It's OK To Fall In Line – For Now

It's OK To Fall In Line – For Now

A deeply unfortunate byproduct of every election becoming an existential contest between authoritarianism and what remains of democracy is that the left cannot – for now – challenge failed Democratic orthodoxy.

This is not an admission of defeat to the forces of the disastrous centrism that has defined the Democratic Party for the past four decades. There will be a time when mainline Democrats – the folks who so sadly believe we can one day return to a pre-Trump norm – can be pushed by leftists who understand the effects of economic austerity include the creation of working people susceptible to fascist selling points (as a reminder, there are major, fundamental differences between liberals and leftists, even if far-right provocateurs like Glenn Greenwald try to lump the two together at every opportunity). There will be a time – maybe soon, maybe not – when activists and lawmakers who see the destruction wrought by late-stage capitalism must be addressed if our children and their children are to have a representative democracy go rogue and challenge mainstream Democratic ideas.

That time is not now.

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Probably this is upsetting for many Bad Faith Times readers, who have watched with rage in their hearts as Democratic Party bigwigs have chanted in unison, “Better things aren’t possible.” You are sick of congressional Democrats engaging in such pristine rules following – the stuff of losers – while their Republican colleagues observe no rules and cheat at every opportunity. You find yourself gritting your teeth as you read about Democratic lawmakers begging Republicans to operate in good faith, or worse, attempting to shame the utterly shameless conservatives who long ago dispatched with the idea of real American democracy.

The radicalization of one party in a two-party political system is no minor development. When one of two parties has committed to unraveling the underpinnings of representative democracy, anyone and everyone who opposes a lurch toward far-right authoritarianism is forced to band together. We have no choice in the matter. Does that suck for the anti-capitalist left? Yes. Yes it does. The United States is not the first democratic nation to face the fascist threat, and in other countries where centrists and leftists quarreled and refused to beat back the far right, the Bad Man has won. And once the Bad Man wins, the Bad Man does not hand over power easily. You might remember a certain recent president dispatching his cult to murder the vice president and members of Congress so he could remain in power. That, I’m afraid, was only a trial run for the next time, whenever that might be.

Overwhelmingly unpopular policies and wild-eyed conspiracy-laden discourse utterly detached from reality has made it (nearly) impossible for Republicans to win elections anymore, as we saw in the 2022 midterms, when the so-called red wave collapsed and only New York Democrats’ ineptitude allowed Republicans to capture the House by a slim margin. Republicans’ unacknowledged understanding that they can no longer win free and fair elections has forced them to find other avenues to power, such as stealing Supreme Court seats and altering state-level electoral maps and election rules to secure and hold power.

The stakes for the 2024 presidential election are as horrifically high as they were in 2020 and 2016. The American center-left coalition learned a tough lesson in 2016; many Americans learned the hard way that good and bad things are not, in fact, the same. Thankfully a correction was made before the 2020 election, which had all the markings of an emergency for those evenly nominally interested in the future of U.S. democracy. That correction, which included a massive influx of young voters, delivered a blowout defeat of Trump – a non-fatal blow to the authoritarian right.

Recently there has been a series of what I could call old-school hit pieces on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other Democratic members of Congress who ran on a platform well to the left of the average Democrat. These pieces ask why AOC and other leftist lawmakers would tow the company line on funding for Ukraine’s military defense (instead of, say, joining the Republican caucus in delivering eastern Ukraine to their political idol, Vladimir Putin). Why did AOC and congressional progressives not save the wonderful COVID-era social safety net benefits that seemed, at one point, to signal America’s embrace of European-style social democracy? How can AOC support Joe Biden when she (correctly and astutely) said in 2020 that in most developed nations, she would not be in the same party as Biden?

Is AOC supposed to lead an insurgency against the Democratic president and his backers ahead of a re-election bid against a rival begging for the blood of his political enemies? Fracturing the already-unstable, temporary center-left alliance would cause untold damage if it meant Democrats lost the support they required to oust Trump in 2020. And yes, I understand and fully acknowledge the cynicism at play. I recognize that this never-ending existential threat from the right is a gift from on high for the Democratic Party, that it doesn’t matter that the party has done precious little with their 2018 and 2020 political gains. Having a clown car of fascist freaks running the Republican Party, scaring anyone and everyone who is not hopelessly redpilled and Q-brained, is the electoral and financial gift that keeps on giving for Democrats, many of whom are perfectly fine with this nightmarish little arrangement.

But it’s not like leftists can’t challenge the Democratic status quo at the local or regional level. Thankfully, happily, we’ve seen more of that since 2018, when Bernie Sanders-aligned progressives had had enough of the Democratic pussyfooting that had landed a psychotic casino-owning, reality-show hosting billionaire in the White House. Just last year, we saw John Fetterman thumb his nose at the party’s U.S. Senate choice for Pennsylvania and win the seat with ease. Progressive ballot measures, serving as the only viable pushback against the right wing’s judicial coup, have cleaned up over the past couple years. This week in Ohio, voters rejected a Republican bid to rig ballot measures so voters would be unable to loosen unconstitutional and inhumane restrictions on abortion care. There remain myriad ways to push the Democratic Party further left on key issues without AOC and her colleagues launching a guerrilla war against Biden and the party’s power brokers ahead of the 2024 election.  

The ‘Unitary Executive’ Is Coming For Us

Republicans – whether it’s Trump or DeSantis or some other goon who grabs the GOP nomination next year – are alarmingly clear about their plans for 2025 and beyond. The party has wholeheartedly embraced the concept of a presidential dictatorship (known as the “unitary executive theory” in polite conservative circles since the mid-1980s): Stripping the Justice Department, the Federal Communications Commission, and the Federal Trade Commission of their political independence; granting the president authority not to spend funds approved by Congress; and replacing federal civil servants with political appointees committed to the larger fascist project. The Heritage Foundation, a far-right organization that has long steered Republican policymaking, has crafted a playbook that could be immediately implemented if a Republican president takes power in January 2025.

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“What we’re trying to do is identify the pockets of independence and seize them,” Russell Vought, who ran Trump’s Office of Management and Budget, told The New York Times, apparently unaware that he sounds like a two-bit comic book villain.

Concentrating power in the hands of a madman like Donald Trump or a wannabe fascist dictator like Meatball DeSantis would be catastrophic on an unfathomable scale. Our apolitical bureacracy would be charged with carrying out the right wing’s radical agenda, whether it’s the outlawing of abortion care or the rolling back of voting rights or the slow-moving genocide of transgender Americans. Such grand changes to the machinery of the federal government would box Democrats out of power for generations, at minimum. I have no doubt that federal agencies run by Trump loyalists would do whatever it took to keep their Big Sweaty Boy in the Oval Office, election results be damned. There’s no coming back from that sort of turn toward political darkness.

In the face of these horrors, how can I – a kooky socialist who despises most mainstream Democratic policies – not rally around the person who can beat back this threat, if only for now? How can I pretend this is about me and my principles and waste my vote on a third-party candidate who may or may not be working hand in hand with Republicans to ratfuck the Democrats?

I can’t and I won’t.

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