Prof. Leo Panitch, Jacobin writer Meagan Day, and Historian Gerald Horne join Paul Jay to analyze the Presidential debate and the underlying reasons why the U.S. political system is in disarray. They discuss how the people’s movement will respond to a possible Trump coup if he loses the election.
Hi, I’m Paul Jay. Welcome to theAnalysis.news podcast.
Let’s get ready to rumbleeeeee!
That was how ring announcer Michael Buffer would start WWF wrestling matches. He should have been
on hand to start things off for Chris Wallace at the presidential debate. Donald Trump actually played
himself as a character in WWF, fighting Vince McMahon, the owner of the massive pro-wrestling
empire. McMahon’s wife now sits in Trump’s cabinet after the couple donated millions of dollars to
In 1954, writing about professional wrestling in Paris, philosopher Roland Barthes wrote that pro
wrestling is light without shadow, emotion without reserve, and the master of that storytelling was
Vince McMahon. He understood that millions of people want to scream in anger, cheer bad guys, and
the more flawed the character, the more people cheered. He understood the era of the good guy was
over, and invented characters that were the embodiment of every value people had been taught not to
hold. It was a wonderful release for people to express hatred without reserve.
Trump, in front of 85,000 people, got to beat up McMahon and shave his hair off, because that’s what it
was, a winner gets to shave the other guy’s hair off. He stood at the center of the ring, soaking in the
wild cheers of the adoring crowd, and that’s where he learned his politics.
His unmitigated rage was on full display in the presidential debate on Tuesday night.
He really thought he could win the debate with the kind of trash talk that works in front of a wrestling
crowd. And perhaps it would have worked if he was just up against Biden. But at crucial moments, into
the ring would run Chris Wallace, the Fox News journalist, who would take Trump on in a way Biden
never could. Wallace blunted Trump’s attack, and even asked a couple of real questions that Trump
couldn’t handle, especially when asked to denounce white supremacy. Only the manic megalomania of
Trump could make the poverty of policy of Joe Biden look good.
And what does this “shit show,” to quote a CNN pundit who actually said that on-air, say about the state
of the American state? Why is the political system in such disarray? And what about the real issues that
were supposed to be debated and were mostly ignored? Now, joining us to try to make sense out of all
of this is Meagan Day. She’s a staff writer at Jacobin and co-author of the book “Bigger Than Bernie:
How we Go from the Sanders Campaign to Democratic Socialism.”
Gerald Horne holds the John Jay and Rebecca Moore chair of history and African-American Studies at
the University of Houston, and is the author of many books, including “The Counter-Revolution of 1776,”
and Leo Panitch is the emeritus distinguished research professor of political science at York University in
Toronto, and co-author of “The Socialist Register.” Thanks so much for joining me, all of you.
Glad to be here Paul.
Hi. Thanks for having us.
So, Gerald, kick us off. What was your overall impression of what you heard and saw?
Well, first of all, Mr. Trump’s run-up to this debate was inconsistent with the requisites of the debate
itself. What I mean is he has spent months talking about sleepy Joe, how he’s on the verge of being
senile, how he’s taking performance-enhancing drugs. And so, what this suggested is that if Mr. Biden
could string three sentences together without stumbling, he could emerge with a positive glow.
Secondly, on a more profound level, we should pay careful and close attention to the article in The
Atlantic by Barton Gellman, who you may recall did journalism on the Edward Snowden case, which
suggests that the Republicans are prepping an Electoral College coup, that is to say, in so-called red
states, Republican Party dominated states, where the vote may turn against Mr. Trump, speaking of
Arizona and Florida, amongst others, that the legislature and/or governor will ignore the popular will,
and send to the antiquated, archaic electoral college, which actually determines who is president,
electors who will cast their electoral college ballots for Mr. Trump. I should also mention that I haven’t
seen any polling as a result of this train wreck of a debate, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all if Mr.
Trump’s base was unaffected by his disgusting, despicable performance.
It has remained steady over the years, and at some point, I think, progressive forces in the United States
are going to have to take notice of the fact that for more than a half-century, across class lines, there
has been a remarkable consistency in the euro-American community voting for the right-wing, including
in 1991, when 55% of the community in Louisiana voted for a Nazi and a Klansman, David Duke, for
governor of that particular state.
And it took an astounding turnout among the black community to keep a Nazi from becoming the
governor of Louisiana. In that light, we should pay close attention to what Mr. Trump was trying to bait
Mr. Biden into last night. That is to say, where is your support from the law enforcement community?
Because if you look at this recent study by the Brennan Center at NYU, at New York University, you’ll
note that of the 18,000 plus law enforcement police department units in this country, a significant
percentage have been infiltrated, if not dominated, by white supremacists and white nationalists, which,
of course, brings us to this moment when he asked the proud boys to stand by. He just as well could
have mentioned the Michigan militia, which invaded the state capitol in Lansing a few months ago with
the instigation of Mr. Trump, or the Boogaloo Boys, or the Patriot Prayer, which is involved in
confrontations in the streets of Portland, Oregon, and others too numerous to mention. The GOP, the
Republican Party, has become heavily dependent upon an ultra-right fringe to drag them across the
finish line, and therefore, Mr. Trump is rather reluctant, shall we say, to denounce or even criticize
them. I also think we should note that he has a material interest in terms of trying to pull off an Electoral
College coup, because in light of the revelations of the New York Times blockbuster story, talking about
how he paid 750 dollars in taxes in 2016, 2017, maybe zero before that, that if he is not re-elected, a
pardon will only exempt him from federal charges.
