Preparing for the Worst

Now that Hillary Clinton has finally supplied us with voting outcomes indicating that she will very, very likely be the Democratic nominee, many in the Sanders campaign has started to turn to despair. “All these people voting against their interests!” they cry. Hillary’s identity as a “machine” politician, who will say and do anything for the sake of accumulating power (take campaign funds – which are just bribes under an assumed name – from the big banks and the big corporations and the wealthy capitalists exploiting the working classes and so on), has become a cornerstone of many political arguments.

I wrote in one of yesterday’s posts that I don’t believe the folks who say they want a revolution, the people who believe that Sanders is the leader for just such a revolution, which will reject establishment economics and restore proper democracy. And this would directly contradict my self-imposed Rule #2: Believe everything. So I feel like its necessary to finesse the statement somewhat.

With that discussion in mind, I wrote the following as a Facebook status:

Been thinking today a lot about my experiences in San Francisco with the war protests and the activist scene back in 2003-04. I’m not sure I really appreciated or even understood just how deeply disillusioning that all was for me.

A friend responded “Were the protests and scene themselves disllusioning? Or do you mean the difficulty of changing things?

And I replied with :

There were several interlocking experiences that changed my views in a profound, lasting way. The anti-war protests in San Francisco were intense, powerful, and inspiring – and yet I felt a sense of futility watching them. The majority of the country seemed to demand a war of retribution on the Middle East in general, and they didn’t care how many people would die or how it might effect the region. It was super frustrating to me that the anti-war protesters did not seem to recognize the overwhelming desire for war coming from the rest of the country – it felt too easy to delegitimize political opposition, on both sides.

The gubernatorial election at the end of 2003 that recalled Democrat Grey Davis and elected Schwarzenegger seemed to make a mockery of electoral politics. The expectations of voters seemed absurd, and the whole thing felt like a tremendous waste. Immediately following that was the San Francisco mayoral election of early 2004, in which the city’s elites rallied around Gavin Newsom, who faced a run-off election against Green Party candidate Matt Gonzalez. Gonzalez was totally the candidate that ordinary folks wanted to vote for – as Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, he had led efforts to create more bike lanes, and raise the minimum wage, and was praised as incorruptible by the newspapers and many of his fellow politicians. At least, until it looked like he was going to become mayor. In the last week of the election, the Democrats came down hard and crushed the insurgent Greens, because they did not want to be seen to lose to a third party in a “stronghold” like San Francisco. Watching that election was disappointing at the time, but it helped me understand that politics and democratic governance is about more than just doing the right thing, or carrying out the genuine will of the people.

I knew a lot of protesters at the time, and that had a different disillusioning effect on me. There was, in general, a real unwillingness to engage politics beyond a surface level among the vast majority of protesters. And it felt like a lot of the protesters were into the spectacle, but had no real motivation or commitment. They were anarchists until it was time to “grow up” and get a “real job” (and never mind the folks who did not have that option readily available) – their idea of freedom was more Burning Man than housing and services for folks with low incomes. I remember hearing a guy give a speech about how we needed a “gift economy” and being irritated by how impractical that sounded to me. A kind of “Yes, sure, we should all love each other. I agree. We should. And we do not. Let us deal with practical reality and not waste our breath admonishing each other.”

Politics is enormously frustrating. If I could just stop thinking about it (them?), I totally would. If I could just go along with the popular crowd, I would. That’s not how things are turning out for me, so I just have to do the best I can. Its hard.

I have a strong suspicion that many people never make it past the idea that politics is all greed and corruption. A marketplace for “special” interests. Certainly not a reflection of the popular will. The cynical view becomes normalized, and attempts to overcome it are resisted. If one assumes politics is just a crooked game of exploitation for a long time, and then comes to realize that it isn’t, then they have committed unforgivable sins against their fellow citizens through their willingness to accept such a cynical view. Such guilt would be crushing – it would mean the transformation of the self, and the acceptance of the unexpected effects of that transformation.

I am looking forward to Hillary Clinton’s campaign. This summer will be amazing. The political debates will likely be the most intense in a generation. I feel a strong sense of despair over Trump’s popularity – not unlike the sense of impending doom that I felt after 9/11, when it seemed only too obvious that the country wanted war, and nothing short of war would do. I think that we on the left would do well to remember that Obama’s Presidency has been traumatic for many conservatives, in part because they were never able to catch him being false. Bill Clinton got caught cheating on his wife, and thus became acceptable. The very fact that Obama was never taken down in a similar manner is one of the big reasons why Trump is so popular now. It will not be enough to repeal Obamacare. What a lot of people want is to be able to be a bigot in public. To vote for openly racist and sexist policies that will enforce their basest instincts. They want violence, terrible violence, to quell the rage in their hearts.

I do not think Trump will be the sort of authoritarian that we imagine. He’s not a totalitarian. Rather, he would be more like a supreme warlord: a kind of arbiter between smaller warlords, who would do the day to day work of oppression and exploitation. In short, we would have the return to the confederacy of States. Which would be catastrophic, both for us and for the world. But then individual states could at last outlaw abortion outright. And mandate prayer in schools. And segregation. And the Federal government would not interfere.

Published by samuelbarbour

Besides writing a blog, I also teach, farm, cook, and play music. I live in the Illinois River Valley with my partner, Molly Breslin, who sometimes posts stuff at

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