Back on December 31, we gently suggested that Elizabeth Warren’s first step towards a run at the White House was “also her first misstep.”
The video Warren released in conjunction with the formal launch of an exploratory committee for a 2020 bid was, frankly, divisive.
Our coverage was pretty comprehensive and readers can review that post for themselves (there’s also a good bit in there about the Democratic primary field), but the gist of it is captured in the following excerpts:
You invariably have your own opinion of Warren and regulars know we’re generally fans. The problem, though, is that she’s polarizing. Some of that isn’t entirely her fault, but it just is what it is. Her abrasive style is endearing to supporters and her efforts to take Wall Street to task are tireless and entirely laudable. But she’s probably not the candidate who’s going to unite a divided nation or otherwise help to right a ship that is currently charting a course straight for an iceberg.
Assuming she makes it out of what will obviously be a crowded primary, it is a virtual guarantee that the campaign to oust Trump would turn dangerously vindictive. You cannot win an insult contest with a man who is willing to stand up at the U.N. General Assembly and call another world leader (murderous dictator though he may be) “Rocket Man” on the way to threatening a nuclear holocaust. In the past two months alone, Trump has called two sitting lawmakers “sh*t” and “dick“, respectively (but certainly not “respectfully”).
Fast forward to Saturday and Warren made it official. She’s running. Here’s the announcement, delivered during a speech in Lawrence:
Warren’s platform will center around attacking what she calls “a system that has been rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected” and you can expect incessant attacks on Wall Street, reminiscent of her legendary grilling of bank executives on Capitol Hill.
To be clear, nobody is arguing with Warren, and indeed, that’s one of the problems here. Everybody knows a capitalist society favors the wealthy and everybody is acutely aware of the fact that American politics perpetuates the existing order of things where that does in fact entail the tireless maintenance of “a system that’s rigged by the wealthy and the well-connected”.
The issue, though, is that Trump has succeeded in convincing large numbers of the very same people for whom the system doesn’t work that he is the man for the job when it comes to resurrecting the middle class and rooting out vested interests inside the Beltway.
Obviously, that was always a ridiculous proposition on its face. The idea that a billionaire narcissist who inherited his money and whose prison-bound lawyer literally sold access to the White House to the highest corporate bidder is your guy when it comes to righting societal injustices is absurd in the extreme and Trump’s tax cuts are proof positive of his disingenuity vis-à-vis working Americans.
Populism is like pornography: Everything is explicit, but the plot cannot be taken seriously. Populist reality is actualized through the positive feedback loop of suspension of disbelief: A political figure infuses a human interest and a semblance of truth into an unrealistic and far-fetched agenda, while the audience suspends judgment concerning the implausibility of the narrative. Populist politics has a very rigid form. Irrespective of its platform, its backbone consists of three basic building blocks: Flattery/seduction, self-pity, and vengeance. Systems in need of legitimation create especially fertile ground for populism. This is the key reason for its resurgence in the last decades. The mystique of populism’s appeal has the same origin and logic as pyramid schemes — when easy money (or quick fixes) is offered, we don’t ask for rationale. And we always take the bait believing that we are the perpetrators and not the victims.
Warren’s populism appears to check the boxes (flattery/seduction, self-pity, vengeance), but her narrative isn’t really “implausible” enough to seduce the masses into suspending disbelief. Or at least it doesn’t seem that way to me.
In fact, there’s a pretty solid argument to be made that if what you’re looking for is a populist anti-Trump whose strategy rests on the same building blocks mentioned in the excerpted passage above, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez fits the bill. Of course, her policy proposals are the ideological antithesis of Trump’s, but the agenda is arguably just as far-fetched, the narrative equally implausible (although you could argue that Ocasio-Cortez is in fact the embodiment of what the American dream should be about).
It’s entirely possible (and this would have seemed unthinkable two years ago) that Warren will now be seen as not left enough on the political spectrum, no matter how hard she pushes her “wealth tax” and other various talking points. You can’t very well out-left Ocasio-Cortez, and the brighter her star shines, the more likely it is that other Democrats will appear as candles in the sun (to mix celestial metaphors).
For their part, Notes From Disgraceland doesn’t buy the parallel. “I think, Ocasio-Cortez is the real deal, she speaks the truth and her ideas are sound”, the pseudonymous author behind the blog said Saturday, when we asked about AOC in the context of the excerpted passage above. “In this country, where any redistributive initiative is (ideologically and deliberately) anatomized, such honesty and straightforwardness is misinterpreted as everything else but what it is. The truth.”
Stepping out of the political theory weeds, everyone’s worst fears in terms of how contentious 2020 is likely to be with Warren on the ticket were confirmed on Saturday. Trump’s campaign immediately released a statement so juvenile that one struggles to believe it’s real (and not a spoof). Here it is:
As silly as that most assuredly is, Trump took it up another notch a couple of hours later on Twitter. Here’s the President (and this is verbatim, so, you know, [sic]):
Today Elizabeth Warren, sometimes referred to by me as Pocahontas, joined the race for President. Will she run as our first Native American presidential candidate, or has she decided that after 32 years, this is not playing so well anymore? See you on the campaign TRAIL, Liz!
We’d say he just deliberately mocked the Trail of Tears, but that assumes he knows what the Trail of Tears is, a proposition that seems tenuous, at best, so maybe he’s just equating Native Americans with “trails” in the general sense of the word.
Not everybody is going to buy that, though.
There is no way that Donald Trump, who talks about how much he loves Andrew Jackson all the time, does not know about the Trail of Tears. There is no other interpretation of this tweet that I understand. He is making a joke about genocide against Native Americans. https://t.co/71DuX0mhy0
— Ben Dreyfuss (@bendreyfuss) February 9, 2019
Thousands of Native Americans died on the Trail of Tears, which Trump appears to be jokingly referencing here https://t.co/zfM6SSUxCs
— Cristiano Lima (@viaCristiano) February 9, 2019
Elizabeth Warren, like many white people from Oklahoma, held onto this family tale that she was part Native American. She apologized.
Trump idolizes Andrew Jackson, is destroying native land and just made a joke about the Trail of Tears. https://t.co/3mzljx5Fdg
— Thor Benson (@thor_benson) February 9, 2019
And Trump wasn’t done. Here’s what he said next:
I think it is very important for the Democrats to press forward with their Green New Deal. It would be great for the so-called “Carbon Footprint” to permanently eliminate all Planes, Cars, Cows, Oil, Gas & the Military – even if no other country would do the same. Brilliant!
That’s one of those “you almost have to love him” moments, because never (ever) again will we witness that level of abject buffoonery emanating from the White House. When he’s not saying something egregious, Trump is worth his weight (all ~300 pounds of it) in gold if what you’re talking about is comedic value.
Now who’s ready for the 2020 debates?!