It will not prevent the Manhattan district attorney, Cyrus Vance, from going after him on tax fraud and
tax evasion charges, not to mention the attorney general of the state of New York and Albany, Letitia
James, who happens to be a black woman who leans to the left. But overall, this debate in some ways
reflects the decline of US imperialism. It was shambolic. It was disgusting. And certainly, it does not put
the best foot forward for U.S. imperialism, not that that’s possible in any case. That brings us to the
nightmare scenario, which is that in order to help to prop up his declining campaign, except amongst his
rock-solid base I should add, which is about 40% of the US electorate, about 63 million strong, who
when they go to polls, they don’t have to necessarily deal with long lines and malfunctioning voting
machines like the rest of us, in order to prop up his campaign he may engage in the so-called “Wag the
Dog” scenario, where he launches some sort of war, against Iran, against Venezuela, or the big
enchiladas, speaking of the People’s Republic of China. In any case, the issue’s got short shrift over the
crosstalk and the insults and the threats and all the rest. But the saddest part of it all, perhaps, is that its
further evidence that the United States is splitting. That is to say that after the unrest of the 1960s,
President Johnson appointed a commission headed by former Illinois Governor Otto Kerner that came to
the conclusion the United States was becoming two societies, separate but unequal, black and white.
Well, we’ve morphed beyond that, sadly enough. What I mean is that it’s becoming a de-facto neo-
apartheid society, where a minority that represents and resembles the original settlers and the settler-
colonial project are desperately trying to hold on against the rest of us.
Meagan, what are your thoughts?
Well, I appreciate that Gerald, and I think a lot of that is quite right. I want to go through some of the
points of the debate that I think are the most interesting. The first thing that really jumped out at me is
that Trump was very adept at hitting Joe Biden from both sides of an issue in a way that we would
consider to be logically or politically inconsistent or incoherent, but it didn’t quite matter because the
purpose wasn’t necessarily to make a particular case against Biden.
It was simply to make him look weak, to trigger viewers’ emotions, and so on. So an example of this is
when Trump hit Joe Biden for being in favor of socialized medicine, which we, of course, having gone
through the primary together, we all know that that’s absolutely not true. And then Trump immediately
switched after that to then talking about how he, Trump was the one who was going to battle Big
Pharma, he was going to lower the price of insulin, and so on.
So you could see there’s some sort of inconsistency there where he’s essentially saying that Joe Biden
has drank the Bernie Sanders Kool-Aid, and forcing Joe Biden to then disavow the left, which Joe Biden
did, which was extremely disappointing, though not surprising. And then he immediately, once that
happened, he actually switched sides of the position, and started imitating Bernie Sanders himself, even
though not in plan or program, but in rhetoric, talking about big pharma, and insulin costs, and so on.
And this same dynamic played out later on in the debate where Donald Trump accused Joe Biden of
being soft on crime over and over. He said you won’t say the words law and order because you’re afraid
that the radical left is going to jump down your throat if you talk about being tough on crime, and that’s
why Democrats cities are burning, and that’s why we have lawlessness in the streets. I don’t know if you
all are familiar with a Trump ad that he ran called “Break-In,” which shows an elderly white woman
calling 911, and there’s nobody on the other line. The implication being that Joe Biden has entirely
defunded the police departments, and there’s no one to help her, right? So he just kind of did that
during the debate.
But then, almost immediately thereafter, he switched and started talking, when they went onto the
topic of race and racial inequality, Trump switched and started talking about how Joe Biden authored
the 1994 crime bill that intensified mass incarceration in this country, especially harming black
communities, which obviously has a basis in reality, but it’s the complete opposite position. Whereas
first, Joe Biden was soft on crime. Now Joe Biden has been too, quote-unquote, tough on crime.
And Joe Biden, perhaps, I think if he were a more adept debater, I think he maybe could have picked up
on some of the logical inconsistencies in Trump’s angle of attack. Instead, I was disappointed to see
Biden essentially following Trump’s lead. So Trump would say something and then Biden would try to
clarify that, in fact, that’s not at all what he thinks about the matter. And then Trump would say the
opposite and Biden would then again try to clarify that that’s not at all what he thinks, whereas I think
maybe a stronger debater would have said, “which side do you really come down on the issue? Here’s
my position on the issue.” Now, we on the left wouldn’t necessarily have agreed with Joe Biden’s
explication of his actual position on these issues, on health care and criminal justice for example, but at
least it would have been a display of force, and strength, and coherence. Unfortunately, that didn’t
So another couple of things that I want to point out about the debate that I thought were really
interesting was I thought Biden lost this exchange about the so-called manifesto, the Bernie Sanders
Donald Trump accused him of agreeing with Bernie Sanders on a variety of issues, having co-authored
this manifesto. Those of us who are following that know that Bernie Sanders and Joe Biden did sit down.
Progressives and party establishment figures did sit down to hammer some stuff out. We didn’t expect it
to be very fruitful. Ultimately, it wasn’t that fruitful. They put together a document. Joe Biden has
already said that he doesn’t really respect the document very much. So in any case, Donald Trump
seems to have known that this would be an easy way to trap Joe Biden.
He said, you know, Joe, you agree with Bernie Sanders, you wrote this manifesto together. And then Joe
Biden responded by saying, you know, it’s not true. Again, he’s following Trump’s lead here and he says
“this is not true. The fact of the matter is that I beat Bernie Sanders, and there is no manifesto, and I am
the Democratic Party now.” And Trump just responded and he said, you just lost the left. It was like
Trump had laid a trap for Joe Biden, and Joe Biden had walked into it, and then Trump, actually, because
he’s so, you know, his performance is so strange, and he actually verbalizes thoughts that are running
through his head at the moment, he simply verbalized, “you fell for the trap that I laid for you.” And I
thought that was true, and I thought that Biden lost that exchange. That said, immediately after that,
things started to look up for Biden because they started talking about the coronavirus response. I was
trying to have unbiased eyes when I was watching this.
I couldn’t see how very many people who were at all concerned about coronavirus, not to count the sort
of I would say maybe 20% or 30% of the American populace is not concerned at all because, for partisan
reasons, they’ve decided that it’s not a real issue, but anyone who actually is afraid of getting
coronavirus, or who has been affected by the economic shutdown but also understands the reasons for
the shutdown, and understands the sort of logic of the pandemic, would have come away from that
exchange feeling that Donald Trump had failed to explain why his response was actually appropriate.
Joe Biden managed to marshal plenty of numbers, stats, figures, and it painted a pretty bleak picture for
And then I want to highlight another exchange that I thought Biden lost, unfortunately. Donald Trump’s
taxes were always going to be a key feature of this debate. When they were brought up, Trump said
something that’s entirely true. He said, “I’m just doing what rich people do.” He said “before I came into
government office, I was a private developer, private business person, and I was operating by the rules.
