Banter M Issue 69: Maybe it Should Have Been Bernie

In this week’s edition of Banter M:

Maybe it Should Have Been Bernie – After getting behind Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election, Bob Cesca reviews some of the underlying assumptions he made and comes to a rather shocking conclusion. 

There is No Time For Government Now – Donald Trump has shown no inclination to take the environmental crisis seriously, so it now comes down to us to fight the gravest threat humanity has ever faced. There is no time for government now, argues Ben Cohen. We must do it on our own. 

The End of the Road – Chez Pazienza goes back to New York City, the place where it all began, and where it ended too. 

Maybe it Should Have Been Bernie

by Bob Cesca

Let’s be perfectly clear. I still firmly believe Hillary Clinton ran a world class campaign against unprecedented enemies, foreign and domestic, and, despite it all, ended up winning nearly three million more votes than Donald Trump. Perhaps the most formidable roadblock in Hillary’s path, however, wasn’t solely the rogues gallery of enemies. Political campaigning mutated this year. Bernie recognized it, but Hillary didn’t. And neither did I.

The aspect of the election that’s nagging me the most at present is whether Hillary’s world class campaign was relevant this year. Specifically, it’s growing increasingly obvious to me that 2016 wasn’t a year for normalcy, and Hillary ran a superb yet normal campaign. In any other year, her precision-engineered campaign would’ve led to a Hillary landslide. This definitely wasn’t any other year.

As the slow-motion wreckage accumulates throughout the Trump transition, exactly nothing normal is happening. The events of the campaign were deeply abnormal. In fact, one of my most often repeated refrains was the fact that Trump was being judged on a new set of rules, while Hillary was being judged on older, stricter rules. This disconnect was one of the myriad obstacles facing Hillary’s effort, and it should never have worked out that way. But, again, none of this is normal. (Add to the list: unfair, unjust, and repulsively sexist.)

Let’s rewind further in time and talk about the Democratic primaries. I feel like I owe my readers an apology. Throughout the 2015 and early 2016 portion of my election coverage, my traditional view of political campaigning ultimately blinded me to the reality of what was happening out there. For the longest time, I assumed the normal strictures and commonalities still functioned like always — strictures and commonalities that’ve been charted, studied, and repeated throughout all other modern presidential campaigns.

Scant exceptions aside, presidential campaigns are generally easy to predict. With enough data and enough history, educated forecasts can be calculated within a certain margin of error. Generally speaking, the GOP would behave a certain way; the political press would behave a certain way; the rules of the road would mostly remain the same; and the views and demands of American voters could be accurately quantified. So, armed with historical precedent and volumes of data, this is how I marched my way through the coverage. 

None of that mattered this time. 

While I accurately and rightfully spent much of 2016 knowing Trump would be the nominee with a better than decent shot at winning, I never really believed he could actually win. I thought cooler heads would prevail — that moderation would, like always, win the day and deliver the election to Hillary. It turns out that a sizable chunk of voters had different ideas. “Fuck moderation” was obviously one of the bigger ideas this time around.

In this regard, I’m wondering whether Bernie would’ve been a stronger candidate against Trump. It’s impossible to know for sure, given how my 30 year political science education has been rendered partly irrelevant in this new post-reality, post-normalcy world. But as I wade through the data and the events of what actually went down, my sense of logic continues to circle back to Bernie.

Again, I stand by my vote for Hillary, and I stand by my analysis that she ran a hell of a (winning) campaign. In hindsight, though, were voters looking for something different? 

Trump’s success, and Bernie’s near-success indicate that maybe this was true — that voters didn’t want old-school. They wanted something altogether different. They wanted candidates who were authentic, not rehearsed. They wanted an economic populist message. They wanted a disruption president.

I contemporaneously and clearly observed that this was a thing, but I didn’t believe it was a significant enough thing to swing the election away from strong yet traditional candidates such as Hillary or, for that matter, John Kasich or Jeb Bush. I wrongly calculated that, at the end of the day, voters would retreat to safer, more familiar ground. Not this time.

This time, it might’ve been Bernie’s time. 

