The nihilism of the “Republican overreach” strategy

It’s becoming increasingly clear that Democrats want people to suffer. They conceive this suffering as educational, teaching people a valuable lesson about not choosing the smart, sensible party. Yet there is an undeniable element of jouissance when we see liberal Twitter luminaries and respectable columnists declaring that Trump voters deserve what they get. That’ll teach them!

This demand for suffering is different from that of the Republicans, who want people to suffer as an end in itself. Democrats hold out the prospect of redemption, of becoming a meritocratic college graduate regardless of your background, of joining a diverse and hopeful ruling class. But if you unaccountably choose not to do so, despite all the nudging of incentives, then you deserve what you get.

This strategy appears to be reaching a terminal phase. First we have the evidence that the Clinton campaign encouraged Trump’s candidacy because they viewed him as more beatable. Surely, faced with the omnishambles of Trump, the American people would eat their vegetables and keep their date with history by electing Hillary! Even if this strategy had worked, however, it would have done incalculable damage, filling the airwaves with racism and boasts about sexual abuse, giving a lunatic an unlimited public platform to incite violence, and all the while coming up against the media’s deep-seated desire to normalize whatever comes out of the two major parties. Creating a world in which Trump is possible, in which he is one of the options on the table, is not worth it, especially for what would have turned out to be a demoralizing four to eight years of divided government at best.

Now they are doubling down. There are rumors that the Democrats are not going to “go nuclear” on the American Health Care Act — “going nuclear” being their term for the fillibuster, which the Republicans deployed for literally every bill, nomination, and request for a bathroom pass throughout Obama’s term. [CORRECTION: The “nuclear” option refers to using procedural means to halt all business in the Senate; if the bill qualifies for reconciliation, no fillibuster is possible. I still maintain my broader point and think they should in fact do the “nuclear option.”] In a context when the House Democrats spontaneously broke out in song to celebrate Republicans’ self-inflicted wound, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that they want to allow this abomination — which will quite literally kill people — in the hopes of reaping electoral rewards. Even as a political strategy, this makes no sense: Wouldn’t it help their case if they could say that they had done everything they could to stop it? It’s as though they don’t want to take the risk of actually stopping it, because they view the death and deprivation and arbitrary cruelty that will follow in the wake of the Republicans’ demolition of the Democrats’ only tangible achievement of our young century as a necessary step to electing more Democrats.

This is the point where you remember that the lesser evil is still evil.

2 thoughts on “The nihilism of the “Republican overreach” strategy

  1. Could the recurring strategic blunders of the Democrats be an instance of “it’s a feature, not a bug”? If the long-term goal of the American political establishment is to implement neoliberalism, carceral surveillance state, endless foreign wars, etc., while maintaining the semblance of choice between genuinely opposed parties, does it not make sense that the Democrats behave as they do? Seizing on opportunities to move to left, however electorally advantageous, would defeat the purpose.

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