The tyranny of the minority

Recently, in response to a rather triumphalist tweet predicting the demise of Donald Trump,[1] I offered a summation of the political situation as I perceive it:

Yes, it looks bad for Trump. Professional speculators suggest that Robert Mueller has cornered Trump in a couple ways: First, Paul Manafort allegedly lied, and Mueller is prepared to say so in court, but also, Manafort was apparently cooperating with Trump’s legal team while he was allegedly lying. If Trump’s answers to Mueller’s inquiry match up with Manafort’s lies, it will seem that Trump has lied. Second, Mueller seems to have evidence that Trump continued to seek permission from Vladimir Putin to build a hotel in Moscow, even while he was running for president, even after he claimed the deal was dead. Third, there’s the question of Roger Stone and alleged links to Wikileaks, which published embarrassing Democratic National Committee emails, and to Moscow.[3] So far, all we’re really seeing is the smoke. But having watched Mueller as long as we have, it’s a pretty good bet he’s got a fire.

The question, really, in a bipartisan system, is whether Democrats will be able to replace Trump in 2020. Here, the disarray among Democrats comes into play. The shenanigans by which Hillary Clinton gained control of the Democratic National Committee and thereby excluded Bernie Sanders, arguably the better candidate, from the 2016 presidential nomination remain unresolved.[4] Progressives should know that, by fair means or foul, mainstream (meaning neoconservative and neoliberal) Democrats will do everything possible to preserve their hold on the party. Even when the result is a President Trump and, perhaps yet still to come, a President Mike Pence.

The irony here is that so-called “third way” Democrats gained control of the party following landslide defeats of George McGovern in 1972 and Walter Mondale in 1984. The argument then, as it is today, is that progressives cannot win “moderate” votes. Implicit in this calculation is that progressives will have no alternative but to vote for the neoconservative and neoliberal Democrats and will do so to avoid the allegedly more evil Republican. Unfortunately, as we saw in 2016, when folks consistently vote for “the lesser of two evils,” it should be no surprise that we end up having to choose from the lesser of two evils, as Democrats have shifted ever rightwards trying to capture more of the so-called “moderate” vote.

There are a couple of problems here. First, and ultimately most seriously, vague appeals to a “middle way” do not translate to a coherent program. Incoherence results in muddled policy which, often contradicting itself, doesn’t attract much enthusiasm at the polls.

Second, and what we see most clearly from the 2018 midterm elections is that regardless of which faction you advocate, whether it be the authoritarian populists who now dominate the Republican Party, the neoconservative and neoliberal mainstream Democrats, inverted patriarchs, or democratic socialists, you do not command a majority of the U.S. electorate. Furthermore, your policies will be entirely unacceptable to at least two other factions of the electorate.

Persuasion does not work in this scenario. We are talking about deeply held perceptions, whether they be an authoritarian populist scapegoating of the “other,” a notion of politics as “the art of the possible” involving compromise with factions that will accept concessions without offering any of their own, a scapegoating of cis (non-transgender) heterosexual white males, or a revulsion towards economic inequality. Which means that no matter who wins, they can only impose their agenda through authoritarian means. “We won the election,” they can say; “you should try winning an election.” Which lasts until they lose, at which point their victorious opponents can say the same.

  1. [1]John Oberlin, [microblog post], Twitter, December 1, 2018,
  2. [2]John Oberlin, [microblog post], Twitter, December 1, 2018,
  3. [3]Dana Bash, Kara Scannell, and Evan Perez, “Two key answers from Trump to Mueller,” CNN, November 28, 2018,; Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey, “‘Individual 1’: Trump emerges as a central subject of Mueller probe,” Washington Post, November 29, 2018,; Harry Litman, “What Was Paul Manafort Thinking?” New York Times, November 27, 2018,; Manuel Roig-Franzia et al., “Trump’s night-owl calls to Roger Stone in 2016 draw scrutiny in Mueller probe,” Washington Post, November 28, 2018,;  Jennifer Rubin, “Trump should be freaked out right about now,” Washington Post, November 29, 2018,; Jeffrey Toobin, “The Legal Perils That Michael Cohen’s Guilty Plea Poses for Donald Trump,” New Yorker, November 29, 2018,; Jonathan Vankin, “Robert Mueller Set Ingenious Trap For Trump In Collusion Case And Tricked Manafort Into Helping, Experts Say,” Inquisitr, November 26, 2018,; Paul Waldman, “Trump’s battle to destroy the Mueller investigation is officially doomed,” Washington Post, November 16, 2018,; Paul Waldman, “It looks like a big day for collusion. No wonder Trump is raging,” Washington Post, November 27, 2018,
  4. [4]Donna Brazile, “Inside Hillary Clinton’s Secret Takeover of the DNC,” Politico, November 2, 2017,

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