And that’s what rich people do.”
And on previous occasions, he said, “yeah, I don’t pay a ton of taxes, that’s because I’m smart, I know
how to work the system.” He’s not doing anything illegal, he’s just sort of jumping through the loopholes
that have already been set up for people like him to jump through.
And he essentially said, Joe Biden, you helped write the tax code that I then followed in order to not pay
very high taxes, though oddly, Trump was also kind of trying to deny that he had paid low taxes as well,
but we’ll leave that to the side for a second.
But that was actually a very effective point because it is true. Joe Biden has been a part of the sort of
bipartisan effort to impose austerity, to reduce taxes, to take aim at entitlements, and so on. I mean, as
a proud third wave Democrat, this has been his political project for the better part of 50 years. And so
when Donald Trump said you wrote those laws that I then followed, that was very effective. And Joe
Biden didn’t really have a good answer for that.
He said, you know, “I’m going to pass new laws, and we’re going to close all these loopholes.” And
Trump said, “why didn’t you do that twenty-five, twenty years ago?” And Joe Biden said, “because you weren’t president screwing everything up,” which is frankly an awful answer because Donald Trump is
not the only wealthy person in the country.
So I think for anyone who’s attentive to or in tune with at least some of the messages that Bernie
Sanders was putting forward in the primary about wealthy people taking advantage of the tax code,
about upward redistribution of wealth, they would see that in that moment, Joe Biden revealed himself
to only care about fixing that, those problems of upward wealth redistribution, simply because Donald
Trump is the political enemy at this particular moment. I thought that revealed a lot, and I think it went
poorly for Biden.
And then, of course, the last thing I want to touch on is something that Gerald already touched on,
rightly so. I think it was the big story of the evening.
I actually stayed up late and hammered out an article about it last night, which is when Donald Trump,
on two occasions during the debate, seemed to endorse right-wing violence. So he was asked very
pointedly by moderator Chris Wallace, “will you denounce white supremacy? Will you denounce white
supremacists and armed right-wing militias?” He bumbled his way through that exchange. At first, he
said, I would absolutely be willing to do that. Of course, he did not follow through on that.
He then immediately began talking about how actually Antifa is responsible for all the violence, and it’s
the left that’s responsible and not the right. So Wallace pressed him and said, if you’re willing to do that,
will you do it right now? And Biden sort of jumped in on this and said, “yeah, do it, like do it, Trump, do
it.” And Trump was like, “who do you want me to condemn?” And then Chris Wallace said, “What about
white nationalists or white supremacists?” And Joe Biden helpfully offered up the name of a fascist
organization in the United States called the Proud Boys. They are self-described Western chauvinists. I
think that they would actually not describe themselves as white supremacists per se, but they’re
definitely fascists. And Joe Biden, or rather Donald Trump, instead of denouncing the Proud Boys, he
told them to stand back and standby. It was a very odd phrasing. It’s a military term, stand by, it means
to wait at the ready for further command. And in that moment, Donald Trump seemed to almost lay
claim to this right-wing street militia force or street fighting force that is responsible already for a lot of
political violence and to ask them to stand down, and to stand by, and sort of await further commands.
Now, I don’t know if Donald Trump necessarily meant to communicate that, a lot of times he just
produces phrases from his head and doesn’t think through them. This was obviously unscripted.
However, the Proud Boys themselves took it as a sign of acknowledgment, and affirmation, and a call to
arms, and immediately on a platform called Telegram, which is where a lot of alt-right figures
congregate -it actually has a nickname, Terrorgram, because some sections of the site are where right-
wingers congregate to actually hatch terror plots. Whether they’re joking or not is up for debate. I think
a lot of times jokes shade into not jokes, and then turn into real violence.
So on Telegram, the Proud Boys posted their logo with the words “stand back and stand by,” which is
what Donald Trump had said to them, immediately. So if Donald Trump didn’t mean to imply what he
did, he would need to clarify it right now, because everyone has received the message loud and clear on
all sides of the aisle otherwise.
And then later on in the debate, Trump was asked by Wallace, essentially, will you pledge to encourage
your supporters to refrain from, what he called civil unrest, or to stay calm in the event that we don’t
know who the winner is going to be on Election Day, which we almost certainly will not?
And Trump essentially answered, “no, I will not do that, because there’s a vast conspiracy to manipulate
ballots.” And then he went off into this rambling answer about this conspiracy to throw away Trump
ballots. They’re selling them. They’re throwing them in the river. And he said if the election is unfair,
then I’m more or less under no obligation to ask my supporters to not do something about it, was the
answer that he gave. And then, of course, he explained why the election was not already not fair, which
seemed to indicate support for right-wing political violence in the event of an uncertain result or a
Trump loss in November, which I think we should find extraordinarily concerning, especially in light of
the fact that Donald Trump campaign has started to wage a multimillion-dollar effort to recruit about
50,000 Trump supporters to be what they’re calling poll watchers, to show up at the polls and to sort of
guard against voter fraud, the specter of voter fraud.
But a lot of voting rights activists are very concerned that, in fact, what’s going to happen is 50,000 very
hardcore Trump supporters, who already believe his story about a vast conspiracy of ballot manipulation
are going to show up to the polls, essentially to intimidate anyone that they come across who seems like
they might have non-Trump or anti-Trump views, which is essentially going to result in voter
suppression and possibly political violence, which, again, to underscore is something that Trump seems
to endorse as long as it’s on his behalf and in his name.
So those are the things that I wanted to touch on from the debate that I found most interesting. Overall,
I would say, not a very educational debate. I think that we mostly knew all of this stuff, but certainly a
debate with some very disturbing moments.
Thanks, Meagan. Leo, your thoughts?
Well, the first thing I’d like to do is express my sympathy to Meagan and Gerald other Americans on the
left, for having to live through this. What we witnessed last night was a so-called debate between
someone who is a cross between P.T. Barnum of Barnum and Bailey, and Mussolini, who is the real
comparison that ought to be made here to Trump, not Hitler. And he was standing up against, it
seemed, watching it, the ghost of Christmas past.
