The most compelling thing said about this election came from a man who’s been dead longer than I’ve been alive:
“If Johnson had been running all by himself, he would not have been acceptable to anyone. The only thing that made him acceptable to the world was that the shrewd capitalists, the shrewd imperialists, knew that the only way people would run toward the fox would be if you showed them a wolf. So they created a ghastly alternative. And it had the whole world — including people who call themselves Marxists — hoping that Johnson would beat Goldwater.”
— Malcolm X on the 1964 Presidential Election, from Malcolm X Speaks
Malcolm X understood that in politics, the more extreme the perception of differences between Democrats and Republicans, the more likely that fear rather than reason will determine how votes are cast.
True then, true now, so much so that the parallels between Hillary Clinton and Lyndon Johnson on the left side of the ideological spectrum and Donald Trump and Barry Goldwater on the right are too eerie to ignore.
Neither Clinton nor Johnson were as well-liked, admired, nor such an object of good-will and even love as Barack Obama or John Kennedy. But like LBJ, Hillary knows all the rules of the game, as well as some of the cheat codes. She knows that politics ain’t beanbag and is a consummate political calculator. And she knows that what we want to believe overshoots what we’re willing to accept. She crafts her message to our desires while maintaining a lot of wiggle room on the details. This is perception management at it’s finest.
She’s most definitely the fox.
Donald Trump, like Barry Goldwater, is perceived by many as a dangerous madman. When Clinton says that he shouldn’t have access to the nuclear codes, she’s evoking that classic and chilling doomsday commercial Johnson ran against Goldwater in 1964. From the idea that he’s unqualified, to the mass condemnation of statements made on that Access Hollywood tape, and finally to the claim that he’s a threat to democracy itself, the consistent Clinton anti-Trump narrative is that he shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near the White House.
And yet, if his most devoted and rabid followers are any indication, Trump is so much more than this. He’s a postmodern hybrid of oligarch and evangelist—Jim Jones with a billion dollars in Kool-Aid, and a golden vat with his name on it. Very much like Goldwater, Trump is the catalyst of a tectonic realignment of the Republican electorate.
Behold, the wolf.
So how ironic is it that in 1964 Clinton was actually a Goldwater Girl? Perhaps more ironic, she would vote against the president with whom she now shares so many traits—particularly a “largess at home, war abroad” approach to running a country. And just as Johnson had to deal with the New Left and Vietnam War protests, Clinton’s exposed left flank over Wall Street, the TPP, fracking, minimum wage, and Syria will expose just how far rightward The Democratic Party has moved since her husband sat in the big chair.
Then there are the Trump ironies—that Goldwater’s crushing loss in 1964 turned into Nixon’s wins in ‘68 and ‘72. Nixon left office in disgrace, but Goldwater became the elder statesman of the GOP. The Southern Strategy didn’t work for him, but it’s won the White House for four Republicans who successfully leveraged white anxieties about crime, values, and the welfare state. This is the sense in which Trump is no aberration. There’s a plotline line running from Goldwater to Nixon to Reagan to the Bushes to MAGA.
Trump made billions, first by taking advantage of New York City’s dire financial conditions to transform its real estate market, then by getting massive tax breaks for simply licensing his name. Likewise, by various means, many of them still opaque or unexplained, the Clintons went from being broke when they left the White House, to accumulating hundreds of millions since. We’re still not exactly sure how they did it.
With all this money sloshing around in ways that never tickle down, who in the corporate media has made the connection between how high each candidate’s negatives are and how much their parties ratchet up everything we’re supposed to be scared of?
So now we’re scared of bad hombres, racists, sexists, globalists, muslims, the alt-right, getting shot just for walking down the street, xenophobes, crooked politicians, anti-semites, homophobes, nasty women, and millions of people walking across the border to take our jobs.
I don’t even wonder if this is the best we can do. I know that it is, and that it’s made so by virtue of how forces greater than mass movements of people work much more efficiently than “building consensus.”
Which means that it’s a virtual certainty that history will repeat itself. Another Trump will appear.
The Trump to come will be more Trump than Trump, an Achtung, Trump! who’s even better than the real thing because he’ll be more refined and polished. Think Trump guts in Romney skin, more a magician than a salesman. Future Trump is the reason why Clinton’s campaign will not end on November 8th, but will run perpetually in anticipation of what he represents.
What we’re going though now makes one wonder if the candidates, the parties, the super pacs, the handlers, the power-brokers, the spindoctors, the television networks, the electoral process, and all the money that’s carrion for vultures the way air is life for us humans aren’t all collectively the fox, and if “the system” that we’re so deeply mired in that we can’t even dream a different dream is the wolf.