A kite dancing in a hurricane
I’m certain that I will carry with me until early November a nugget of anxiety regarding the outcome of this presidential election. It seems all but impossible to have experienced the past three-plus years and not arrive at the conclusion that this election is a crossroads moment for our democracy, this extraordinary experiment in self-governance.
Furthermore, it is now self-evident that Donald Trump represents an existential threat to our Constitution. This is a lawless administration, one in which the president, an aspiring autocrat, wields power in service of his own self-interest. To contemplate four more years of Trump at the helm of our government is unthinkable.
And so, it is the unthinkable that frames the predicate upon which this election rests. The meta-word is, therefore, electability. The candidate ultimately chosen by the Dems must have broad appeal not only to progressives but to moderates. And he or she must have the “it” factor: integrity, resilience, charm and tenacity.
Know that the Republican campaign will follow a “whatever it takes,” “Russia, if you’re listening” strategy. According to a recent article in The Atlantic magazine titled, “$1 Billion Disinformation Campaign to Re-elect the President,” the Repubs are locked and loaded. Their take-no-prisoners campaign is technologically sophisticated, with dozens of experienced operatives, and has been referred to as “the Death Star.”
It also has a deep-bench knowledge of IT and algorithmic content, will use “chatbots,” plus “text-generational software,” buttressed by “pink slime journalism,” meaning websites that are constructed to appear like legitimate news stories. There are also, according to the article, “paid social media influencers,” mercenary trolls and creators of alternative facts.
The intent, in the aggregate, is to “muddy the waters,” and disorient/distract voters. The campaign will also use “psychographic profiles” of voters and “micro-targeting of mini-audiences” meant to exploit latent paranoia or bigotry. This “disinformation architecture” now awaits the democratic presidential nominee.
Imagine $1 billion dedicated to the manipulation of public opinion using cutting-edge technology. This is a brave new world of electioneering (even that word sounds old-fashioned).
But my main takeaway from the article is that what is paramount to the Dems’ candidate choice will be electability: it’s the fulcrum upon which all else rests.
For reasons that are still being sorted out, Bernie Sanders emerged from Iowa and New Hampshire as the Democratic front-runner. Bernie: a self-identified socialist who insists that what may be likely tomorrow regarding policy can be realized today. America can, in this moment, become Denmark — a democratic-socialist country with a far-reaching social safety net that includes high taxes and mandated health care for all.
But what of the moderate Dems who don’t feel the Bern? Who prefer free enterprise and lower taxes, are invested in the quasi-mythology of “bootstrapping,” do not use the word “billionaire” as an epithet, and stand ready to say, “Hey, if you make serious money through hard work, well, all to the good.”
Consider as well that the Trump campaign disinformation/opposition research will transform Bernie into a caricature, a cranky old socialist (read communist) who wants to disabuse 150 million Americans of their private health care insurance and spent his honeymoon in the Soviet Union. The Republicans specialize in demagogic carpet-bombing, and Bernie is an ideal target.
I would argue that this is not the moment for a romance candidate. Too much is at stake. This seems so obvious, so explicit, and yet the Bern Base thrives. But this is no longer a blinking yellow light; it’s flashing red. And this is not the time to take Bernie’s “political revolution” out for a test drive.
Trump is a train wreck and autocracy beckons. What will follow his reelection will be the fever dreams of the man who would be king fully validated, our long winter of chaos will continue, a kite dancing in a hurricane.
Chris Honoré is an Ashland Tidings columnist.