The Myth of Invincibility: On the Most Defeatable Incumbent Since Herbert Hoover

The US President went to India to meet the Indian Prime Minister. Both men are fascists, and the state visit has, of course, been a spectacle of violence. Just as the US president commented in 2017 of Frederick Douglass, “[He] is an example of somebody who’s done an amazing job and is getting recognized more and more,” in visiting what is colloquially known as the Gandhi Ashram in Ahmedabad, he failed to mention Gandhi in signing the guest book.

More to the point, the US President is visiting India, and at exactly this moment, Hindu fascists have unleashed a wave of deadly violence across Delhi. To quote from an Equality Labs update entitled “Delhi is burning. Fascists are aligning. It’s time to get ready.”:

Our hearts are with the people of India… Muslims are experiencing an unprecedented level of violence. Four people have been reported murdered, with hundreds being tortured and attacked by Hindu fascists. There have been several shooters across [Delhi], and it is uncertain what the next period will bring.

Our contemporary struggle against fascism knows no national boundaries, and the world’s two most populous democracies are teetering on the brink of lapse into outright authoritarianism. I have written at length elsewhere about the many profound flaws of the United States and India, but here, in the spirit of Astra Taylor’s Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone, let me simply focus briefly on the existential urgency of winning in 2020.

Every day, I hear from somebody that our current president will win reelection, and yet isn’t he among the most defeatable incumbents in our country’s history? What is it that makes all of these New York liberals so convinced that this kleptocratic buffoon will win again? He is a pathologically-lying, self-dealing billionaire who has cut taxes for the super-rich while cutting services for most everyone else and is running against a wildly-popular candidate with a 40-year track record of fighting in defense of the working class.

Bernie Sanders has an unprecedented nation-wide grassroots movement behind him and is “dominat[ing]” the Democratic primary field (the New York Times’s word) in spite of the opposition of almost the entire Democratic establishment and corporate media. He has the youth vote. He’s been endorsed by a number of the most inspiring young politicians in the United States.

What exactly makes our current president, who didn’t seem to know who Frederick Douglass was (let alone that the latter had been dead for more than a century) so undefeatable? I will not say he is an idiot, because I do not believe he is. He’s a remarkably effective self-promoter and manipulator, and he’s failed to deliver on almost every promise he made. Don’t forget, he’s the the least popular US president since Herbert Hoover, and that is how we should be talking about him – as the most defeatable incumbent since Hoover – and not as the (very fake) colossus he’s made himself out to be.

You’ll say the economy is strong, but is it really? When roughly 40% of Americans report they couldn’t lay hands on $400 in a crisis without borrowing or selling something; income inequality continues to worsen; and exceedingly low unemployment numbers mask the fact that workforce participation rates have lingered at levels lower than they’ve been since women entered the US workforce in proportional numbers. Why are so many people dying deaths of despair around the US (see the opioid crisis) if times are so damn good?

The despair you’re feeling is voter suppression at work. This was the strategy the now-President’s campaign employed in 2020: They want you to be “depressed”, to believe that there is no good option, but there is a great option! For the first time in my life, we have not only one, but two viable progressives running for the Democratic nomination, and one of them has a clear path to victory. Your conviction that we will have four more years of this bully is only your fear of fighting back talking. What we are struggling for now is the possibility of a future, and should we lose in 2020, that possibility will grow markedly more remote. We here in the US should look to India to see what happens when people are too craven, befuddled, or well-propagandized to stand up to an authoritarian who is dead set on destroying a democracy. On hollowing out its institutions. On scapegoating the most marginal in its society. Such leaders should not be given second terms.

Yes, we’re up against the Electoral College, and Citizens United, and the Republican voter suppression machine, and a whole host of other factors – chief among them a Democratic establishment that may actually prefer to see Bernie Sanders lose than risk seeing their hold on power in the Party weakened; a corporate media (including its “liberal” wing) that has flown into unhinged hysterics at the prospect of a Sanders nomination; and a liberal middle class now confronting the fact that it might be more comfortable with fascism than moderate European-style social democracy.

So, for those of you who may be vacillating, or feeling your resolve slacken, let me attempt to reinsert your backbone: We have to win in 2020. There is no other option. If slightly higher taxes are your concern, have a look at this graphic (from that same New York Times, no less), and then remind yourself that it is good to live in a society with functioning infrastructure and a generous safety net, and that the marginal difference is a small price to pay for not losing our democracy.

Again, what’s at stake is the possibility of a future. Look to our borders. Look to our war zones. Look at the weather (another 50+ degree Fahrenheit February afternoon in New York today). Then look into your hearts. Real progress is being made at state and local levels across the country, but without Federal action, any hope for climate action at scale is doomed, and without a profound change at the national level, the suffering wrought by our internal and external wars – which are deeply rooted in our country’s history and ruling bipartisan consensus – will continue.

Death to fascism. Here’s to a better future. We have a world to remake, and this has to be the decade.

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