The Silver Lining of the Rigged Election

Questioning Legitimacy

For the despondent Democratic shills doing postmortems on the Clinton campaign, looking back on the big picture, assessing the damage and reflecting anew on how Trump became politically prominent in the first place, there are few sins greater than the president-elect’s original sin of questioning Obama’s “legitimacy” through his leadership of the “birther movement.”

Recall how that was an effort to undercut the new president’s authority by questioning his birthplace and indeed every aspect of his childhood. And recall how in 2009 Trump devoted resources to “investigating” the young Obama, announcing that he had had no friends at Punahou High School, etc.  It was an obviously asinine and racist enterprise, which will always be there in the president-elect’s record.

But there is one sin even greater–to these stalwarts of the Democratic Establishment, mentioned above–than the sin of spewing ridiculous nonsense about Obama being born in Kenya and smuggled into Hawai’i: the far worse sin of sowing doubt about the legitimacy of the U.S. electoral system itself–the sin of declaring the system itself  “rigged.” That just goes too far!

To a political hack of either party (of the two official ones) this is the political equivalent of blaspheming against the Holy Spirit (the one sin that God will not forgive; see  Mark 3:28-30). A trespass, in Polynesian terms, of the most awful kapu. And so these advocates of the system itself (clinging to dreams of prosperity within it) are forced to base their critique of the contest’s outcome, not on evidence about Clinton’s ugly record and its impact on the electorate, and its impact upon the voter, but on alleged “Russian interference” designed to throw the race to Trump, supposedly through the revelation of (unquestionably authentic) emails via Wikileaks, resulting in the sowing of such doubts about the electoral system itself!

How dared they–reasoned the Huma Abedins of this world–rain on Hillary’s coronation parade by those leaks, calculated to somehow make her look bad, revealing that she has long known that the governments of Saudi Arabia and Qatar have been the main supporters of ISIL, even while the Clinton Foundation took big donations from those autocratic kingdoms! How dared they, at the last minute, reveal these things about the best-qualified, most-experienced candidate ever poised to pierce the glass ceiling for little girls everywhere?

A fuming Democratic hack, former Bill Clinton advisor Van Jones–who had advocated for Hillary on CNN, representing her as the candidate of African-Americans and shamefully disparaging Sanders from the outset–declared after the election that this was the first time a foreign country, Russia, had determined the outcome of a U.S. election.

Such bold baiting words! Such an easy segue into a Clintonesque appeal for a no-fly zone over Syria to prevent more Russian war crimes!

Here pretensions of political progressivism meet Goldwater-era red-baiting opportunism.  Why must Jones, snarling at the Trump victory he had–by his contemptuous treatment of Sanders–actually aided, blame in this case the (unknown) messenger who brought the bad news?

Would Jones prefer the people not know any of the content of those leaked emails? Is there anything he’d prefer had been kept hidden to protect her reputation?

The DNC leaks hurt Clinton by showing how her nomination was skewed for her against Sanders. If indignation about this new information further inclined Bernie supporters to recoil further from supporting Clinton, “what difference does it make” if the leak came from Russia or somewhere else? (Didn’t four other foreign “actors” access her private server too?)

But back to the two legitimacy questions. The fact is, Obama is legitimate, in the sense of having that Hawai’i birth certificate Trump and the birther buttheads doubted, while the U.S. electoral system is illegitimate, in the sense that it’s shaped far less by what’s lawful (ligitimus) than by what’s profitable. And in the sense that it violates domestic and international law all the time, from Standing Rock to Syria, while always defending its actions through increasingly ridiculous lies.

The system is rigged as charged. Only it’s not rigged the way that Trump was saying–up until the system catapulted him so unexpectedly into power Tuesday night.

The System Itself is Rigged and Illegitimate

It’s true that Wall Street backed Hillary. And it’s true that the Clinton campaign determined early on that Trump would be the ideal opponent for their candidate, being such a ridiculous un-electable buffoon. As campaign chairman John Podesta stated in a leaked memo in April 2015: “Our hope is that the goal of a potential HRC campaign and the DNC would be one-in-the-same: to make whomever the Republicans nominate unpalatable to a majority of the electorate.” He proposed a strategy to promote Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, and Ben Carson as those most likely to “lock themselves into extreme conservative positions.”  He referred to these as “Pied Piper candidates” (referring to the fairy tale sorcerer who as you recall mesmerizes the children of Hamlin and leads them off into oblivion).

