Politics without policies or how to make elections meaningless

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It’s not about personality, except when it is

The Democratic Coalition, a political action committee formed in 2016 to oppose Trump, has released an advertisement in support of Joe Biden that features school children saying the Pledge of Allegiance, concluding with the hashtag, #BidenPledgesAllegianceToUS. The accompanying tweet declares, “It’s not about policy. It’s not about personality. It’s not about political party. This election is a referendum on self-governance, democracy and the rule of law.”

This is the essence of the contemporary Democratic Party, a party whose primary claim on the votes of Americans has been for decades that “our guy’s not the other guy.” In this century, our country has been led by two of the worst presidents of our history, and the best candidates that the Democrats could come up with to oppose Bush and Trump were wooden centrists who offered vague promises of a sane administration of the same policies with regard to foreign conflicts, Wall Street, and health insurance corporations, among others, that the Republicans endorsed with irrational bluster. Barack Obama ran as a progressive in 2008, but the party instead concluded that his youth and race were the deciding factors, and 2012 did nothing to challenge this, since Romney’s robotic character and the relative stability in domestic and foreign affairs gave voters no motivation for a change.

The hidden truth is that for many Americans, stability is only a constant condition of desperation, and the attitude of the Democratic Party has been to tell the masses to suffer in silence — and vote for Democrats. Self-governance, democracy, and the rule of law are good things in themselves, but they are mechanisms, not products. They are praiseworthy ways to go about doing things, but give no indication as to what we ought to do.

To say that this election is not about policy is to surrender all substantial ground, to say that appearance is all that matters. Yes, Trump is a disaster, and yes, he is an existential threat to the nation and the world. Saying, though, that it is enough to replace the man is either laziness or gross complacency with the status quo so long as the person at the top is not a madman. The Democratic Coalition cannot even come up with original slogans. The group’s original name was the Keep America Great PAC, anticipating Trump’s use of this by months and echoing a horror film playing around the same time.

The group’s use of the Pledge of Allegiance is both vacuous and a co-opting of progressivism without having to achieve its goals. Mantras always make me suspicious. Chanted slogans are an invitation to stop thinking and give up individuality, and they leave no time for considering the origins and implications of the words. In the case of the Pledge, it is worth remembering that the original text was written by Francis Bellamy, a Christian socialist — I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic, for which it stands, — one nation, indivisible — with liberty and justice for all — who saw it as a celebration of the values of a free society with a citizenship that participates in its rule. But after about a century of modifying the text for partisan ends — the addition of “under God,” being made to indicate that we are not godless communists, a phrase that the Supreme Court has declared to be sufficiently meaningless as to be inoffensive, despite its obvious exclusion of non-believers — including it now in a political advertisement is an attempt to create all the right patriotic feelings with none of the implied responsibilities to do anything constructive. Of course a political party will salute the flag. The question is what they will do next.

The Democratic Coalition calls itself the “nation’s largest grassroots resistance organization,” but avoids standing for anything but removing Trump. Getting him out of office is a consummation devoutly to be wished, but as Hamlet realizes in his soliloquy, what comes next also has to be considered. For Biden merely to replace Trump will not be enough. Biden’s essentially Republican record suggests that his administration would just be a normalization of the executive branch, and importantly, a continuation of the policies that made Trump appealing to many disadvantaged voters.

If the Democratic Party wants sustainable wins, if gaining and holding power is their goal, they can achieve this by working for the benefit of the people. And they can only deserve it that way. To declare that an election is not about policy is to make the process all but meaningless, to make it entirely about personality, despite what the Democratic Coalition’s tweet claimed.

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