bite the hand that feeds you.
This is not to say that politicians like Yvette Cooper or Hillary Clinton would be bad for their respective countries. On the contrary, they would be infinitely better than their conservative counterparts, who are embarking on (or trying to) a radical transformation of the state into a perfect haven for corporate interests. The conservative party in Britain is pledging to cut over £12 billion a year in welfare spending over the next three years – a truly shocking number given the dramatic risein child poverty and huge increase in wealth inequality. In America, the Republicans have engaged in a form of vicious warfare against the poor for the past 30 years. When not in the White House, they have engaged in obstructionism by blocking everything Democrats have tried to do to alleviate suffering, decrease wealth inequality, and provide services to those in need. Should they get into power, there is no reason to doubt a more extreme version of George W. Bush conservatism would be on the cards – a truly frightening proposition that would plunge millions more Americans into unmanageable poverty and despair.
While inspiration matters, so does providing basic government services and altering the tax code to pay for it. Hillary Clinton and Yvette Cooper may not have activists excited, but their policies would help millions of people.
Is possible that Corbyn and Sanders could win general elections in Britain and America and move their countries leftwards in a dramatic way? While the broad consensus says no, their trajectory is already extremely unlikely, so it isn’t necessarily wise to listen to the purveyors of conventional wisdom. So we can hope.
Even if Corbyn and Sanders lose, their resurgence from the political fringes is a cause for optimism. We no longer need charismatic politicians to inspire hope and clear a path for meaningful change – we just want normal.
Trump’s Exploitation of the GOP’s Racist Southern Strategy is as Effective as Ever
by Bob Cesca
Just over five years ago, the chairman of the Republican National Committee confessed that his party had actively employed a strategy of race-baiting and stoking racial tensions known as the “Southern Strategy.” Then-chairman Michael Steele said in a meeting with 200 students at DePaul University, “For the last 40-plus years we had a ‘Southern Strategy’ that alienated many minority voters by focusing on the white male vote in the South.”
The origins of the Southern Strategy reach back to the origins of the United States, with the Civil War as a distinct focal point. Southern “fire-eaters” proselytized about slave revolts and miscegenation, scaring whites just enough to perpetuate ongoing support for legal slavery. Post-war, similar voices demonized freed blacks as a common enemy of both Southern and Northern whites. The “Lost Cause” mythology was the first real manifestation of a deliberate strategy to characterize blacks as enemies of white civilization. As we’ve detailed here before, white culture manufactured stereotypes for blacks that included painting them as rapists, layabouts, drug-addicts and criminals.
In response to the passage of the Civil Rights and Voting Rights acts, the GOP and the Nixon White House set about politicizing and modernizing the old fire-eater rhetoric in order to spark white voter turnout in the South. The process involved cleverly coded language. The infamous Reagan/Bush strategist Lee Atwater described the racial code-language like so:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.”
Fast forward to the era of Donald Trump politics — of Fox News racial framing. The modern manifestations of “nigger, nigger, nigger” are dog-whistles like “religious freedom,” “border fence,” “papers please,” “birth certificate,” “illegals,” and “thugs.” Naturally, this applies to all news sets of “others” beside African-Americans. Now it’s Mexicans, the LGBT community and, as always, women.
And one thing’s for sure: Trump knows where his Republican bread is buttered. As we reported here at the Banter earlier this week, a new poll shows that Trump’s people are ready and willing to be suckered by the racial politics of the Southern Strategy.
Public Policy Polling:
Our new poll finds that Trump is benefiting from a GOP electorate that thinks Barack Obama is a Muslim and was born in another country, and that immigrant children should be deported. 66% of Trump’s supporters believe that Obama is a Muslim to just 12% that grant he’s a Christian. 61% think Obama was not born in the United States to only 21% who accept that he was. And 63% want to amend the Constitution to eliminate birthright citizenship, to only 20% who want to keep things the way they are.
Trump’s beliefs represent the consensus among the GOP electorate. 51% overall want to eliminate birthright citizenship. 54% think President Obama is a Muslim. And only 29% grant that President Obama was born in the United States. That’s less than the 40% who think Canadian born Ted Cruz was born in the United States.
Again, notice how more Republicans believe the white politician who was born in Canada, Ted Cruz, was actually born in the United States, while the black politician who was born in the U.S. is believed to have been born elsewhere — clearly because he’s black and has an “exotic” name. In seven years, this hasn’t changed a lick. It’s clearly just as prevalent now as it was when, during the 2008 primaries, pundits from Mark Halperin to Pat Buchanan to Bill O’Reilly wondered out loud whether a man named “Barack Hussein Obama” could ever be president with such a weird name and allegedly dubious origin story. (Cokie Roberts once said Hawaii wasn’t “real America.” Other pundits routinely referred to Obama as “Osama.”) Whether deliberate or accidental, it all played into the notion of an African-American man as The Other. The Southern Strategy amplified with a heaping of “possible terrorist sleeper cell” added to the mix.
