Predictions For the 2020 Democratic Primaries (Part 2 of 3)

Guest Post!
Jeremy is back with part 2 of his thoughts on the 2020 Democratic primaries.

There will be calls to not refight the 2016 election. This will not happen.

There will be calls to not play identity politics. This will not happen.

Me, last week
A photographer surrounded by a swarm of locusts
The Democratic 2020 presidential candidates take the stage for the first debate

Ostensibly 23 candidates means 23 different paths forward – but in reality, voters face a choice of just two paths: progressive or centrist. Differences between candidate positions, while real and important, will quickly be subsumed into one of the two overarching narratives. Everything else is details.

At the end of last week’s post, I wondered if “electable” is just another word for “white male.” And speaking of white male power, let’s talk identity politics.

The term is generally used pejoratively by people who view it as a distraction from real issues, and a non-starter with voters who might otherwise be on board with a Democratic agenda. On the other hand, people pushing the idea of identity politics view these ideas as a struggle to not be considered an unperson because of their identity. This being a fundamental issue of survival, they’re not about to let it go.

The people who want identity politics dropped frequently point out that you don’t see this kind of mess – and hence this disunity and fracturing of effort and resources – going on with Republicans, which is true but not actually equivalent. The reason identity politics, in the way they are meant here, don’t get messy with Republicans is that socially, conservatism is about rights and power for exactly one group of people: cisgender straight white male Christians. Republicans will deny this, but Republicans will deny a lot of things that are nonetheless true.

If they had total dominion they’d start fighting over exactly which kind of Christian, but for now that’s being kept to rumblings on the fringe.

Trump holds up signs saying "Women for Trump
Blacks for Trump! Not pictured: black people

When you’re only out to make things good for one group, and that one group is already the most privileged demographic in the country, there’s no infighting to be done, and all perceived threats are equal. Since every other group is getting royally fucked in some fashion, there is endless squabbling about whose problems have priority and which issues are the most important.

Also, absolutely no one is so oppressed that they won’t oppress someone else. It’s not always just a struggle for airtime, but a genuine dislike by one minority for another. This is one reason intersectionality has become such a buzzword—until you get the different groups to consider each other’s well-being, that infighting is there to stay.

With only two parties, one of which doesn’t like any of these people, everyone has to fight to get on the agenda, and that usually involves competing with other people also vying for influence. Remember all those things that’re going to get yelled about because there are so many candidates? What’s merely galling to one group will be unforgivable to another, and vice versa.

The transgender flag.
The transgender flag

Candidates sometimes manage to evade or sideline the issue while paying it lip service, but there are three attacks on minorities by the Trump administration high profile enough that the Democratic hopefuls will all have to face at least one: gay people’s children with foreign connections being denied citizenship, Latin American children being separated from their parents and housed in inhumane conditions, and the military’s ban on transgender soldiers.

I am aware that the murder rate for trans people, especially trans people of color, is a much bigger problem. However, fixing that means confronting daunting systemic issues that make people uncomfortable, which is the opposite of successful politics. The trans military ban is simple to understand, fairly easy to reverse, and easily classifiable as an isolated act of petty cruelty.

So no, identity politics aren’t going anywhere fast. And that’s a good thing.

Cape Fear

Welcome the most terrifying place in the world – at least to a Portuguese sailor in the early 1400s.

They called it Cape Bojador (pronounced BOO-jay-dur), a Portuguese rendering of the local name given it by area residents – which in turn comes from abu khatar, Arabic for “father of danger.”

It doesn’t look so scary or dangerous on the map – just a small bump in the African coast in what is now Western Sahara.

But the Cape’s true danger becomes apparent when you imagine that the year is 1434 and you are sailing a single 30-ton wooden fishing boat – with only one sail and a crew of about 20 – down the African coast. And then you look at this map of global wind patterns, with Cape Bojador marked by the green circle:

The channel between the African coast and the Canary Islands functions as a giant wind tunnel. For your small fishing boat, it would make for a quick trip – but remember, you also have to get back. And for a boat that small with only one sail, there was simply no way to fight against such strong winds to sail back to Portugal. A trip around Cape Bojador was doomed to be a one-way trip.

In the early 1400s, Prince Henry of Portugal was determined to find a way to sail beyond Cape Bojador, to discover and exploit whatever lay beyond. He founded the world’s first naval research school and laboratory at the far southern tip of Portugal, where seafarers looked for a way around.

A top-down view of six men operating a small sailboat
A modern reconstruction of Eanes’s expedition (from a documentary made by Portuguese TV)

Their solution was as clever as it was terrifying. They called their strategy volta do mar, meaning “turn of the sea.” Rather than fight the wind to sail up the African coast, captains would order their ships to sail far out into the Atlantic, where they could pick up more favorable winds.

Of course, it’s one thing to have this strategy in theory, quite another to be the one to put it into practice. That dubious honor fell to Gil Eanes (1395-1450s?), who set off from Portugal in the small fishing boat described above. The expedition passed Cape Bojador and traveled as far south as what is now Mauritania, where they picked some roses of a previously-unknown variety as proof they had succeeded in their mission. Then they used the volta do mar to return home.