“We need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to them seriously,” declared Podesta.

Wow, think of that! Tell the press, says this master-interlocuter between the Democratic Party Establishment and identified partisan agents in the corporate press. (As we know from other Wikileaks, the campaign was circulating a list of sympathetic media contacts including Rachel Maddow of MSNBC. Yes I know, she’s a major disappointment.. I too remember when she was a once trenchant critic of the criminal invasion of Iraq. Have you noticed how she’s changed? Have you noticed how journalists like everybody else in the capitalist system get bought, and tend to sell out principles?)

MSNBC is of course the quasi-official channel of the Democratic Party. It would be the ideal vehicle through which to promote Trump. as the straw-man, easily defeatable candidate.

Joe Scarborough (on MSNBC’s always cheery “Morning Joe,” who as a Republican ex-Congressman co-hosting the show with Miki Brzezinski–who as you know is daughter of  Zbigniew Brzezinski–gives MSNBC some claim to nonpartisanship) played a crucial role, in my observation, in the effort to validate the buffoon as a legitimate candidate. Scarborough was saying early on, “He could win.”

It appears that from August 2015 MSNBC–followed by all the other networks, if the decision was not simultaneous–made the executive editorial decision to prioritize every public appearance of Trump as BREAKING NEWS.  This represented each Trump utterance as exciting and remarkable, even though he kept repeating the same things, praising himself, insulting others, and giving no policy details.

The entire corporate media opted to provide maximum free advertising for Trump, because it attracted audiences and commercial sponsorship. The Trump campaign became a very profitable commodity for those abetting it in this way. But if the concept was, we will rig this thing for Hillary, handing her an easy kill, while also garnering audience (hence larger profits) by featuring this clown endlessly. But we will be able to put the genie back into the bottle when needed.

At some point the genie unleashed by the corporate media, intending to insure the coronation of Hillary Clinton, turned the tables on the election-riggers.

Meanwhile Bernie Sanders, despite the early scorn of the corporate media and prophecies that no “socialist” could ever become president, came to pose a major threat to Hillary. Reportage about his candidacy shifted from the rarity of his socialist identity to the hugeness of his crowds. Rather than let the story become: “Youth Increasingly Drawn to Socialism” (which in fact, is a story worth covering–but the corporate media was not inclined to draw attention to it, lest it encourage young people’s left-radicalization), the story became merely “Youth Rally Around Sanders.” Commentators generally decided it was a good thing that he was “bringing in so many youth into our political process” etc. In other words, he was a basically benign force ultimately useful to Clinton’s cause, the cause of the system itself. In the end he could not deliver because his most committed supporters could not vote for Hillary.

DNC chair Debbie Wasserman Schultz, who was publicly insisting that she was “neutral” in the race between Clinton and Sanders, criticized Bernie on TV for criticizing the party leadership. She was always an obvious Hillary loyalist. A leaked email dated May 21 makes this clear. She wrote of Sanders, “This is a silly story. He isn’t going to be president.” (Imagine that. Sanders had won 20 Democratic state primaries, and was well ahead in national popularity polls. But what would that have to do with it? Neutral Debbie had a plan.)

While Trump’s rambling stump-speech rant was given full free coverage,  Sanders’ speeches were covered by reporters with auditorium audiences in the background, commenting on their size while the tiny figure of Bernie was visible in the distance, his words unworthy of coverage. What possible justification could an executive news director of an “objective” news channel ever offer for this discrepancy? Other than to acknowledge, candidly: We’re rigged! And there’s no way we’re going to give the messages of Trump and Sanders equal exposure, because that’s not what our advertisers want. That’s not what our consumers want. They want more Donald. Donald sells, so we’re going with the decision to advertise him free.

