Monday, May 29, 2017

No Blue Wave

No doubt the exaggerated media focus on Montana was inevitable, in the age of the voracious 24/7 news cycle: This was only the second vacant congressional seat to be filled since Trump took office, and the first where the Democratic candidate appeared to have a real shot. But the Big Sky frenzy also spoke to the way American politics has almost entirely become a symbolic rather than ideological struggle — a proxy war between competing signifiers whose actual social meaning is unclear.

Despite their abundant differences, Barack Obama and Donald Trump were both semiotic candidates, who appeared to represent specific worldviews or dispositions (the espresso cosmopolitan; the shameless vulgarian) but presented themselves as a disruption to “normal” politics and were difficult to nail down in left-right ideological terms. Understanding an off-year congressional election in an idiosyncratic and thinly populated Western state, where fewer than 400,000 voters cast ballots, as a referendum on the national mood or the GOP health care bill or much of anything else is patently absurd. But it’s a miniature example of the same reduction to symbolism, in which everything is said to stand for something else and democracy becomes pure spectacle. (...)

For many people in, let’s say, the left-center quadrant of the American political spectrum — especially those who are not all that eager to confront the fractured and tormented state of the current Democratic Party — Montana and Georgia and 2018 seem(ed) to represent the opening chapters of a comeback narrative, the beginning of a happy ending. If what happened in 2016 was a nonsensical aberration, then maybe there’s a fix right around the corner, and normal, institutional politics can provide it.

First you chip away at Republican triumphalism, and the House majority, with a couple of special-election victories. Then it’s about organizing, recruiting the right candidates for the right seats, registering voters and ringing doorbells, right? Democrats picked up 31 seats in the George W. Bush midterms of 2006 — and will need 24 or so this time — so, hey, it could happen. For that matter, Republicans gained an astounding 63 seats in the Tea Party election of 2010, and many observers have speculated that Trump-revulsion might create that kind of cohesion on the left. So we sweep away Paul Ryan and his sneering goons, give Nancy Pelosi back her speaker’s gavel after eight long years, introduce the articles of impeachment and begin to set America back on the upward-trending path of political normalcy and niceness.

I suspect it’s pointless to list all the things that are wrong with that scenario, because either you agree with me that it’s a delusional fantasy built on seven different varieties of magical thinking or you don’t, and in the latter case I am not likely to convince you.

Andrew O'Hehir, The Atlantic |  Read more: