Today is the fifteenth of August and the seventeenth anniversary of the theatrical release of Freddy vs. Jason. To my disappointment, the film and its title have not become a popular metaphor for the grim dichotomy of American presidential elections, even though the parallels could not be easier to draw. However, there was a moment in time when Alien vs. Predator, a film that debuted sixteen years ago this past Thursday, did become just such a byword. “Kerry vs. Bush: whoever wins, we lose.” So muttered many a political critic in the march to November 2004, but four years later, in a world already exposed to Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem, few said the same of Obama vs. McCain. By that time, nonpartisanship—a concept we now dishonestly refer to as “cynicism”—was passing rapidly out of fashion, and with it the notion of a difference without a distinction, especially across party lines. In the furious present, an age of relentless proselytization, only we who are continually freeing ourselves from the Matrix cannot find a difference between Democrats, Republicans, and the bogeymen of slasher cinema.
“Well, yes, I’ll admit that Trump has an awful lot in common with Jason, but Hillary Clinton is a really good person. How can you compare her to Freddy Krueger? At the absolute minimum, you have to admit she would have been a lot better than Trump.” We can already hear the neoliberals’ feeble rebuttal, the only protest that they are capable of. Now is not the time to engage them in an ineffectual debate, not when we have spent the last several years explaining to them the same basic point: “The Democrats and the Republicans differ only in style and never in substance.” To put it another way—and this observation I wouldn’t have made without my latest viewing of Freddy vs. Jason—they exploit different psychological techniques to beguile the susceptible public. There is a popular meme that depicts sheep voting between a lion and a wolf, but perhaps it would be more accurate to ask: “Which predator do you fear the most?”
Of course, their greatest fear is neither the lion nor the wolf, but the unseen alternative—even, and especially, if that third choice is the best choice. The neoliberals do not despise Trump above all; if they did, then they wouldn’t have tried to impeach him and hand the reins to Pence, who is much more Trumpish than Trump could ever hope to be. They contemplate Trump more frequently than they do any other political figure, and they pelt him more often with insults, as well, but he seldom arouses their sincerest spite. They reserve their most acid and acidic bile for third-party presidential nominees, past and present. Compare the joyous, energetic, and often creative mockery that floods Trump’s Twitter feed with the bitter, indignant, and repetitious scorn that Ralph Nader inspired on this most recent Thursday.
For those outside the know, Nader is one of the most knowledgeable critics of American corporate law living today, and his speeches and writings ought to be required educational material for every serious left-wing progressive. Accordingly, and in the manner of any credible public intellectual, he poses a particularly ominous threat to the Democratic Party, as he exposes, inadvertently or not, their dishonest ideology and function. Of additional intimidation to the Democrats is his outspoken commitment to civic engagement, pleading with the American people not just to vote, but to make regular contact with their elected representatives and inform them of their political expectations. To this end, one of his preferred methods is to write letters to elected officials, letters which, sadly and revealingly, are seldom answered. In 2015, Nader published a book of these unacknowledged letters, written over the years to Presidents Bush and Obama.
Perhaps this information would have been of interest to the neoliberals who scolded him for writing a letter to Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In this letter, which begins in praise for her report on Congressman Yaho’s sexist bullying, he reminds her, as the Roman emperors once were, that her political power is not everlasting, and advises her to take advantage of this opportunity, as rare as it is momentary, to prosecute Trump’s criminal behavior, expose Governor Cuomo’s cruel disdain for his struggling constituents, and to perform several other duties that, in a functional and respectable republic, would have been completed some time ago. Unfortunately, none of this was conveyed in the impassioned and resentful reaction to the letter; instead, Nader was slandered and deliberately misrepresented as a sexual predator who wrote to Ocasio-Cortez only because he was infatuated with her. Such a bizarre interpretation raises rather Freudian questions about those who endorsed it, especially the bourgeois feminists who brought it to prominence.
Previous to this “misogynistic” contretemps, the neoliberals had no respect or patience for Nader, whom they have blamed for the last twenty years for “gifting” the election of 2000 to George W. Bush. Their argument, one which we can expect to be repeated ad nauseum over the course of the next eleven weeks, is that Nader, as a progressive, should not have entered the presidential election and “taken” votes from Al Gore, an ostensible leftist. This, we are told, is the quintessential reason Gore lost, and therefore, Nader bears direct responsibility for every single calamity that occurred during Bush’s reign, including the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, the incompetent response to Hurricane Katrina, and the financial Armageddon of 2008. In conjunction with their powerful partners in the corporate the press, the Democrats have waged a successful war of public opinion against Nader for the entirety of the young twenty-first century. To a certain extent, they have replaced him with Jill Stein as the monstrous apostate and “spoiler” du jour, but he remains an effective punchline in his own right.