The Role of the Media, and the System Itself

That (hubris ridden) DNC-media plan to promote the buffoon’s candidacy as the easy kill; plus the DNC-media complicity in the effort to prevent Sanders, far more popular than Clinton, from getting the nomination, delivered the presidency to Trump. That’s how the election was rigged. It was not a question of Wall Street bankrolling the victor in the usual way. Wall Street tried to get its (favored) candidate Hillary elected, and it threw millions at Jed Bush to no avail. (But notice how Wall Street has responded to the election. It’s fine with Trump too now, so far.)

It was (in my humble view) a matter of the Fourth Estate (which is to say, mainly the corporate media) influencing the shaping of public opinion, maybe as never before in an election. Specifically, the free promotion of the Trump brand by all the cable networks helped him steadily build his support base. The Nation reported in December 2015 that Trump was getting 23 times the television coverage of Sanders. In March 2016 the New York Times reported that Trump had gotten 2 billion in free airtime from the media. Most strikingly, the rigging process denied the presidency to Sanders, the most popular politician in the country, and the Democratic Party’s best hope. It was an extraordinary miscalculation, by one section of the 1% in (faux) combat with another section of the 1%.

Some argue that the real turning point in Hillary’s fortunes came as the New York Times began exposing (from August) how donations to the Clinton Foundation were used to enrich the family, even paying for Chelsea’s wedding. But this I think is secondary. The system had already presented the people with the two grotesque choices, Clinton and Trump, and the NYT surely favored Hillary. But when Wilileaks made those damning emails available, the drive for profit in a competitive environment obliged the paper to address the behavior they document. It was obliged to report that Clinton’s “top aides expressed profound concerns in internal emails about how foreign donations to the Clinton Foundation and Bill Clinton’s own moneymaking ventures would affect Mrs. Clinton’s political future.”

It was not necessary for Russian or any other foreign hackers revealing DNC perfidy or the Clintons’ personal corruption to “sow doubts about the legitimacy of the U.S. system.” The system sows doubts about itself, requiring no external help. It is rigged to uphold capitalism and imperialism, and provide its most powerful with ever-widening opportunities to exploit more people and control larger swathes of the planet. Trump has postured alternately as a non-interventionist eager for rapprochement with Russia, and as the “most militarist” president ever, who will destroy ISIL with boots on the ground. Due to his inability to talk normally, conceptualize clearly, maintain concentration, or hold to a consistent opinion on things, it is hard to know what he plans to do in Syria. Recall that Syria was Hillary’s most pressing foreign policy problem. Trump has suggested vaguely, the way he usually does, that the U.S. allow Russia to handle Syria.

But lest anyone give any credence to Van Jones’ charge that Russia interfered in the U.S. elections to bring Trump to power, think of this. There have been repeated reports since last fall that Trump is considering John Bolton for secretary of state. This is, as Glenn Greenwald has recently put it, a “genuinely terrifying prospect.” Bolton is the most rabid war-monger within the neocon camp. He has campaigned for regime change in Syria from 2001, and has such a reputation for bullying and intemperate speech that Congress refused to approve him as UN ambassador when George W. Bush proposed him in 2005. (He got the post through a recess appointment.) If Trump nominates Bolton, it will be a signal that, far from working with Russia, he will confront Russia more recklessly than would Clinton and the horrid Michèle Flournoy.

(Memo to world: If John Bolton is Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, go into panic mode, since it will result in a military confrontation between the two great nuclear powers in the skies over Syria.)

In any case, with 25.5% of eligible electorate’s vote, less than Clinton’s 25.6, with 47% boycotting the (illegitimate) farce, Trump receives through this rigged process a pathetic mandate of one-fourth of the people’s support. By some polls over 60% of the people dislike him.

So the corporate media advantaged Trump; fucked Sanders; and tried to promote Clinton although through their incompetence, overconfidence, inability to prevent the publication of damaging leaked emails and need to profit off their publication themselves they were unable to boost her into power. They stand accused of trying to rig the election for her, but mistakenly throwing it to him.

The good news: The system itself is in greater upheaval than ever as thousands rally spontaneously to deny the legitimacy of a Trump presidency.

