Essays The Portal Podcast

The Coming U.S. Election

This essay appears in audio format at the beginning of The Portal Podcast, Episode 37.

Hello, it’s Eric with a few thoughts this week on the coming US election before we introduce this episode’s main conversation. Now, I should say upfront that this audio essay is not actually focused on the 2020 election, which is partially concluded, but in the election of 2024 instead. The reason I want to focus on that election is that, precisely because it is four years away, we should know almost nothing about it. We shouldn’t know almost anything about who is likely to be running or what the main issues will be, and we should be able to say almost nothing about the analysis of the election. Unfortunately, almost none of that is true.

Now, obviously, we can’t know all of the particulars. However, we still know a great deal more than we should. And that is because the ritual is not what many suppose it to be. A simple, nationwide open contest, to be held on a single day, after several unrestricted long form debates, with unbiased rules enforced by trusted referees. What is most important is that, prior to the 2024 election, there will have to be an appearance of a primary election.

So what actually is a primary election and what function does it serve? It’s hard to say. But if you think about it, this is really the awkward disingenuous and occasionally dangerous ritual by which a large and relatively unrestricted field of candidates needs to be narrowed to the subset that is acceptable to the insiders of the parties, their associated legacy media bosses, and the party megadonors. Now the goal of this process is to, in the famous words of Noam Chomsky, manufacture consent from us, the governed, so that we at least feel like we have selected the final candidates, who, in truth, we would likely never have chosen in an open process. I’ve elsewhere compared this ritual to the related process referred to by professional illusionists as “magician’s choice”, whereby an audience member is made to feel that they’ve selected something, like a card from a deck, out of their own free will, but that the magician has actually chosen from a position of superior knowledge and control, long before the trick has even begun.

In the modern era, of course, “consent” has become a much more interesting word, especially of late. And perhaps that fact is important in this context too, as the constellation of issues carry over surprisingly well. To bring in more terminology from the national conversation on consent, the party rank and file are groomed, if you will, by the party-affiliated media, as to who is viable, and who should be ignored and laughed at, through a process of what might be termed “political negging”. The candidates are also conditioned by being told that they can only appear in party-approved debates, which must be hosted exclusively by affiliated legacy media outlets, which emphasize sound bites and theatrical gotcha moments over substance, despite the internet’s general move towards in-depth discussion made possible in large part by the advent of independent long form podcasts like this one. Thus, both voters and candidates are prevented from giving informed and uncoerced consent by the very institutional structures most associated with democracy itself.

Now, why am I saying all of this? Well, it goes back to a video I’ve not been able to get out of my mind for four years. As some of you may remember from the 2016 election, Jake Tapper was asking democratic national committee chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz, about why Bernie Sanders would be leaving New Hampshire with an equal number of convention delegates after trouncing his old rival Hillary Clinton in an historic upset.

Tapper asked, “What do you tell voters who are new to the process who say that this makes them feel like it’s all rigged?”

Now, what was odd here was the idea that only those new to the process needed to have this explained. As someone then in his early 50s, I can say that I certainly felt that this was rigged at the time, even though this was hardly my first rodeo. But I digress.

Wasserman Schultz was in fact prepared for the question, and she replied, “Well, let me just make sure that I can clarify exactly what was available during the primaries in Iowa and in New Hampshire. The unpledged delegates are a separate category. The only thing available on the ballot in a primary and a caucus is the pledged delegates, those that are tied to the candidate that they are pledged to support. They receive a proportional number of delegates going into our convention.”

Now this was confusing. Why are there any unpledged delegates at all? And why not call them Super Delegates, just like everyone else? And why was she asserting that availability was a settled question? This is like an emergency room administrator explaining to someone having a heart attack in real time that what is available is a vending machine down the hall rather than the nurse or physician chatting idly beside it. I remember thinking, “I don’t care what you say is available, you crazy, crazy lady.”

But of course, she wasn’t crazy. And this wasn’t about availability. It was about naked power, and its public rationalization. Wasserman Schultz attempted to explain further that it was all due to a need for—and I swear I’m not making this up—diversity and inclusion. She continued, saying,

“Unpledged delegates exist really to make sure that the party leaders and elected officials don’t have to be in a position where they are running against grassroots activists. We as the Democratic Party, really highlight and emphasize inclusiveness and diversity at our convention, and so we want to give every opportunity to grassroots activists and diverse committed Democrats to be able to participate, attend, and be a delegate at the convention, and so we separate out those unpledged delegates to make sure that there isn’t competition between them.”

