I can see it so clearly in my mind’s eye: A Democratic presidential candidate adorned in all the trappings of 21st century jingoism, using the no-holds-barred language of conservatives, bulldozing his way through Republicans and into the hearts and minds of normie voters who love this shit.
This presidential candidate – and yes, in what is apparently my reflexively misogynistic imagination, this person is a dude – would look exactly like a fascist: He would wear expensive, tailored suits, he would be fit, he would wear an American flag tie and an obnoxiously large American flag pin, his hair would be styled immaculately, and his gleaming gold watch would be all you could see. This candidate would have a million watt smile and the heartlessness of a killer (in the political sense).
And this candidate – a fine mix of Homelander from The Boys, California Governor Gavin Newsome, and Barack Obama – would deploy this carefully crafted artifice to beat back the rising tide of fascism in the United States and push for the necessary and radical changes to our failing institutions.
It would be an experiment in how the left could use bad-faith politics to its advantage. My imagining of this leftists-in-fascist’s clothing kicked into overdrive after seeing I was not alone in wondering how the American left can leverage the right’s incredibly (and maddeningly) effective language and tactics against enemies of freedom and fairness and policies that would create dignified lives for working folks. People on BlueSky – where I’m primarily posting these days – see the limits to the language we use to label those who hate others for their immutable traits.
The Democratic presidential candidate of my imagination would, aesthetically, turn off much of the American left. This candidate would look and sound exactly like an asshole. He would be everyone you hated in high school, only worse, because the assholes in high school never had any power and weren’t aspiring to the most prominent office on the planet. This candidate would often come off as pompous and cocksure and maybe even reactionary. Folks online would describe this person as "problematic." But can I tell you who loves that shit, who eats it up like manna from heaven? Political normies.
It’s these normies who would be the target of said candidate. He would lure them in with the image and the swagger and the psychotic Patrick Bateman smile and he would talk the talk of a radical left-wing politician bound and determined to fundamentally shift the country toward a fairer and freer path – a path we cannot access without systemic, lasting changes to the foundational aspects of our country. This president would call Republicans “enemies of freedom” and ask why they hate hard-working American families, and this president wouldn’t be wrong in that label or that question. For as much bad faith as this experiment requires, the end results would largely be good-faith political discourse about the American right wing, which despises the country in every meaningful way. Infecting normies with this discourse would be key in changing the way we talk about left and right, Democrats and Republicans. Changing the Normie Mind is essential to shifting away from our current path winding toward full blown fascism. You have to change the thinking of folks who call Trump "Mr. Cheeto" or whatever before you achieve anything worthwhile.
Image is all that matters in politics. We have been programmed to favor – to desire – stories and people we could imagine on the big screen. Our dreams and aspirations have been inserted into our brains, and they look an awful lot like a big fat blockbuster movie.
You can pick any point in modern American political history and see this in action: JFK as a republic-reviving character straight out of a Hollywood strict; Ronald Reagan, a bumbling, incurious moron, presented as the defender of the western world straight out of a Hollywood strict; George W. Bush, the prototypical failson, a deeply and proudly ignorant man, taking on the Hollywood-scripted role of wartime leader; Barack Obama, the somewhat radical politics of his youth wiped away, given to us as a unifying politician straight out of a West Wing script, someone who represented the End of Racism and, even more, the End of Politics. Then there's Donald Trump, a make-believe billionaire mobster who played a successful businessman on reality TV and won the presidency with those credentials.
The candidate of my imagination would only be a continuation of these Hollywood stories come to life. This candidate, like all the presidents mentioned above, would take our dreams and sell them back to us for a fee, for a vote. He would have no qualms about expanding the Supreme Court, calling out right-wing justices by name and labeling them the Enemy of the People and whatnot. My imaginary candidate would stack the judiciary until every Republican gerrymander was wiped off the map and then prioritize statehood for D.C. and Puerto Rico, guaranteeing a permanent Democratic majority in the Senate (doing away with gerrymanders would all but guaranteed a permanent Democratic House majority, like we had for half a century before the mid-90s).
Structural advantages put into place, a right to abortion, a right to health care, the right to a livable wage and drinkable water and quality education and housing and everything else that should be guaranteed in a developed nation dedicated to justice: It would all be possible. Maybe it would not be achievable in one presidency, or even two. But the roadblocks would be removed and we could finally see a path toward a future that doesn’t evoke the darkest dystopian fiction.
Maybe this imaginary candidate won’t be imaginary forever. We can daydream.
Follow Denny Carter on BlueSky at @cdcarter13.bsky.social.