There’s a symmetry to a hypothetical Bernie vs Trump matchup. If we boil down the message of each candidate, each man addressed a new and entirely different way of doing things. For all their faults, they each recognized the prevailing attitudes of voters who would most likely swing the election — prevailing attitudes that many of us, myself especially, missed. The differences, meanwhile, are too numerous to list, of course. While they both talked about middle class bread-and-butter issues like taxes, education, income equality, and healthcare, they had galactically different prescriptions for how to deliver. 

Two authentic economic populists. Each candidate was quirky enough for a social media-driven election — tailor made for meme culture given their unpolished, disheveled styles and quotable talking points. Bernie’s crazy hair. Trump’s crazy hair. Neither spoke on the stump like traditional presidential candidates guided by focus group language. To repeat: voters seem to have wanted authenticity more than politician chic. One man prescribed a bottom up social-democratic approach, while the other delivered a series of berserker assurances about creating a bazillion jobs on day one without any specific details about how he’d accomplish such a thing. One man thought the climate crisis was a Chinese hoax, while the other had a way of talking about climate so that blue collar Americans in Michigan could understand. 

All told, it still would’ve been a close contest, and who the hell knows how badly the Russians would’ve interfered with Bernie. It’s possible the GRU and its legion of hackers would’ve hit Bernie just as heavily as Hillary, if not more so. It’s all up for debate and no one will ever know. The math on election day, though, tells us that Bernie might’ve ended up winning the day. Let’s say Bernie would’ve walked away with most of Jill Stein’s votes in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. That’s the election right there. Mathematically, it would’ve likely gone to Bernie. There’s no real way of knowing for sure what would’ve occurred between the conventions and Election Day, but strictly based on the results, Bernie would’ve most likely prevailed in those states.

Is this about buyer’s remorse? Who knows. I’ll confess to some self-doubt given the post-reality world we’ve manufactured here, but it has much more to do with re-examining how we look at politics now. That’s not to suggest that we accept Trump’s world. We can’t do that. We should never do that. That said, events often conspire to shake our preconceived notions to the core. Election 2016 has admittedly shaken me. To avoid being blindsided in the future, it’s critical that we open our minds to other possibilities — even if it’s embarrassing to confess. In this case, it’s embarrassing to admit that maybe I missed a set of advantages that Bernie might’ve had over Hillary and certainly over Trump. At the very least, and knowing what we know now, it seemed like it might’ve been a year for Bernie’s populism and quirky authenticity. For the third time, allow me to repeat: this isn’t a slam against Hillary, it’s merely an alternative take. I’m punching my way out of three decades in which I was told, Here’s how political campaigns work. Today, those rules are on life support.

Eight years ago, I supported Barack Obama over Hillary because she seemed to represent an old way of doing business in Washington. In 2015 and 2016, she seemed like the only antidote to Trump’s bag of monkeys. She seemed like a serious and unwavering grownup in the room — the one who could best humiliate that reality show dingus, so I weighed-in appropriately. I didn’t know then that being a competent and reliable politician had become irrelevant. While Bernie is both competent and reliable in his own way, he brought something extra to the table. And this extra might’ve been the X-factor that general election voters really wanted this time around.

Next: There is No Time For Government Now by Ben Cohen

There is No Time For Government Now

by Ben Cohen

Barring a miracle, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as President of the United States on January 20th. The consequences of this are becoming clearer with every new appointment made to Trump’s cabinet and the outlook is bleak. I have written extensively about this and have been looking for the faintest glimmer of hope as one corrupt billionaire/lobbyist/bigot after another gets tabbed to head government agencies they are completely unqualified be in. There is no silver lining, no hope of moderation and no hope of an administration that is able to deal with the complex problems America and the planet face over the next few years. Trump has essentially recreated his famous locker room instead of a cabinet, and we will be witness to a total breakdown of government that will be overhauled to serve the interests of those loyal to Trump and his business interests. 

If Obamacare is repealed, massive tax cuts to the wealthy go through, public education dismantled and social security privatized to benefit Wall St, the American people are going suffer. But they will find ways to survive, as they always do. Families will come together, the black market will boom, non-profits will do their best to plug the holes left by the government and informal trading will replace traditional commerce. It won’t be much fun, but people have survived bleaker, more corrupt economies and Trump’s mismanagement won’t be as catastrophic as Venezuela’s or Greece’s. However, when it comes to global warming and the environment, we are looking at a completely different situation with far graver consequences.

