Purity is an ugly word. Lately, the idea of racial purity has made a resurgence—um, not uh, not quite sure why, but you know. The idea of sexual purity continues to act as a barrier against women’s liberation. There is one strain of purity, however, that I feel is being embraced, and it’s a strain that I suspect is going to give Democratic candidates some trouble, not necessarily against Trump, but against each other. Political purity, the desire to find someone who has a consistent voting record and stances on currently relevant issues, will be a marker for voters to take note of. If Democrats aren’t careful, the barbs they leave each other in the primaries may infect them, if not properly cleaned, by the time they face off with Trump.
If Both Ends of the Scale are Filled with the Same Amount of Trash, Isn’t the Scale Evened Out?
Talks of healing and ending divisions have become as cliched as have calls for gun reform. We know when we’re going to hear it, and we know that it won’t happen. The media has doubled-down on the angles they’ll adopt, the stories they’ll cover, and the commentary they’ll make. CNN no longer hides its partisanship—anchors now freely comment, even cry, on news stories, rather than simply report them. Fox News is still Fox News; the Huffington Post does Buzzfeed better than Buzzfeed, with a gif for every gaff. It’s hard to think that this strategy is swaying anyone to another side. It’s more likely that viewers and readers have also doubled-down on what they like and are now demanding more of it, thereby providing the impetus for the feedback loop to exist in the first place: Viewers want commentary they agree with -> media companies provide commentary they agree with -> viewership goes up -> company continues.
Fox news, of course, is faring no better. They put up polls that run contrary to the commentary they’re trying to make, so incredibly suspending facts in their very faces so as to make Orwell’s 1984 look tame by comparison. On the Fox News side—we can’t even say Republican because their polling data presumably also includes Republicans—anything having to do with monetary policy, like taxes, is seen as an attack on capitalism and the Left’s consistent effort to make Americans adopt socialism. Fox News is great at scapegoating; it’s great at attacking the blue straw man group. If Americans knew that Fox News’ techniques are nothing less than logical fallacies, they’d recognize them as such. The problem with logical fallacies, though, is that they sound correct on the surface, making them difficult to detect.
So, the media is playing tug of war and the viewers are the rope. But conservative and liberal media outlets aren’t pulling the rope against each other. Instead, they’ve cut the rope and haven’t stopped running in opposite directions. Trump has yet to be challenged from his side, which means that Democrats have to fight amongst themselves to see who will face down The Don. Will it be the most qualified (that didn’t work last time), the one with the most money (that didn’t work last time), the one most disrupting to the status quo (that, well, on the surface that is who won)? Hillary won the popular vote, and she did so even after Bernie had successfully called her out for her “evolution” on gay marriage, her centrism regarding the minimum wage, and her penchant for intervention. Democrats did rally behind her—but she didn’t win where it mattered. With the media set up in the way it is, I don’t see why this time around would be any different.
I See Trash, but I Don’t Smell Trash
You’re going to see what is presented to you. The pages you like, the channels you follow, those outlets will, for the most part, inform what you know and what you think you know if you do nothing more than ingest, rather than investigate. And who can blame you—you’re busy, you only have so much time, you expect that what you’re seeing is fairly balanced or balanced enough that you don’t suspect the editors are playing to your sensibilities; they’re just reporting the news.
But, spend some time on the other side, and, whether you agree with everything or not of what you’re seeing, chances are you’ll see stories that did not appear on the side from whence you came. Democratic candidates are about to be scrutinized by both liberal and conservative media. Our polarized political environment makes this a dangerous time for moderates and centrists, especially on the Democratic side. Those who followed Bernie’s rise and sympathized with his message asked why the party leadership didn’t think he could, or would, win. He fought the establishment and the establishment won. But his supporters didn’t forget.
It’s worse for the establishment now because Bernie has only been more vocal, has gotten more air time, and in the span of two years, has seen more Americans come to his side on taxes, wages, and the environment. Hillary’s slow approach—the $10.50/hour first, then a gradual rise to $15.00—was a non-starter. Her corporate ties and acceptance of corporate money is no longer fashionable. Her support of the Iraq war was a black stain on her record and on the records of everyone else who voted in the same way. The Democratic candidates are seeking the purity that Hillary could never have, and which Bernie made so important. The foresight and judgment to be on the right side of history, ten, twenty years from now is no easy quality to acquire, and liberals have become so obsessed lately with digging up the past that I’m not sure which candidate makes it out of the primary without a mortal wound.
Fight for $15 is the current slogan to chant. This is not the time for baby steps. There can be no compromise on the environment. We will not accept corporate money. We must tackle systemic racism in this country. Voter disenfranchisement must be fought; economic inequality must be addressed. Worker wages must be increased and consumer protections strengthened; banks need to be kept an eye on. We stand for border protection, but not a wall. International alliances must be restored and international treaties re-committed to. The truly progressive candidates will call for the abolishment of ICE, and, if they really dare, criticize Israel. Candidates with a viable chance will not have had corporate ties, will not have voted incorrectly on gay marriage or on anything having to do with the war on drugs, and will have been consistent in their stand for the environment. If the liberal media isn’t restrained in their criticisms, the compromises candidates have made throughout their careers will turn off a lot of potential voters.
At this point, the only potential voters left are the undecided ones. Young people, being the most ideological, want the most consistent, the least blemished, the purest manifestation possible because we’ve compromised on compromise before. Older liberals, perhaps recognizing that life is not all push and no pull, have a greater appetite for negotiation, let’s call it, and so may not set quite as high a bar to reach. But let’s remember, Hillary didn’t win where it mattered. Democrats will eventually rally behind who they must. But can they get undecided voters on their side, especially when what might turn undecided voters off of voting in the first place hasn’t at all changed? As of right now, my answer is no.