And it was an appalling spectacle in which I thought Biden did not rise to the occasion, and that poses a
very difficult question when, as Megan so astutely was commenting, when Trump revealed his strategy,
which was to try to show that he had lost the left, that he couldn’t engage the enthusiasm of the left to
secure Trump’s defeat. This is a significant question, and I couldn’t help but keep thinking as I was
watching this, what the “debate” would have looked like, and I put debate in quotation marks, because
if it had been Bernie, would the dumbing down of discourse that Trump is engaged in, the dumbing
down of political discourse, which Umberto Eco, who grew up under Mussolini, described as the other characteristic of fascism in the Italian sense, would Bernie have been able to salvage some rationality,
some substance out of this? I don’t think Biden did, and that worries me a great deal, especially in the
context of it being so important that people swallow hard, engage in a popular front tactic for the
moment in the election, and get people out to vote against Trump.
And I’d like to hear from Gerald and Meagan what they think the effect will be. But my great fear is that
he’s being very open about not adhering to the outcome of the election, and he’s preparing people for
that. And as Megan said for his poll watchers, which was something that Netanyahu did in order to
discourage Arab voters, Israeli-Arab voters in the last series of Israeli elections. And this will likely lead to
the kind of punch ups, even on Election Day, and then when he refuses to accept the outcome
afterward, that will make the demonstrations in the last few months look like a Tea Party, and I don’t
mean the Boston Tea Party. And in that case, perhaps the most frightening thing Trump said was that if
he was able to unleash his repressive apparatus in court to win the whole thing, the whole thing would
be solved in half an hour. So clearly, what one needs to take away from this, in combination with the
dumbing down of political discourse, for which America has never been very noted, and perhaps the one
thing that we can say in favor of Obama was that he did raise the level of political discourse, certainly in
comparison with Bush, and even Clinton, you know, is will we see the type of undisciplined protest that
will give an excuse for the unleashing of the repressive apparatus of the kind that he already sent into a
number of states, but perhaps beyond that. This is the great danger out of which will come, of course,
the closing of political space. Not just the maiming and jailing of protesters, but the closing of political
space that would follow people like Meagan or Gerald saying things in support of the protesters. This is
very frightening, in my view. We’ve seen nothing like it. And what it shows, since you indicated you
wanted me to speak to this, Paul, is once again that the main contradictions in global capitalism today
are not between states.
It’s not China’s threat to the American empire as a rising new capitalist power that is destabilizing global
capitalism. It is contradictions within states, whether it’s the contradictions that led to Brexit in the U.K.,
or what we see in the United States today. And that is at the core of what this may mean in terms of the
instability of all of this for global capitalism, although our concern needs to be how do we turn this in a
way that produces a unified left response that goes beyond the mere united front of getting Trump out?
If you could give me one more thing to say, as a Canadian watching this, I couldn’t help but recall a
passage I remember from Sinclair Lewis’s “It Can’t Happen Here,” his tremendous novel on the rise of
fascism in the United States, the election of a right-wing senator, and then his replacement by a
president who was the secretary of war who introduces an explicit fascist regime, the result of which is
that the hero in the novel, the journalist, escapes the concentration camps and comes to Canada.
I’ll just read you these few sentences. When he arrived in Canada, he expected that everyone was
thrilled to his tale of imprisonment, torture, and escape. But he found the ten thousand spirited tellers
of woe had come before him, and that the Canadians, however attentive and generous hosts they might
be, were actively sick of pumping up new sympathy. They felt that their quota of martyrs was
completely filled, and as to the exiles who came in penniless, and that was the majority of them of
course, the Canadians became distinctly weary of depriving their own families on behalf of unknown
refugees, and they couldn’t even keep up forever, a gratification in the presence of celebrated American
authors, politicians, and scientists when they became as common here as mosquitoes. I keep hearing
from Americans that they want to come to Canada if Trump is re-elected. I keep jokingly saying we’re
going to build a wall and make them pay for it. But this is a very serious question, which I don’t want to
make light of in the wake of what happened last night.
Gerald, let me pick up on Leo’s question then.
Certainly much of the left, I don’t know in terms of actual numbers, but certainly in terms of influence
and being vocal, was less than less enthusiastic about Biden before this debate.
And as Megan said, he really made a point of distancing himself from the left.
In fact, at one point, Trump actually says, “I don’t know what to call you. Do I actually call you left?”
Because, as Megan said, he was trying to have it both ways with what to call Biden. But Gerald, what
does this mean in terms of developing a broad front against Trump? Is this, the debate and the way
Biden is positioning himself, is he losing the left, or is the left going to see past Biden?
Well, I really don’t think so, because I think that the fascist threat is focusing and concentrating the
mind, as is often said, when you’re facing execution in the morning. The problem in the United States,
amongst others, is that in order to effectuate this broad front, what you would need to do is focus like a
laser beam on the communities that tend to vote against the right by nine to one, speaking of black
Milwaukee, black Detroit, black Philadelphia, etc., and of course, try to speak to their issues, which Mr.
Biden has done intermittently. The problem is that oftentimes when you try to address black issues, the
bloc that votes for the right in Dixie by a rate of nine to one, and nationally by a rate of 57 to 43,
oftentimes feels that that is preferential treatment to the victims of bias and they react very negatively
to it. History clearly shows that when you have steps, no matter how halting, toward some sort of
reform with regard to what has been called the national question, for example, the overthrow of slavery
in 1865, followed by reconstruction, and an attempt to effectuate voting rights, and then the rise of the
Ku Klux Klan, U.S. apartheid, etc., oftentimes these measures of reform were greeted rather violently by
a counter-reform, a counter-revolution. And what concerns me is that in the wake of the protests post-
May 25th, 2020, over the lynching on camera of George Floyd, that there will be a revolt at the ballot
box. That is to say, there will be a high turnout by that year old American bloc that votes across class
lines, that obviously takes more seriously the white supremacist origins of the United States of America,
more so than many of our friends on the left, for example, who tend to have a rather naive view, and a
rather Pollyanna like view of the origins of the settler state.