Did I hear that right? This is about diversity and inclusion for Super Delegates? Oddly, Tapper responded that while this obviously made no sense to him, either, they should both move to the next question,

“I’m not sure that that answer would satisfy an anxious young voter. But let’s move on.”

If you were confused, let me offer to translate. This isn’t supposed to be an election. “One man, one vote” is nowhere in evidence, obviously. And this isn’t the party of the rank and file. This is the party of the insiders. Perhaps it is weirdly easier to discuss this in the consent paradigm. She was saying, in effect,

“Come on, Jake. You’re a big boy, so don’t be so naive. Obviously lifelong rank-and-file, card-carrying party primary voters are just asking for it by coming to the polling place and voting provocatively in the presence of super delegates. Hey, if they weren’t into it, they wouldn’t flock to the voting booth like moths to a flame now, would they, know what I mean? Look, since we both know our place here, let’s move on to your next question so we don’t kill the buzz, shall we?”

To be clear, and most of us really never understood what the invariant phrase “diversity and inclusion” really means in such settings. I’ve always marveled at why both inclusion and the word diversity initially strike most of us and certainly me as positive concepts, but the now ubiquitous “diversity and inclusion” soundbite leaves many with a vaguely sick feeling. If I understand correctly, there’s both the meritorious part of the primary process which involves having to win at the ballot box by listening and appealing to voters, as well as the corrupt part of the voting, which is guaranteed through superdelegate quotas. And bizarrely, the diversity delegates she refers to here are the unpledged delegates. That is, in the twisted logic of the modern Democratic Party, it is actually the insiders who are the vulnerable diversity and inclusion delegates who must be protected. And, as you must have guessed, in the mind of the party operatives, only a bigot would argue with diversity and inclusion.

So is that the extent of it? Well, not even close. While the parties are not exactly shy about making sure that truly fair primaries are structurally impossible, they still have to leave at least a formal possibility that the people could choose a candidate hostile to the rent seeking insiders and donors. If an upset were not formally possible, the rank and file would be expected to balk at calling this arcane process a primary election, and they would be expected to reject the final candidate pushed by insiders, yet leaving that possibility formally open is dangerous to the mandarins, as it is exactly what led to Donald Trump becoming the Republican nominee in 2016.

Thus, there are two more important steps to controlling the process to prevent a Trump like coup against the insiders in the future. Perhaps the most disturbing to observe is the constant harassment of popular candidates by party activists who live inside what is supposed to be independent news media, and who pose as journalists and news people. This is the second juggernaut to stop popular candidates, by ignoring their outperformance and positive reception, by dropping them from graphics, misspelling their names, ignoring their successes, standing in front of their likenesses on green screens and even inexplicably using someone else’s photograph just to troll them. Particularly egregious here was the all out war that MSNBC appeared to be waging on Andrew Yang in 2019 and 2020, which showcased the exact same tactics that had been used previously against Bernie Sanders in 2016, and Ron Paul in 2012, when the Pew Research Center on journalism in the media concluded, “The same could be said of the narrative in the news media of Texas Congressman Ron Paul, who received the least coverage of any candidate overall. The difference with Paul is that he has received by far the most favorable coverage of any candidate in the blogosphere, 48% positive and only 15% negative”.

In Yang’s case, MSNBC was forced to comically apologize on multiple occasions for both suppose that errors and claimed emissions. When dropped from a visual the network dutifully tweeted, “Earlier on, we aired a poll graphic that inadvertently left off Andrew Yang. This was a mistake that we have since corrected on air. We apologize to Mr. Yang,” said MSNBC when they mysteriously dropped the candidate from their visuals. Yet when inexplicably screwing up Yang’s first name they said, “Earlier tonight on The Beat, we made a mistake in a segment about Andrew Yang. While we fixed his name during the segment, we’d like to apologize Andrew for the error.”

