Trump, the Deep State, and grassroots democracy

Understanding the two political narratives competing for public attention today - and the one that gets all the news media attention

A progressive populist tidal wave is sweeping America — from California to the New York island/from the Redwood Forest, to the Gulf Stream waters, as old Woody once sang. And yet the liberal cable news channel, MSNBC, and the centrist one, CNN, have their heads up their Washington asses. In their dark holes, all they can see is Russia/Trump/Russia/Trump — with some Stormy Daniels thrown in now and then for variety. 

MSNBC and CNN are constantly bragging about their bold, enterprising news teams. But you would never know they possess such reportorial firepower from watching their nightly news shows. The only time the cable news shows get out of the comfort of their Washington and New York studios is when there’s a particularly horrendous mass shooting or devastating storm somewhere in the American heartland. Disasters make for good TV visuals.

Not all of the mainstream media remains so trapped in the Washington bubble. Credit the Sunday New York Times with devoting some serious news acreage to two stories on the Bernie Sanders/Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez boom within the Democratic Party, including in the solidly red states where the two progressive standard-bearers have been actively campaigning. 

And note to all those fellow Democrats who fear a fatal split within the party: The Times notes that left-wing Democratic Party activists have generally avoided challenging moderate Democratic candidates in red states where they are engaged in tight races with Republicans. As I keep arguing, I think my fellow socialists and progressives should fight like hell for control of the party during the primary season….and then unite to defeat Republicans in the fall.

Speaking of election time, we will see MSNBC and CNN swing into horse race coverage mode as these crucial elections finally take place. MSNBC anchors will feature Steve Kornacki, the channel’s numbers-crunching election wonk. Ditto with CNN and their wonk, John King. And yet these bellwether races will seem to have dropped from the sky — neither channel has been reporting from the grassroots on these landmark Senate, Congressional and state capitol battles. All that cable news audiences hear about is Trump/Russia/Trump/Russia…and Stormy Daniels.

There are two major political narratives competing for the public’s attention now. The first is the epic battle between Trump and the national security state. The second is the sweeping grassroots movement to restore democracy in our country, along with sanity and humanity. MSNBC and CNN devote nearly all of their programming to the first narrative. But it’s the second narrative, about the great awakening of the American electorate, that will truly decide our fate as a nation…and thus the fate of the world.

As the Trump vs. Deep State spectacle plays out on cable TV, there is nothing for us as average Americans to do but gape in horror as these monsters battle — like Godzilla vs. Mothra — and hope we don’t get trampled in the Earth-shaking process. There is no human agency in this corporate news narrative, except for that of the endless parade of TV guests from the vast US intelligence complex. The rest of us are reduced to being wide-eyed spectators.

But in the second narrative, we the American people are at the center of the drama. It’s up to us to save our country and ourselves. And that’s how it should be in a democracy. We should not be passively waiting for spies and pundits and politicians deeply tied to the spy world to save us.

If we fail to build a progressive movement capable of shaping America’s future, then the deep state will continue to control our post-Trump world as it has for decades. And we will get a less flagrant, more banal version of Donald Trump (Mike Pence, Mario Rubio) — or a corporate Democrat — who will continue to more subtly carry out much of his noxious agenda.

This brings up a pressing question I have: To truly confront the power of the national security state, we must develop a compelling plan to demilitarize the US and its foreign policy. Like JFK was trying to do in the final phase of his presidency, our progressive leaders must redefine America’s role in the world, presenting a vision that emphasizes global peace and partnerships to confront our common existential crises (world poverty, climate change, immigration) instead of constant, endless war.

Bernie Sanders has the outlines of an enlightened policy and of course he has cast signature votes on the right side of history, like his stand against the Iraq War. But he needs to start focusing on issues of war and peace on his permanent campaign trail, and not just on his familiar themes of economic and social justice. As Martin Luther King Jr. understood, no real progress can be made on these domestic issues until our leaders cut funds to our enormous war machine.

For her part, Ocasio-Cortez has stumbled when venturing opinions about world issues, apologetically backing away from her correct comment about Israel’s “occupation” of Palestinian land when she came under predictable fire from the Israel lobby in the Democratic Party. Of course, she’s young and is still finding her way in the glare of the media spotlight. But we need her to develop a strong critique of the bloated Pentagon budget and US interventionism around the world. It’s time to remind people that Russia is not the primary meddler in overseas democracies.

By folding progressive ideas about war and peace into their stump speeches as they barnstorm around the country, Bernie and Alexandria will find that this message will resonate with audiences, even in red state America (as JFK found by delivering peace speeches in states like Utah). It’s these “flyover” states that supply the military with their sons and daughters and have paid the highest price in blood for American Empire.

Trump exploited these military families’ sorrow and bitterness in 2016 — and then stabbed them in the back, as he has done time and time again with Trump voters. Progressive leaders must build real bonds with military families — by first and foremost assuring them that their loved ones will never be sent into battle for Big Oil, or nonexistent WMD, or whatever bogus reason that’s cooked up by powerful men who have never worn a uniform or suffered through a war.