Which reminds me that, interestingly enough, a number of mainstream journalists have been calling me
lately to discuss issues concerning the possibility of the vanquished, if Mr. Trump pulls off an electoral
coup, appealing to international bodies for assistance. For example, like the person who says that she is
now the actual leader of Belarus, that is to say, going to the United Nations, the Organization of
American States, etc..
And what I find striking about that is one more example of how some of these mainstream forces in
some ways are more advanced than folks on the left. They’re taking this threat very seriously, and are
willing to revise the otherwise rosy view of the United States, which I would like to see emulated with
regard to the so-called poll watchers. You saw what they have in store when you witness early voting in
Virginia just a few days ago, when they were engaged in a concerted campaign of harassment of those
who were lining up to vote, even though I’m not sure if they realize who these people are going to vote
for, I assume they assume that if you’re voting early, you must be voting against Trump.
And with regard to ripping off the blinders and trying to look at this country the way it is, as opposed to
some sort of naive view, we really need to move away from this idea that these folks would vote
differently but for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh, because the bloc that votes against Mr. Trump and the
GOP nine to one, Fox News is part of their cable package. On their AM radios they have Rush Limbaugh,
and they don’t seem to be affected by it.
So we really need deeper explanations. People need to put on their thinking caps. Otherwise, we’ll have
a lot of time to discuss this in the concentration camps in Yankee Stadium.
Again, the same question. You talked about Biden distancing himself from the left, and as you said,
Trump says you just lost the left.
Well, did he?
I don’t think so in reality, because if you looked, for example, in 2016, the actual percentage of Bernie
Sanders primary voters who then went on to vote for Hillary Clinton in the general election, that number
was, in fact, higher than the percentage of in 2008 Hillary Clinton primary voters who went on to vote
for Barack Obama in the general election.
So I think that if you’re concerned about low turnout, or the sort of like resentful protest vote from the
wing of the party that loses the primary, you actually have more of a problem with centrist Democrats in
that regard because they tend to actually vote Republican, whereas leftists have nowhere else to go.
They can either stay home or not. And a lot of leftists, a lot of people who supported Bernie Sanders are
actually very politically engaged, which means that staying home doesn’t feel like an appropriate option
So there’s going to be a lot of clothespin votes for Joe Biden on the left. I think the numbers will bear
this out. I feel pretty confident about this. I see no reason to believe otherwise. You know, you
sometimes hear conversation, discourse about expressing sort of criticism or disappointment in Joe
Biden. I’ve certainly done that. I mean, I’m doing it, you know, I’m still doing it. I don’t see any reason to
stop criticizing Joe Biden between now and November.
But it’s certainly a matter of emphasis, and trying to figure out how to message effectively to the left
that we do need to, especially in battleground states, show up to vote for Joe Biden. There’s a season for
everything, and there will be a season for protesting Joe Biden and his attempts to sort of back away
from the promises that he made to the left, which I’m sure he will do immediately upon entering office if
he is to win. So I think that in order to make this case to the left, and like I said, I don’t think it’s it’s
I think that if you’re concerned about our electoral prospects in this election, the place to look is
disaffected black voters in places like Milwaukee, as was just mentioned, or, you know, the sort of
Obama to Trump converts in the Rust Belt, not the people who voted for Bernie Sanders, who might go
on Twitter and criticize Joe Biden. But I do think that there’s a conversation to have on the left about
this that I think is really important, and I think that it starts with Trump’s identification of Antifa as the
number one threat facing the United States. And a lot of people on the left don’t identify as Antifa. I
identify as a socialist, I certainly identify as an anti-fascist, but Antifa tends to refer to people who are
anarchists, who are black bloc, who participate in street protests in a particular way using particular
tactics. And because I don’t, I don’t go around calling myself Antifa. However, those of us on the left,
even if we don’t call ourselves Antifa, need to be very alarmed by Donald Trump’s identification of Antifa
as the number one threat facing the United States, because what is actually happening is that he’s trial
ballooning a third red scare.
I know that sounds hyperbolic, but when you really break it down, it’s not hyperbolic at all. You would
expect that after the third resurgence of socialism in the United States, you would see a third red scare. I
think that that’s probably in the cards, and I think that it’s just taking an unusual form right now because
I think the term socialism has lost quite a bit of its toxicity, in large part due to Bernie Sanders’s two
And so Donald Trump is casting about for another boogeyman that can sort of fill the space that
socialism might fill. And furthermore, it should be noted that immigrants and terrorists were the
boogeymen of yore, of the last two decades, but that seems to have lost its cachet. I think maybe that
people think it’s just kind of played out. It seems a bit cliche, and it’s not triggering the emotions of
people in Trump’s base. I think that Antifa is right now.
And furthermore, I would say that this summer, something very concerning has started to happen,
which is that the right has started to use the term Marxist more than it ever has in my entire lifetime.
I’ve actually rarely even heard the right use the term Marxist. When I came to Marxism as a Marxist
myself, that term was introduced to me by the left, and not as something scary, maybe as something
passé, maybe as something that we’ve grown out of, but not as a sort of looming threat.
So this is a new development and I think it’s one that we really have to keep an eye on, because when
the right talks about Marxism, they don’t actually mean the writings and the ideas of Marx and Engels.
They’re actually using it in the sense of the term cultural Marxism, which has emerged from something
called the intellectual dark web. It’s a neo-reactionary intellectual current on the right that has this term
cultural Marxism that they use to refer to enforced egalitarianism, which cuts against their ideas of the
natural hierarchies between people. They have a sort of like social Darwinist or social free-market
approach to letting people dominate each other, and that’s how society is going to function best, is if
you let dominant people fill dominant roles. And they perceive any attempts to intervene or correct
against that, including, for example, anti-racism or feminism, they call that cultural Marxism, as in
cultural egalitarianism. That’s where the use of the term Marxism is coming from in the right-wing.
So Donald Trump has started talking about Marxism. All of the right-wing figures, including right-wing
congresspeople, have started talking about Marxism this summer. You can imagine as an open Marxist
who writes for an American socialist magazine, the largest American socialist magazine, I find this quite
concerning because we weren’t talking about this seven or eight months ago on the national stage. And
Donald Trump is explicitly tying Marxism to Antifa.