Yet this string of seemingly focused errors and omissions targeted on Yang continued unrelentingly, despite being extensively documented by the campaign. If these super delegates, staggered primaries, apparently deliberate errors, and endless targeted emissions were not enough to keep popular candidates from gaining serious support, the last major rigging of the election takes place by saying who can and cannot hold a debate. In 2020, all three of the most ferociously independent, and therefore dangerous candidates to Democratic Party insiders—that would be Sanders, Gabbard and Yang—were welcomed on Joe Rogan’s extremely popular long form podcast. Additionally, Sam Harris and I both interviewed Yang, and Dave Rubin, I believe, interview Both Yang and Gabbard, yet we were told that there were various strict rules to prevent multiple candidates from appearing at once in real discussions outside the standard format of legacy-media-run, media soundbite and gotcha spectacles termed “debates”. The main benefit of having, say, a Joe Rogan or a Sam Harris hosted discussion or debate is that the candidates could actually develop long trains of thought with nuance and subtlety to go well beyond the bumper sticker level complexity so loved by legacy media. But inside the bizarre upside-down world of official debates refereed by legacy media, the candidates that do the best in free long form discussions are systematically given the least time.

To sum up, the more you thrive with bold ideas and positions and actual policy discussions, the less time you are given and the bigger your handicapping. It’s essentially that simple. Thus, that long form format that we use on this show would almost certainly spell the death of most of the “focus-group candidates”. So why bring up 2024, when the election of 2020 has not even taken place? Because it is always going to be the same so long as we are fighting the current and last wars rather than the next one.

Personally, I don’t want to go through this idiocy ever again, just like you. And, like you, I’m tired of voting for the lesser of two evils, just for the privilege of blessing the candidate that the insiders can count upon to be hostile to my interests, because I have nowhere else to go. I would likely have voted for any candidate who would have told Debbie Wasserman Schultz that she should be fired immediately, and to stop hurting democracy. We need to recognize that in a country stuffed to the gills with both talent and ambition, there is no conceivable world in which a creepy 74 year old reality television celebrity with an enormous ego but no previous interest in government would be running against a relatively disinterested 77 year old with obvious progressing cognitive decline, for the most demanding job to be found on Earth.

There is no plausible world in which all five of the final five major candidates—that would be Biden, Trump, Bloomberg, Warren and Sanders—would all be born in the 1940s. That just isn’t something that would happen in a country where no president outside of that list was ever past the age of 70 at first inauguration in the history of the Republic, going back to its founding. With no precedent for such an aged ruler, are you really telling me that suddenly in 2020, we have five four or five septuagenarians without significant outrage or commentary?


Come on.

So what are we saying here? Really, then In short, there is no primary. And with no real primaries, there is no meaningful election, per se, and it is time to overthrow whatever structure is supporting an abomination posing as an election. If the parties donors and media maintain levers that are sufficient to control the elections, then a foreign power can also scheme to control the same levers the parties and insiders have given themselves to avoid democracy. We can’t afford to give the party and media insiders these levers even if we thought that they were trying to use them for our benefit, which they obviously are not.

It is time to clean out the innards of the parties and their media enablers. We need an independent media that isn’t trying to elect anyone in particular, but it’s instead animated by reporting whatever is actually happening. And we need to know that the party insiders aren’t choosing the candidate before we can even get a chance to enter the voting booth. Right now, many say that we are a democracy in decline, but I disagree. We are instead a republic that is not sure that it is safe to experiment with democracy at all. And there’s nothing less safe than a rigged an bittering superpower that will do everything it can to make sure that those with their snouts already in the trough are allowed to feed in uninterrupted splendor by the people they both parasitize and claim to represent.

The purpose of this essay is to say this: I may or may not vote the lesser of two evils in 2020, but we as a nation should be immediately focused on gutting these monsters parties and their affiliated media before 2024. There is no reason to cycle endlessly around the strain. It is time to overthrow and fire those who have taken over the DNC, RNC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox, New York Times, etc., and repurpose them to spectacular effect against us all. Let these anti-patriots of both the left and right search for work elsewhere before we sign up to do this every four years. Before we move on to slates of octogenarians or young wild eyed utopians with little real world experience, it is time to end the national charade of pseudo democracy so that we can find out whether the real thing that is actual consent is any better than being groomed and nagged by the creeps hanging around the ballot box. I can’t promise that it will be, but don’t you think it’s time we found out?

Of course, I’m a bit worried about what we might get. But it’s unlikely to be worse than this. So, I’m game if you are.