Indeed, it wasn’t merely the fringe crackpots who launched the Birther movement, the traditional press helped it along. The aforementioned Mark Halperin, writing for Time Magazine of all things, wrote this in 2008:
“Emphasize Barack Hussein Obama’s unusual name and exotic background through a Manchurian Candidate prism.”
In other words, McCain should’ve said Obama was a terrorist sleeper or the bringer of Shari’a Law. Fortunately, McCain sidestepped the advice, but his running mate Sarah Palin couldn’t speak into a microphone without telling anyone paying attention that he “palled around with terrorists.” Palin’s crowds, by the way, were composed of proto-tea party people with blindingly racist ideas about the would-be president.
Back to Trump. The PPP numbers aren’t indicative of Trump manufacturing these (totally false) ideas about Obama’s origins, but they’re proof enough indicating that Trump’s strategy of demonizing Mexicans is well-played. He’s giving his people what they want to hear. Consequently, we’re being told that #BlackLivesMatter is somehow a “hate group.” We’re seeing other GOP candidates siding with Kentucky clerk Kim Davis in her foolish crusade against same-sex marriage and the rule of law. Meanwhile, Trump’s efforts continue with a “Willie Horton” style ad targeting Jeb Bush, not to mention how he attacked Bush this week for speaking Spanish.
As long as there’s an audience for this horseshit, the GOP will continue to exploit the bigotry of nearly two-thirds of its voters while brazenly lying about the very existence of the Republican racism. Five years after the RNC chairman both acknowledged and apologized for the Southern Strategy, it’s alive and well and just as effective as ever.
To Live and Die Apathetically in L.A.
by Chez Pazienza
I took my kid to a baseball game the other night. She’d been bugging me to go back to Dodger Stadium ever since we went to a game last season and had the time of our lives: She got to scarf down cotton candy and a hot dog, while I got to sit next to my daughter and explain baseball to her. It’s the week before she heads back to school so our game date this time around was part of a weeklong daddy-daughter extravaganza that also included bike-riding along the beach in Santa Monica and lunch at her favorite mac-and-cheese place in West Hollywood. The game, though, was the highlight and it didn’t disappoint. The Dodgers managed to beat the Giants in 14 innings in what turned out to be a white-knuckle ride for almost the entire length of the game. But for a time at least, the better show was in the stands — specifically a row of seats about five ahead of us, just spitting distance from Giants right-fielder Marlon Byrd.
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Maybe the chance to sit close to Byrd was what brought out so many Giants fans to one particular row just above the field, but there they were. I never would’ve pegged San Francisco for a city with obnoxious fans — it’s just not a J-E-T-S-Jets! Jets! Jets! kind of town — but these people were that and so much more. They stood, turned around and laughed loudly at the home crowd whenever the Giants scored or otherwise kept the Dodgers in check. They shouted down everyone around them. In a stadium full of rowdy baseball fans, at least some of whom had had a little too much to drink, they seemed to be the rowdiest, at least within a several section radius — especially one particular young woman who seemed to be the world’s biggest Giants fan. Look, sports are sports. A intrastate rivalry like the one between the Dodgers and Giants breeds friendly and sometimes not-so-friendly feuding among the fans, but this 20-something girl was, if you’ll pardon the pun, in a league of her own.
Between the taunts, the mockery and the howls of laughter, the stocky, brunette Giants fan in the front row was a one-woman show — and it didn’t take long for everyone around her to decide that they’d had enough. After a couple innings of her antics, somebody a couple of seats behind her finally shouted, “Sit down and shut up!,” then, to the guy next to her within her group, “Dude, shut her up.” Considering the overall section’s level of disapproval of this obnoxious interloper — we bleed Dodger blue, after all — most people who could hear this latter comment laughed at it. The woman herself, however, most certainly did not. She had a slightly different response. “What did you say? You’re telling a man to shut me up? That’s misogynist.”
As soon as that word came out of her mouth, for me personally, it hit the floor like an anvil and caused my eyes to involuntarily roll so hard that I could probably see inside my head. Not because there’s isn’t plenty of misogyny in the world — there is — and I worry about it for my daughter, despite her smart, tough and funny way of looking at life. More because the way this woman casually threw it out there — and used it interchangeably with regular old crass “sexism,” something people in left-wing identity politics circles tend to do without a second thought — at the first sign of a perceived slight made me feel like I was watching a Twitter fight come to life. The guy she was talking to ignored her, but she didn’t let up, pointing toward a couple of admittedly amusing duck-lipped blondes sitting a few seats over — encased in their own little bubble of laughter and selfie-love — and lashing out at them, shouting that they must be the kind of woman Los Angeles was used to. But she, on the other hand, as someone visiting from San Francisco, was not. The whole thing was so wonderfully, surreally cliché all the way around: the suddenly very serious and defensive woman from San Francisco bemoaning the vapid bimbos of L.A.
This person was of course correct that the guy with her shouldn’t have been called on to silence her, despite the fact that at the time it was kind of a funny line, considering. But immediately I realized where my loyalties lay in this fight, and it wasn’t simply an issue of feeling like I needed to defend my team or my city. It was an issue, as least from where I sat, of defending our way of life. And that way of life is this: We don’t give a fuck about anything important.