We actually on the left are able to draw out distinctions and differences between different currents on
the left, but they are lumping them all together, and they’re painting them all with this anti-communist
brush, linking everyone on the left to a sort of legacy of terror and authoritarianism, and sort of
portraying the left in general, including Black Lives Matter. So Black Lives Matter, Antifa, something
called Marxists, and even Democrats, are lumped into this, are all sort of one pulsating mass of potential
authoritarianism that must be crushed in order to preserve the nation.
And I think that we have to be very careful about that, and we can’t be naive about that. That is a major
threat to us. And if we are able to get Trump out of office, then we can neutralize that threat somewhat,
which is very important because we want, as a matter of strategy, to be able to open up as much
political space as possible for us to maneuver in. And an incipient third red scare is not a fruitful
backdrop for the kind of class struggle and class political organizing that we know that we’re going to
need to do in order to actually transform this country into a habitable one.
When I said in my opening that the teacher of Trump’s politics was Vince McMahon, another one of his
teachers was Roy Cohn, who was the lawyer for Joe McCarthy, and later became an actual adviser for
In fact, I’ve got a piece on the website now about how McCarthyism was a model for Trumpism. And
people usually associate McCarthy with the Hollywood Ten and the tax of that sort, but if I understand
correctly, that was actually more the House of un-American Activities Committee. McCarthy’s attack was
on the left, especially the left in the trade unions, but also left individuals in government.
But, yeah, for those on the left who want to sort of be standoffish about this election, and not consider
the defeat of Trump a critical step towards creating a more favorable field for battle, as you just said,
Meagan. It’s beyond naive.
It’s like they don’t even believe their own analysis, because some of that section of the left to go on and
on about how fascist the United States is, it seems like they don’t believe it because they’re going to be
the target along with the rest of the left.
Leo, let me ask you a sort of different question.
In the major capitalist countries, Germany, Russia, I would include China more or less in that, maybe a
little different but still, most of the major big capitalist countries are not in such political disarray. I
mean, they have their problems and crises and so on, but not, a commentator on CNN called it this, too,
not the “batshit craziness” one’s seeing in American politics. Maybe the closest is Boris Johnson of the
UK, and even there, there was a strong American influence that helped create the conditions for the rise
of Boris Johnson.
Why? Why is the United States, even in terms of how they’re dealing with the pandemic, it’s so much
more irrational than most of the other countries, I mean, other than maybe like a Brazil or something?
Well, we are seeing this in other countries, a collapse of the center-left and the center-right political
parties, where you have proportional representation. This was reflected, of course, in the Democratic
Party and the Republican Party, where you don’t have proportional representation, in insurgencies
within those parties, from the Tea Party in the case of the Republicans, and the Sanders insurgency
inside the Democratic Party. There is an instability of the political institutions of advanced capitalism,
and that political instability is reflected as well in the way in which a xenophobic nationalism has rushed
in to occupy the space of those collapsed centrist institutions, partly appealing in good part to the
working class, in nationalist, patriotic terms, at a time when the natural representatives of the working
class politically were burdened by their own embrace of neo-liberalism.
And as with the Democratic Party, their lack of authenticity any longer when they speak to defending
the working class. In that sense, the most astonishing thing that Biden said, having been a proponent, as
Megan said, of third-wave politics through the Clinton era so manifestly, was that the first thing he
would do would be to require the American state to be purchasing, only purchasing goods produced
inside the United States. This is something that the American state has worked very, very hard at getting
other states not to do, and to declare that as not consistent with free trade treaties.
So this is turning the world on its head now, in terms of the long tradition of American exceptionalism.
In the other sense, it is the absence of a mass working-class party which goes all the way back to the
1896 election, the exclusion of not only blacks from the voting system effectively, but also a good many
new immigrants who were the basis of the formation of working-class socialist organizations around
that time, and up to World War One. It has to do with a certain dumbing down of American political
discourse, which we know goes back a very, very long time, to the know-nothings of the 1840s.
It has to do with, as Marx put it very astutely, that America was the first state to have freedom of
religion, but it certainly did not have freedom from religion. And for a very long time in the 20th century,
the only really mass political organizations were the evangelical churches. And we’re seeing the effect of
that to some extent. So sure, the extremity of it in the form it takes from Trump, and it’s very interesting
that Trump is really the first president who is a capitalist.
There was never another one who had been a capitalist. And what was he created by? He was created
by reality television, and a great many working people siding with him when he so crudely said, “you’re
fired.” You know, you’re seeing here the effects of the political culture of the American dream, whereby
those who couldn’t conceivably succeed, have not having been very wise in the selection of their
parents, somehow hope they’re going to win the lottery, and emulate the type of capitalist, the type of
businessman who is a shyster, in the hope that that’s the way they can get the success. The Republican
Party has become the location of that; in Florida at the time of the mortgage meltdown.
And we need to remember that Clinton and his presidency took great credit for the use of derivatives to
help black people buy mortgages. They saw that as a way of solving the endemic racism of the American
housing system. Well, you know, in Florida, almost everybody, as the inquiries done after 2008 show,
who were selling mortgages, were people who had been convicted of financial fraud. And when you
remember what the base of the local party, local Republican parties, is everywhere, you know, the base
of it starts in real estate, amongst real estate developers, and brokers, et cetera.
So, yes, there are specific explanations that need to be brought up here. But I would like to raise
something else that Megan was pointing to, which is how significant and important the short passage
from Occupy was with its own crude, but very necessary class map of 99:1, to the Sanders candidacy,
the growth of the DSA from being a few thousand people with an average age in the late 60s, to what it
is today of 60,000 people with an average age of under 30.
The entry of socialism into the discourse. Jacobin has just celebrated its 10th anniversary and, as Megan
says, is the largest socialist magazine in the country now, with almost anywhere these days, explicitly
socialist of a non-sectarian kind. This is a remarkable development, and I’d like to hear from Meagan and
Gerald, I mean, I realize that this is fantasy, how that debate would have gone last night if Bernie had
been there. What could Bernie have done to have prevented the further dumbing down of discourse
that occurred last night?