Within 20 years, the Portuguese regularly traveled as far as modern Ghana, unfortunately bringing slaves back with them to sell all over the world. Within 50 years, Portuguese navigators had rounded the southern tip of Africa; within 120 years, they had reached Japan.

Predictions For the 2020 Democratic Primaries (Part 1 of 3)

Photo of Joey Ramone
Not actually Jeremy

Guest Post!
One of the joys of being alive is having smart, curious friends to talk with – or to write guest posts for your blog. I’d love to see more of these, especially from friends with perspectives and opinions different from my own – email me your ideas!

Today it’s awesome friend Jeremy Berg with his thoughts on the first two Democratic Presidential Debates, and the 2020 U.S. Presidential election in general. As always, Jeremy’s thoughts are both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply insightful. Enjoy!

This is part 1 of Jeremy’s three-part series. Part 2 will come next week, and Part 3 the week after that. The pink-shaded paragraphs in italic are related tangential extra thoughts.

crystall ball
This crystal ball is named “Chuck Todd.” It makes inaccurate predictions.

Hey everyone. Jordan has invited me to share my thoughts on and predictions about the Democratic primaries. I’m going to touch on several hot button issues, but I don’t want to discuss the issues themselves — only how they might play in the campaign. Which is not to say you won’t hear opinions…

Let’s get three things out of the way to start:

  1. There will be many calls to unite behind one candidate ASAP and not sink the Dems through infighting. Phrases like “circular firing squad,” “purity tests,” “divide and conquer,” and “don’t let perfect be the enemy of good” will get much currency.
              This will not happen.
  2. There will be calls to not refight the 2016 election.
              This will not happen.
  3. There will be calls to not play identity politics.
              This will not happen.

A massive primary field became fait accompli the instant Clinton lost the election.

Yes, Russian interference, voter suppression, 3 million more popular votes, and the electoral college is bullshit. But. By the current measures of an American presidential election, she lost.

There are 23 candidates for the Democratic nomination for the exact same reason that there were 17 candidates for the Republican nomination in 2016: the current incumbent is despised to a degree that is not only historic but previously undreamt of, and no one in the party has been anointed.

Jeb Bush raised a shitload of money and belonged to a dynasty, but he was a political non-entity whose biggest moment on the national stage had been the Terry Schiavo debacle, and who’d been out of office for almost a decade when he ran. The fact that he wasn’t considered the presumptive front-runner right away should’ve been enough to get him to cut his losses and quit on day three. Scott Walker was the Kochs’ pick, but he didn’t really exist outside of Wisconsin, even after the potentially star-making achievement of beating back a recall effort.

On the Democratic side of things, whether or not you think the DNC pulled shenanigans for her, Hillary Clinton was clearly the anointed one. The primary was supposed to be a formality; Bernie Sanders was unmistakably an unwelcome guest at the party (I am aware that Martin O’Malley also ran, but a wet piece of cardboard would’ve had the same impact. On a personal note, I was living in Baltimore when O’Malley was elected mayor, and seeing the dynamic fireball that played Irish bar band gigs in a sleeveless t-shirt, was the inspiration for Carchetti in The Wire, and who a friend once sat next to at Mick’s as he wept into his beer over the state of his beloved city somehow reduced to a piece of extra-bland tofu on the national stage was profoundly depressing).

A herd of wildebeest
An actual photo of the Democratic Presidential candidates taking the stage for the first debate

That means the field is wide open in a way that few if any candidates will live to see again.

Not only does every candidate face an uphill climb against a party favorite but the incumbent is so hated that anyone, no matter how far down the ladder or possessed of radical ideas, gets considered as a viable alternative. Whatever virtues everyone running may possess, they’re still politicians and they’re not about to let this chance pass them by.

With the field so crowded, voters are going to be very picky. The candidates know this, and will stress their virtues and others’ faults. Everyone’s done things someone won’t like, and that means those things will be brought up.

THRILL as the primaries threaten to saw this donkey in half!

So yes, we are going to hear all about Hickenlooper’s fracking, Buttigieg’s gentrification, Harris’s record as a prosecutor (or the fact that she was a prosecutor at all), Warren’s DNA test, Biden’s everything, and G-d knows what else. It’s true that all this tumult will potentially damage the candidate in the general, both in terms of the dirt that gets dug up and the voters it turns off, but it’s still going to happen.

Everyone agrees that it’s vital to get rid of Trump, but each side thinks the other is guaranteed to fail. As part of the argument, progressives will yell about how Bernie would’ve beaten Trump and we can’t make that mistake again, we need offers of real change, while the centrists will yell that we need a middle of the road candidate who will appeal to everyone in the general and not turn people off and frighten them with radical ideas.

…and radical skin tones, sexualities, and genders.

The idea that enough Trump voters (not all by any means, rampant racism and misogyny definitely figure) would have gone for a radical leftist instead of a radical rightist has been floated in various places. Matt Taibi’s book Insane Clown President makes a good case for this, and there was a recent New York Times article where some Trump voters were saying they liked Warren for much the same reasons they’d liked him.

The word “electability” will surface in these discussions, a word that has already been cast as both the only thing that matters for 2020 and a canard used to preserve white male power.

Gender aside, we had that “electable” candidate in 2016 and she lost, so I’m not sure why anyone thinks it’s going to work now, but expect to hear it just the same.