† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, and author of The School-to- Prison Pipeline: Education, Discipline and Racialized Double Standards, is the Editor of CI. Kay Whitlock, co-author of Queer (In)Justice and Considering Hate, is co-founder of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm CST.
The Electoral Abyss of 2016
by nancy a heitzeg
“Beware that, when fighting monsters, you yourself do not become a monster… for when you gaze long into the abyss. The abyss gazes also into you.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
The Great/Evil Man Theory of History has well-documented limitations yet persistent appeal. A complex and structurally embedded set of historical circumstances is reduced to the presence/absence of just One Man (and yes it is almost always a man): Caesar, Churchill, Lincoln, Lenin, Hitler, Hussein, and (Yeah We Killed) Osama bin Laden. This reductionist view resonates, as it denies the systemic foundations that make the ascendancy of these men possible, enshrines individualism, and creates the opportunity for all sorts of speculative yet odious chit chat. You know, would you kill Baby Hitler??
The Great/Evil Man Theory of History is particularly enticing in the USA, where cultural myths of “rugged individualism” and “boot-strapping” attempt to render the white supremacist capitalist patriarchy mere fairy dust on a daily basis. So no surprise then, that the troubles of our current electoral moment are reduced to the person of one Donald J. Trump.
What is surprising is the extent to which this narrative is now pushed – not just by the media which made him and now seeks to undo him – but by the Democratic Party. The DNC convention of last week was a singular attack on Trump, detaching him from the most extremist GOP in recent memory, including even his VP choice, the misogynist extraordinaire, Mike Pence. We all know how horrible Trump is — some of us have known since the 1980s. But he defeated 17 GOP contenders, and he was nominated by the party, which has been race-baiting and woman-hating for eons. Trump’s birtherism propelled his rising GOP star, and he is a product of an anti-intellectual GOP which stokes xenophobia and nationalism relentlessly. Trump is no outlier. He is, however, the designated Evil Man/Monster of this moment.
Whatever one might think of the Democrat’s strategy of decoupling Trump from the past 8 years of GOP obstructionism and bile, one must certainly question the antidote offered as an alternative to him.. The DNC offered representational diversity, better speeches, and high production values, yes, but the central message was an American Dream grounded in money and militarism. It was messaging — right down to the selection of milquetoast missionary man Tim Kaine as VP — designed for the Right: The Democrats are the true Republicans now, after all.
The rhetoric of the right is co-opted and sadly so are the tactics too. The Democratic attacks on Trump have relied on billionaires and Red-Baiting, love of Bloomberg and fears of Russia, finger-wagging at nude photos of Melania, and the embrace of Generals and old CIA spooks. Worse still, in order to get here, the Clinton Campaign had to put down a visionary left and millions of energized new voters who wanted no more of the same. The voter suppression tactics, usually associated with the GOP (see recent court rulings on North Carolina, Texas and Wisconsin) were widely adopted by the pro-Clinton DNC. This report from Election Justice USA details a sordid laundry list of irregularities in the 2016 Democratic Primaries.
These tactics feed exactly into a long-running Trump narrative of “rigged systems” – be it the GOP efforts to deny him the nomination, his futile appeals to get Sanders supporters to join him after the “rigged” Democratic primaries, and more recent claims that if he will have lost to voter fraud “November 8th, we’d better be careful, because that election is going to be rigged.” Even 6 months ago, these claims of Democratic voter fraud would have been laughable, but given recent revelations of DNC corruption, for perhaps the first time. given Trump’s largely fact-free existence, we will be tempted to ask “Where’s the lie?”
So here we are in the Electoral Abyss of 2016. In the elections past, CI has weighed in regularly on polling and voting rights, to ask for breathing room. Certainly, we will always say Vote. It is one of the few rights, albeit contested, that we actually have. Many are touted, but few are real and this one is. There are state and local elections that will effect the daily well-being of many, there are movements seeking still to make meaning, make local politics matter.
But beyond this, what else is really left to say here? The polls are a fluctuating, manufactured mess; Nate Silver is out here running on luck and fumes, still trying to explain away how his “model” predicting a 99% chance of a Clinton victory in Michigan berned up before his eyes. More than 30 states have new voting restrictions and we are in the first major election since the gutting of the Voting Rights Act.
Donald Trump will triple-down — yesterday alone he continued attacking the family of a slain Muslim American soldier, called Hillary Clinton “the devil”, refused to endorse for re-election GOP leaders who have criticized him, and ejected a crying baby from a rally. Hillary Clinton will ignore the progressive Democratic Party Platform, continue to reach out to Republicans and hold her breathe as she waits for the next Wikileaks document dump to drop. If these two most unpopular politicians ever are still at the top of the ticket come November, then our choice will be raw fascism or a new neo-liberal/neo-con corporate alliance.
The party is over, and so too, almost, this crumbling Empire.
May the odds be ever in your favor.