We lack the time and space needed to expose this pseudointellectual, pseudohistorical, and pseudo-political argument in full. Suffice to say that it is predicated on the debunked and discredited notion that the Democrats present a legitimate alternative to the Republican Party, lest there would be no cause to lament the “missed opportunity” of the Gore Administration. Regardless, there is no basis to identify Nader as the decisive, definitive cause of Gore’s unsuccessful campaign; indeed, as any decent sportswriter would tell you—and how sad it is that sports journalism is usually better than political journalism—this is only the most melodramatic example of recency bias, a foreign term to the neoliberals. To continue the theme, every commentator who accuses Nader of swinging the election is only the most churlish of Monday morning quarterbacks: where, may I ask, were these people with their impeccable statistical analysis in the months leading up to the 2000 election? If they did not possess the mathematical evidence until the morning after, then how can they castigate Nader for his own alleged lack of prescience?
Nader has already answered these questions far more eloquently than I, as you will see if you turn to 33:10 in the video above. You will see, too, that his intellect and reason are meaningless to the smug churl who confronted him with these foolish inquiries. What use has he, this cheeky courtier to the neoliberal elite, for the abundance of evidence disproving his petty propaganda? He cannot acknowledge his own ignorance, nor the many mistakes to which it gives rise, lest he forsake his political identity—an identity as shallow as it is fashionable, and for the same reasons. Instead, he must return to his original premise, now thoroughly discredited*, and repeat the lofty, sentimental, and uncomfortably paternalistic appeal to the integrity of the electoral process.
*Nader articulates the premise rather sagely as follows: “Even though the Democrats aren’t all that great, the Republicans are worse. Therefore, we should let them both become worse every four years under the pull of the corporations . . . and shut up!”
For the last four years, we have suffered the neoliberals’ interminable pontifications on this musty subject, “the integrity of the electoral process”. They accuse malicious actors—including, but not limited to third-party presidential nominees, anonymous Russian government officials, and sober journalists like Julian Assange—of cruelly “violating” this “integrity”, of “disrupting”, “meddling in”, and, most ghastly of all, “interfering with” the American political “process”. Conspicuously, they have neglected to define any of these terms, thereby affording us an opportunity to ask some unwelcome questions. For example, did the Green Party, the Russians, or WikiLeaks prevent the American government from printing, distributing, and collecting ballots, in 2000 or in 2016? Did they physically restrain people from going to the polls, or intimidate them by fallacious threats of violence? Did they destroy completed ballots or otherwise revise the correct final tally? Did they suspend the election outright and produce fictitious election results?
If the answer to each of these questions is a definitive “No”, then it becomes quite difficult to argue that the electoral “process” was somehow “disrupted” or “interfered with”. Instead, we have begun to consider a number of factors that might have reduced popular enthusiasm for certain campaigns, but in a democracy, where people are not required by law to vote a particular way, there is nothing illegal, illegitimate, or even immoral about this. By all analysis, the neoliberals’ complaints have nothing to do with the “process” and everything to do with the outcome of the process. They have gussied up their neurotic frustrations with their own failures, presenting them to the electorate as a highfalutin defense of democratic principles—and in their deception, they have committed a far graver betrayal than the publication of critical information on corporate Democrats.
We shouldn’t feign surprise that these politicians—who, by the terms of their profession, pursue power without pause—would construct elaborate fantasies and alternate realities, populate these fictional words with imaginary villains, and order the peasants to join them in their epic, magical quest. The consequences are devastating, as the American people are brutalized in a vicious round of psychological warfare, but the practice itself is not fundamentally different from the many other schemes of manipulation and mental anguish to which we are subjected on a daily basis. Our first form of defense is to learn these stratagems and rid ourselves of their invidious influence. Our next task is to find a restorative, cathartic application for the knowledge we have gained.
With that, I encourage you to stop reading for today and treat yourself by watching Freddy vs. Jason.