Would he have been successful? And what effect would that have on American political culture? And I’d
like to ask a further question, which seems to me very, very important. It has been the case through the
20th century that the strongest expressions of the left have come in the form of social movements,
which then fade away at every election, and you’re faced with this appalling alternative between the
Democrats and Republicans, more appalling now than ever of course.
But one has to ask whether the protest movements, which have reignited this year so impressively, and
have been so biracial in their composition, whether they will have the discipline, in the current critical
moment, to unify in such a way that the protests be of a kind that does not invite the kind of repression
that Trump is pointing to. And especially, I’d like to ask whether the discourse of white supremacy,
which is partly intended, of course, and rightly so, to remind people of the history that the United States
was built on as a full democratic capitalist society, whether that discourse of white supremacy does not
undermine the ability to create the popular front we need, because people resent and fear, especially
working-class communities, resent being guilted by this. Of course they shouldn’t, but they do, and I do
think we have to face this in a very different context than 1932 in Germany.
Whether the divisions that exist around this question of class versus race, which should not be divisive
since it is a racialized capitalism, whether that is not going to replicate the divisions between the Social
Democrats and the communists in 1932. These are serious questions which, it isn’t just a matter of
dealing with morally, it’s also a matter of dealing with tactically in the weeks to come.
Gerald, go ahead.
I’m not sure what that means. I mean, should we stop talking about white supremacy? Should we stop
talking about the fact that black preschoolers are more likely to be suspended from school than other
preschoolers? There was a letter in The New York Times that suggested that perhaps we’ll move to
saying that black infants are more likely to cry louder than other infants. See the problem is really
reframing the history of this settler-colonial state, a term curiously and conspicuously absent from a lot
of leftwing discourses, and recognize that the so-called Enlightenment project was racially flawed. From
its inception, the vaunted Bill of Rights did not apply to a significant percentage of the population. There
was no Second Amendment right for enslaved Africans for example. If there had been, as the Manhattan
Mussolini might say, believe me, slavery would have ended before 1865. A strategic ambition of the
settlers was to keep arms from the hands of the indigenous population. So I’m not sure how we can do
an end-run around the white supremacist issue, particularly when, as noted, also conspicuously ignored
by too many analysts, that those most likely to confront the left, excuse me, confront the right or the
blacks who vote against the right, nine to one.
And that brings me to your question Paul, which is why the United States? Well, I think that has already
been noted. England, the so-called mother country for some of you, has similar problems with Boris
Johnson violating international law by trying to break out of the divorce arrangement with the European
Union, the shambolic reaction to the COVID crisis, etc., the demagogy, the racism, etc.. And I think that
London and Washington were the tip of the spear during the preceding epic. Speaking of the Cold War,
and as a result, particularly Washington, found it necessary to engage more directly and profoundly in
repressive measures, particularly against the left, and those effects have yet to be dissipated.
At the same time, there was a kind of contradiction, because at the same time there was a curbing of
civil liberties and freedom of expression and all of the rest, there was an opening with regard to Jim
Crow, that is to say, eroding the more egregious aspects of Jim Crow. How a significant percentage of
the Euro-American working class and middle class greeted this was that this was unleashing more
competition for their particular positions, which then leads to these mass revolts against desegregation
and equality in Little Rock in 1957, in Oxford, Mississippi, in 1962 when there were deaths because of
the potential entrance of one black student, James Meredith, to the University of Mississippi. It was not
a sectional issue, you had similar uprisings in the Irish-American and Italian-American communities in
Boston in the 1970s over school desegregation. And so then, at the same time, the so-called white
working class and middle class, from their point of view, when there was the overture to China in the
1970s, from their point of view, this allowed jobs to be exported to China, creating more of competition
for positions, which has now led us to this trifecta of racism, of white supremacy, which we would not
be able to ignore unless you want to keep more black voters at home in Milwaukee, Detroit, and
If that’s your goal, that’s the way to go, which the white supremacy issue and which, of course, will then
redound to the detriment of all of us. But in any case, I think that we have to sort of take seriously sort
of our rhetoric. The rhetoric is, oh, it’s the people who make history, except when it comes to the Euro-
American working class, and they’re all dupes of Fox News and Rush Limbaugh. I think that we have to
look at those supporters, the 63 million strong across class lines that vote for Trump. We have to see
that they are voting for Trump, not least because they recognize that in order to conceive and develop
the settler-colonial state, it did not take Dana daintiness and good manners to take the land away from
the Native Americans, and enforce slavery on the Africans. It took crudeness. It took the
obstreperousness. It took ultimately violence. And if we try to ignore that on behalf of some sort of, I’m
not sure what, I think that we’re going to end up in worse trouble than we are today.
Well, this is a very interesting and really big conversation. I guess I’ll start by saying that I believe that it’s
probably inevitable between now and November that white working-class Trump supporters, which I
would say I think it’s important to note that’s not the stronghold of his base. But we know that they
exist, and we know that they’re animated in large part by racial prejudice. I don’t think that between
now and November, we’re going to be replacing their meaning-making apparatus with one of racial
solidarity instead of racial bigotry.
I think that it’s possible that if Bernie Sanders had been the nominee, we could start to see the tectonic
plates shift a little bit, because each white racist who wants to build a wall to keep the immigrants out,
or believes that black people are running amuck and burning down distant cities, and believes all the lies
that they’re hearing, each of those people also struggles with health care costs. And they are also, in
many cases, unable to afford rent, or afraid that they’re not going to be able to afford their mortgage, or
worried about their job security, or unable to pay for their children’s college tuition, or even unable to
pay off their own student loan debt if they were lucky enough to go to college to begin with, and so on
and so forth.
And so I do believe that if Bernie Sanders had been the nominee, I don’t think that we could consider it a
deus ex machina, and I don’t think that it would have happened over the course of one election, but like
I said, I do think that the tectonic plates could have begun to shift. I think we could have begun to see
the potential for a new realignment that breaks out of the two-party stranglehold that we have right
now where the Republican Party is basically committed to extreme and open racism, and the
Democratic Party continues to push policy that harms people of color and particularly black people,
while also committing itself rhetorically to anti-racism, but not following through on those
That’s the stranglehold that we’re in right now. And I think that if Bernie Sanders had been the nominee,
we could have seen a loosening up of that. We could have started to see a new type of identification.
