No Love Lost, None Gained, for Bernie?
by Adam Staley Groves
Today, love seems more a privation than I could ever remember. Maybe that’s the problem of being aware of it, as if we could ever know love—or—as Foreigner once clamored, “I wanna know what love is.” So if there’s the small violence of certainty I need time to think it over, think over the impulse to express what one can before the winter of indifference.
Maybe love is best a private power? But I don’t think so. Love can undo judgment, reason, and prejudice. Love defies experience. Yet again love can rot. It can become hate, altruism, sanctimony or bigotry. It can lead to pathology. It can move one to vote. More than Pascal’s distrust of the imagination, it is possible that love is the greatest deception.
And who beyond the obvious, loves Bernie? CNN doesn’t. But Fox and Trump seem to. And that makes sense, for the so-called establishment has only love to find in this populist moment. Love, for Fox News, since the ascent of Trump, has been a great fertilizer for hate. That Fox News serves white nationalism and other anti-establishment causes puts it ahead of a power struggle with CNN. Defining American nationalism thus far.
Neoliberalism is dying. An era is coming to an end. It’s a strange moment; been a strange past few years. Yet what the Republican Party and Fox News got right was to abandon the establishment and move toward a new status quo. A love found indeed which emerged rather quickly as residual hatred and bigotry.
If a new establishment is not yet realized by CNN and the Democrats, it is clear that Sanders’s ‘political revolution’ affects progressives left and right. Just as Trump’s bewildering populist appeal did. The 2020 Presidential race in terms of media seems a realignment of polarities within a nationalistic politics. So let’s not bemoan further, that Fox News incarnates, before our eyes, into state media. For what state media is, is never quite clear to the receiver.
The early voting states in the Democratic Party’s nomination offers clear examples of what the establishment fears. Joe “Folks” Biden was supposed to do better. “Anti-Billons” Bernie cannot win, yet the numbers are being defied. Media just can’t get over what emerged with Trump’s rise and they feel a similar incompetence with Sanders. This is a different moment, a populist moment and now, finally a progressive one. Their horror thus concerns the tech fail surrounding Iowa’s caucus which brought about calls—particularly hastened ones via CNN—to get rid of the Iowa Caucus.
To dethrone Iowa as ‘first in the nation’ is a convoluted and problematic demand. Firstly, nay arguments summon the spectre of inclusivity. Iowa’s predominantly ‘white’ demographics they claim, are not representative of America. Yet Bernie Sander’s popular vote win in Iowa and second place spot for delegate allocation tell a different story. By the time of his subsequent victory in Nevada by nearly 50% (more than all relevant candidates combined) poll numbers in more demographically diverse states like Texas and South Carolina were already destroying the inclusion claim.
Historically Iowa has not produced outcomes which validate the media’s argument. Barack Obama wooed progressives, but turned out center right, the establishment loved him and so too did the banks and billionaires. If he is one very recent and clear example of an Iowa victor, Hillary Clinton and Pete Buttigieg are too. Iowa serves the establishment and the status quo just fine. Yet 2020 seems far more sincere, more so than the tokenism Iowa could be known for. Iowa delivered a similar result to 2016 if you don’t combine the candidates. A majority of Iowa Democrats wanted a centrist, the other Bernie. 2016 half went for Hilary Clinton, the other half, Bernie. Sanders took second either way.
A second complaint is that the caucus process is complicated, time-consuming thus exclusionary. Since the early 1970s news media have had a significant part in inventing the Iowa Caucuses. This was less the case for the Democratic Party when it—after the violent mess of the 1968 Democratic National Convention—decided to make Iowa first. The Democratic party positioned Iowa because of the need to rationalize the national nomination process. Iowa went first because of its complex and unique process of tribal decision making but also for its smaller population, small state size, cheap media market, and navigable terrain. It’s conducive for grassroots and insurgent candidates to be heard there. In short, Bernie Sanders has a massive trust of small donors. Television ads and mass media falter in that environment. Caucuses take time, and while Sanders scorned the Iowa Democratic Party, he certainly did not disavow the state’s intricate process. If you put state’s like Iowa out of play, it’s really about who has the cash to advertise, that is, elections for billionaires.
Yet the app fail pissed the media off. Why? Do they envy the power of social media? Or is it because it comes down to who brokers power, who can tell you what an election means?
Reported events are transformations of love, rather an apparition, an appearance of the world; love reduced to sentiment. (Sure, sometimes Anderson Cooper is shown hugging a flood victim, but we all know that moment between news segments is merely CNN’s propaganda of sentimentality.) Thus by bemoaning the existence of what media itself creates (Iowa’s significance as first in the nation and claims of irrelevance because is not inclusive and too white) means only that media seeks to increase their own power holding something up, and then tearing something down. It’s just the facts of its function. Irksome is that revolution is still impossible to televise.