Watching CNN now (Friday). Sara Murray (“politics reporter”) reacting to reports of widespread anti-Trump demonstrations states that “No one disputes the fact that it was a free and fair election.”

No one? Oh come on, Ms. Murray! This has been the problem with you people all along. You announce things you say no one disputes, while people do, indeed, dispute them. People like you need to be humbled from time to time by reminders that you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re whistling in the dark, positing a consensus that doesn’t exist, assuming a national unity that’s more fractured than ever. You want–as your minimal responsibility to the stability of the state you serve–to insure that the people believe in it. Otherwise how could they support it in wars against others?

You posit an “international community” that doesn’t exist, in an effort to assert that there’s a consensus you can use to assert your own legitimacy. You talk about “we” and “us” and try to seduce everyone listening to you, so that they want inclusion in your imagined community, and to–whatever else they do–acknowledge that we live in a free country, with free elections. (Without inculcating that view in the masses, how can the system survive?)

The official ideology of the corporate media excludes recognition that there are many of us who do dispute that. People who do not, as a matter of religious conviction, believe in the U.S. system itself–in its electoral farces, its inherent economic inequality, its inability (in its moribund state) to change positively within its own terms, its incessant demand for patriotic support for its endless immoral wars. We don’t believe in it.

We don’t accept its demands for respect for and acceptance of electoral results–no matter what corrupt processes produce them. We don’t accept its demand that we–at least–take satisfaction in the American tradition of peaceful power transfers. (How often have we heard that patriotic paean to smooth turnover, and acceptance of the popular will as supposedly reflected in the peerless system given this country by its Founding Fathers, over the last 48 hours? Chris Cuomo delivers that up-beat bullshit message with such empty eloquence.)

Be happy–he might as well exclaim–that you’re oppressed by a corrupt system, that passes the torch from leader to leader with so little unpleasantness, election after election. Don’t be out in the streets chanting “Not my president!” Accept that the system worked. Be proud to be American, where at least you know you’re free!

Shut up, get off the street, and go back to work at your second minimum-wage part-time job. Focus on making America great again while you wait for better jobs to open up in the wake of the coming trade wars with Mexico and China, perhaps in wall construction, or the construction of more prisons.

Notice the beautiful irony here.

When Obama was elected in 2008, Donald Trump questioned his very eligibility to run. He was saying that Obama was not his president. Now tens of thousands of young people are spontaneously rallying to declare “Trump is not my president.”

Trump has stated that his favorite Bible verse is, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). (This shows how much he know about Christianity; see Matthew 5:38.) Now he’s reaping the contempt, loathing, hatred and rejection he has sown. Such nice karma there!

Meanwhile the talking heads, always appealing to the kids to keep their protests peaceful, keep repeating what our youth don’t want to hear: “This was a free and fair election.” Social stability requires their acceptance of that premise. But many are savvy to the fact that politicians and the media are generally liars, because they have to be. How can anyone in the service of Wall Street tell the big truths versus the Big Lies, such as those that resulted in the Iraq War and the ongoing U.S.-led destruction of the Middle East?

Many of those out in the streets today rationally grasp the fact that the whole thing is truly rigged, in the service of Wall Street, unfree and unfair, illegitimate and deserving of overthrow. The protestors’ statement that Trump is not their president is a statement that they reject the system in general, and are prepared to fight for something else. That is surely a positive thing.

Young woman protestor in Oakland interviewed Saturday, asked by an RT reporter why she’s demonstrating against Trump when “some people watching might be like, Trump won the election fair and square” replied:

We’re just doing what’s right. This is what we need, we don’t need Trump in office. He’s just gonna make everything worse, it’s as simple as that. We just gotta make him go. We’ll all fight and do this every day until he’s gone.

In other words, don’t point your “fair and square election” at me; I am no longer brainwashed; it leaves me unmoved. The charade of bourgeois democracy has been exposed, as plainly as Hillary’s corruption and Trump’s rapacity. Everything’s only gonna get worse until the system is gone.

This leap–towards open-ended revolutionary consciousness–is the silver lining of the rigged election of 2016.

Gary Leupp is a Professor of History at Tufts University, and author of numerous works on Japanese history. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Gary.