It used to be I thought that L.A.’s superficiality was something to be ashamed of and offended by. We are, after all, the town that gave you the interminable reign of the Kardashians, TMZ, and the country’s most impressive advancements in cosmetic surgery. In the endless battle between Los Angeles and its primary national rival, New York City, we’re the ones who live in a bubble of bullshit and make-believe while New York is the place where serious people live and deal with serious subjects seriously. Read any outraged think piece or hot take these days and you can be it’s probably from one of the many Millennial feminist icons-in-their-own-minds who’ve staked out Brooklyn as their official home base, being that it is, after all, the place that center of the self-important Millennial universe Lena Dunham calls home.
Los Angeles is a better city than the one I left 15 years ago. It’s more artistic, more diverse in terms of the types of people here — not culturally but in the way people think — and God knows the food scene is better. But much of it remains the same. There’s still the nearly perfect weather, the movie stars and the general dominion of the entertainment industry. This is still a city built on a lie, even if there’s some really lush history in that lie. The longer you live here the more you learn to appreciate both that lie and the pitch-black subculture that comes with it, the kind of thing illustrated so well in Chinatown. L.A.’s reputation is that it’s a town where nothing is quite as it seems, where the gorgeous sunshine of daylight gives way to something oddly sinister at night — where, as I once wrote in my book Dead Star Twilight, you’re always aware that there’s a darkness that has to exist to balance all that seductive light. But still, it’s a place where the problems of the world seem to evaporate into a cloud of glitter and surf spray. There’s no reason for anyone where to concern themselves too much with the traumas of the outside world because, well — it’s Southern California. Other than a lack of water at the moment and the fact that at any moment the ground could drop out from under your feet — what is there to worry about?
One of the reasons I left the East Coast — I spent the better part of a decade in NYC — for Los Angeles was precisely because I had hit a point in my life where I was tired of fighting. I no longer wanted the daily uphill battle that the City brought and instead, at my advancing age, I wanted 75-degrees and sunny most days. I wanted the easy life — and that’s what L.A. offers. The frets most people within my field live every second of every day in their regular lives — and certainly the concerns my friends in New York City still have to deal with — just don’t matter to me. In fact, if I didn’t work in the business I do — if I didn’t have to pay attention to the news — I’d probably do what a lot of people in L.A. do and just drop out completely. Donald Trump is running for president? Probably wouldn’t even know about it. There’s a lunatic woman in Kentucky who’s under arrest because she wants to deny rights to gay people the way her god says she should? Fuck it, let’s party in West Hollywood with drag queens instead. People are pissed about the new Taylor Swift video because it doesn’t show any black people on a recreation of a 1950’s movie set in Africa? Are you fucking kidding me? Who thinks like that?
The kind of mental isolation that Southern California often represents, that break from reality, once really bugged me. I felt like people out here were out of their minds for having no idea what was going on in the real world and being obsessed only with themselves. And then I realized that in a world that’s gone to shit, they’re totally right. Sure, in L.A. you have your hippie types who worry about the condition of the earth, but that’s at least a decent cause. You also have, needless to say, racial strife, but again — that’s a serious subject. What you don’t have for the most part is a vocal herd of angry post-graduate ninnies super-stressed about violations of politically correct orthodoxy, people sitting in their tiny apartments with turning petty grievance after petty grievance into columns at Salon and Jezebel. We just don’t have the time to do that kind of shit out here — there’s skateboarding and surfing to be done in L.A. We’re not New York or even San Francisco — we’re the city of blissful, perpetual apathy. It’s a wondrous thing.
What’s most interesting, really, is that while L.A. is accused of being an intensely narcissistic place — and let’s not quibble, it is — I’d argue that being a Brooklynite or D.C. resident and turning that status into a platform for griping on Twitter about this supposed outrage or that represents an even more obnoxious kind of narcissism. Call it intellectual narcissism. The belief that because you’re concerned with each and every alleged offense against whatever slice of the identity politics pie you feel needs defending at any moment, you’re a smarter, better person than those not overwhelmed by the grave injustices all around us demanding attention. It’s a insufferably arrogant way to live your life. Maybe self-centeredness is ugly at face value, but as long as it doesn’t manifest in telling other people what they can and can’t do or say — and unless you’re Naomi Campbell, that’s not usually a problem — it’s relatively harmless. I’ll take the comfort of the Matrix over the harsh realities and bullshit struggles, real or imagined, of the actual world any day.
Life in L.A. is all about shrugging off the stresses other people and places deal with. And I’m all about that at this point. In fact, I think there’s nobility in it, particularly when half of what people are concerning themselves with these days is horseshit.
However, we do have anti-vaxxers and word is Lena Dunham has bought a house here. Nothing’s perfect.
By the way, when my daughter asked what was going on in the rows in front of us at the game the other night, my response was, “Two silly people are arguing over nothing.” And really, isn’t that all our world is these days? This is why I like my home.