People could have started to identify more with their class along racial lines. It would not have
happened overnight, but it would have been, I guess, a step down the road. And crucially, I think it’s
important that someone like Bernie Sanders never backs away from his rhetorical commitment to anti-
racism either. He got a lot of flack for this in 2015-2016 for not doing enough to just lay down the law on
racism and say, I oppose racism.
Honestly, I think a lot of that was pretty unfair to Bernie Sanders. I was following his campaign very
closely, and I think that the media was misrepresenting that in order to gin up controversy that didn’t
necessarily need to exist for their own purposes. That said, he smartly understood in the next election
that that’s an obstacle that he needs to figure out how to work with, right? If the media is going to do
that, they’re going to do that, and so he needs to figure out how to behave strategically in relation to
that. And I think he really stepped up his anti-racist rhetoric in 2020 in a way that wasn’t divisive, to the
point that Leo was talking about, there are certain ways to go about acknowledging what Gerald is
correctly talking about, the need to identify white supremacy and identify racism as a major harm in
itself, and an obstacle; a harm in itself, to black people and people of color, and an obstacle to
multiracial solidarity along class lines.
And Bernie Sanders, I think, did a really good job of that in 2020.
One of the reasons that anti-communism was so virulent in the United States, so much more than in
Britain, or in Canada, or in Europe in the 1950s was, it did reflect the success of the Communist Party in
its popular front strategy, after the rise of fascism abroad. Until then, it had run a class versus class,
crude kind of line. But by turning to unifying the labor movement around the struggles to create
industrial unions, which was explicitly oriented to organizing black workers alongside white workers to
break the inherent racism in the craft unionism of the AFL, that proved to be a success.
And as we know, a great many of the people who became leaders in the civil rights movement were
people who had been schooled in the broader protests, as well as in the union organizing that the
Communist Party engaged in in the United States through the 30s and even the 40s. So there was in that
sense, the beginnings of the type of politics that we need to have. The, you know, Roy Cohen, I think
Paul was absolutely right to point to that legacy.
Roy Cohn became the mentor of Donald Trump. They had a falling out before Roy Cohn died, and one of
Roy Cohn’s last sentences was “Donald Trump pisses ice.” No, for someone like Roy Cohn to say that is
an indication of who we’re dealing with and what we’re dealing with in terms of the capacity of Trump
and the people around him to ruthlessly exploit the lack of discipline on the left in the short run. The
lack of organized coherence, the divisions that develop, understandably, during the civil rights
movement between those oriented to peaceful protest and those oriented to expressing a degree of
physical resistance to the repressive apparatus, which, of course sustains more than anything else, racial
oppression in the United States.
But this is now a matter of weeks. We are dealing here in weeks without a disciplined political
organization of the type that the three of us see as necessary to address the development of a coherent
opposition to this racialized capitalism. We’re dealing with it as a matter of weeks, and we have to think
tactically. We have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time with regard to what discipline we
will need in the face of the onslaught. I mean, we, I really shouldn’t be saying that as a Canadian, but this
is understandable, given that the fate of the world so much depends on what happens in the American
But this needs to be addressed.
Leo’s right here that we don’t have a disciplined organization that can behave in concert, or even set out
a program and follow it between now and November. So I’m a member of the Democratic Socialists of
America, which is the largest socialist group in the United States in the last half-century, and I’m
enormously proud of the growth that we’ve had and the strides that we’ve made. I see the campaigns
that we’re doing and they’re excellent. I see the, you know, the political education that we’re doing, and
it’s miraculous to watch people go from essentially no political or class consciousness to, you know,
devoting their lives to the fight for socialism and being genuine socialist cadre. But I know that we don’t
have what it takes right now to be able to lead some kind of popular front between now and November,
and I don’t think anybody else does either. We simply weren’t able to get it.
Just between now and November, Meagan, it’s not just about, well maybe you’re suggesting this, too,
but if, in fact, this plays out the way some people think it could play out, which is that after November
3rd, states controlled by Republicans simply don’t certify the results, or what they do certify is the vote
that took place on 3rd in person, and won’t certify the ballots that come later.
So essentially a coup, essentially, if the Supreme Court then certifies that, supports that, I don’t see how
this stops or is prevented without a massive, massive movement in the streets in response to it.
I’m afraid that it won’t be a disciplined movement, though, which is what Leo’s talking about. I think that
we will, if this happens, there will be mass street protests. I think that they can be somewhat effective
on their own without leadership, I mean we’ve certainly seen the Black Lives Matter movement over the
summer has essentially been unplanned and undisciplined. I should say that there are individual leaders
in individual cities, but overall, on a national scale, there’s not a lot of coordination happening. A lot of
this is very spontaneous. And I think that that would be the same in the event that Trump tries to steal
the election. However, I will say that during the Bernie Sanders campaign, DSA and four other
progressive groups joined together to support Bernie Sanders. This was actually mentioned a couple of
times, or maybe just once, in the Democratic Party’s primary debates.
In fact, Bernie Sanders was accused of having a super PAC that supported him, which, of course, would
be rank hypocrisy on his part were it true. But it wasn’t true. It was actually five progressive
organizations and one nurse’s union that was being referred to. So what I’m trying to say is that the
Bernie Sanders campaign did at least give us a dry run for how to coordinate between organizations, and
I think that we’re going to have to tap into that once more if Trump tries to steal the election.
But I still don’t think it’s going to be enough to be able to have marching orders on the streets. I think it’ll
be mostly spontaneous, and we have to cross our fingers, and hope that people have decent instincts.
OK, well, what I’d like to do is invite the three of you back again, and let’s pick up the conversation about
what kind of organizational form is needed, and how do we get there, and deal with some of the other
issues of facing the movement. So if that’s all right with the three of you, I don’t know if any one of you
wants one final thing to say.
No, that sounds good, though. I’m happy to come back.
It was great to be on with you.
So my guests are have all agreed to come back. Gerald, did you agree?
OK, so thank you, all of you, for joining me on theAnalysis.news podcast. And thank you for listening.
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