Yet revolution seems more apropos to social media and handheld devices. Who could forget the array of handhelds over the corpse of the deposed Muammar Gaddafi? That’s just a little thesis. Perhaps it has validity? Take the statement right after the Iowa Caucuses’ delayed outcome by CNN Political Analyst, Kirsten Powers, that Iowa is the “Superbowl” of politics. This is what the Iowa Caucuses means to the media. Follows Chris Cuomo who scolds the Iowa Democratic Party for failing their “one job.” What was that job? To provide the media content so they can form meaning for viewers afar. Said Cuomo on Iowa’s delayed results: “If you look at your screen right now we have all these different supposed metrics of what we got from people as they were walking in, how they felt about things. We were supposed to give you the actual state of the play, here at the start, the first step that creates the momentum, that gets the media talking about certain people in certain ways, that raises money.”
Cuomo is annoyed because they only have entrance poll metrics, not the final tally, only the traces of feelings. Whereas a phone would know where you were, and what you do. Moreover not having an instantaneous winner is therefore not the state of play, it has no relevance. Perhaps more brazen: How is the media supposed to create a situation whereby money is generated for political campaigns? Here once more, it concerns advertising and media. Then comes a royal we: “We all know how it works, that’s why it mattered. It’s not about the good men and women who took their time on weekends and away from families to work on campaigns and work on state structure. It’s a beautiful experiment in democracy there, it didn’t work, and it’s not their fault.”[i]
Calling caucuses undemocratic risks stupidity.[ii] Enter CNN opiner, Jeffrey Toobin. Parroting the diversity claim (which inadvertently circulates the binary of Trumpian culture wars—white or non-white) Toobin reduces the intellectual threshold of reader and viewer. Toobin (who is not stupid) claims the caucuses are “wrong” because “neighbors must advertise their choices in public.” He prefers the “secret ballot” of primaries where voters walk into a curtained room, pull the lever, and select their choice in private. Yet what is in fact, private today if not unrequited love? And where else might one find effective redress against the penetration of technologies into every facet of life, if not by speaking to one another? I mean beyond the dubious sense of anonymity supposed of an online life and the psychopathic trolling it invents in some of us (without ownership or consequence).
In a caucus one must take a stand, they know that and desire it. A neighborly duty for some, and civic exercise for all. Secondly it is intraparty. The idea that it’s public and wrong excludes the fact a caucus takes place under a similar, ideological umbrella. This is pertinent to ideologies which are outside the status quo. They require discussion, face to face. The argument that caucuses are exclusionary because of the requirement of time is anti-dwelling, anti-domestic. Caucuses demand time and time should be afforded. Yet capitalist always make such claims because time has been redefined in our neoliberal world. However it is necessary to have communities who dare to speak their minds and make choices together, and that requires love. A private primary is banal privation.
There must be a plurality of practices, otherwise the very nucleus of the democratic experiment is thrown-out. Yet we are faced with calls for caucuses to be “scrapped” because of an app failure. A tech fail which could not give media the power to shape the American political narrative. The caucuses did not fail, the demand and need of the media was failed. The instrument which permeates the intimate space of the locale, failed.
And when Bernie Sanders went on to win the Nevada Caucuses no one remembered Iowa. The results of Sander’s New Hampshire and Nevada victories were successively overwhelming, astounding to the establishment. It should not surprise those, like myself, who’ve backed Sanders in 2016. Iowa did its job, gave the establishment a new look at Mayor Pete, proved Joe Biden was not the frontrunner. And so after Nevada CNN’s Van Jones claimed the jaws of the establishment were hanging open. Finally.
The discussion turns to what progressive shall mean in this populist moment. Trumpism is indeed populism and one must link it to the progressive cause. If love is too fluffy, I hate to say it, that’s what it requires. For Trumpism made disposed white people feel good ‘To hell with the rules, there’s nothing wrong with you’! They felt elation about anger which putrefied into hate. And so, we know what Trump is. So nothing more shall be said. Thus Sanders’s rise, what will it bring about? Some see a similar empowering in his supporters. That the system failed you, but you didn’t fail. How different is this from Trump’s feelgood message? What type of courage shall one need to not ruin this chance, to continue with the polemic of Obama, that is, hope shall bring about change.
[i] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3lDy2oLD5A8 8:30; 9:20, CNN talking head segment, facilitated by Chris Cuomo
About the Author:
Adam Staley Groves’s research focuses on the “theory of poetry” of Wallace Stevens and other modernist poets. He is a teaching fellow at Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.