This week, it was reported that in the past year, the Arctic has shattered heat records as unusually warm air triggered a potentially catastrophic melting of ice and snow. A peer-reviewed document issued by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called ‘The Arctic Report Card 2016’ stated that the Arctic’s average annual air temperature was “the highest on record”. Furthermore, the Arctic region is warming at over twice the rate as the rest of the planet, presenting a threat so severe that the Artic “could be free of summer ice by the 2040s”. The consequences of this are truly, truly terrifying

According to the WWF and the Zoological Society of London, the world is also on track to lose two-thirds of wild animals by 2020 — an ecological crisis unheard of since the extinction of the dinosaurs. Reported the Guardian’s George Monbiot:

The collapse of wildlife is, with climate change, the most striking sign of the Anthropocene, a proposed new geological era in which humans dominate the planet. “We are no longer a small world on a big planet. We are now a big world on a small planet, where we have reached a saturation point,” said Prof Johan Rockström, executive director of the Stockholm Resilience Centre, in a foreword for the report.

Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF, said: “The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.”

He said humanity was completely dependent on nature for clean air and water, food and materials, as well as inspiration and happiness.

It is unclear whether Hillary Clinton would have been able to respond appropriately to these catastrophic problems, but at the very least we know that she acknowledged them as problems. In contrast, Donald Trump has called global warming a “Chinese hoax” and continues to believe that “no one really knows” whether it exists. And given his appointment of General Scott Pruitt to the EPA, an oil shill who has repeatedly sued the EPA for implementing regulation protecting the environment and lowering carbon emissions, it is safe to assume Trump is going to do close to nothing to protect the environment or do anything to combat global warming. To the contrary, he’ll rip up regulation for the benefit of big business and make the problem infinitely worse. 

While the Democrats and environmental groups must do everything in their power to fight Trump on this issue and oppose him gutting regulation, it seems clear now that the ecological catastrophe we are facing is so serious that we must abandon hope that the government will do anything to stop it. Had Hillary Clinton won, we would at least have a government willing to facilitate and aid a mass movement to decarbonize the economy and implement sustainable agricultural policies. Now we have an enemy in the White House, and a campaign the likes of which we have never seen must kick into action to have any hope of turning the crisis around. 

This means direct action must be taken by citizens on a number of levels. Having studied this issue for a number of years now, I’ve concluded that these are the basic steps everyone must now take to do their part:

1. Radically reduce meat and dairy consumption — particularly beef, lamb, cheese and pork. 

2. Buy an energy efficient car, drive less, walk more, cycle or use public transport. 

3. Reuse items rather than throwing them away as much as possible. 

4. Stop using plastic bags and take your own to the grocery store. 

5. Use less water — take shorter showers, wash clothes only when necessary, don’t leave taps on. 

6. Stop buying stuff, particularly plastic items that are not biodegradable. 

7. Learn how to grow your own food, stop buying imports as much as possible. 

8. Compost. 

9. Use energy efficient appliances. 

10. Offset carbon if you are flying, or fly less if you can (skype is good for meetings too). 

11. Get involved with community projects centered around sustainability. 

12. Engage in as much environmental activism as possible at a local and national level. 

Of course there are many more ways to help the environment, but these few steps are a good start and will help spread the movement. Once you make the changes yourself (and I’ve started many of them myself) it has a knock on effect. You meet people interested in doing the same, you encourage family members and friends to start their own little environmental movement, and you feel a sense of empowerment. We must do everything in our power to make the Donald Trump administration an irrelevance when it comes to the environment, and creating a people powered environmental movement is the best way to do it. 

Time is running out and there is now no one to save us from disaster. It is down to us, and we must rise to the occasion.

Next: The End of the Road by Chez Pazienza

The End of the Road

by Chez Pazienza

“Look at that. You never get tired of that.”

These words from my Uber driver broke my blissful reverie as we slid quietly across the Brooklyn Bridge. I glanced up from my phone to see what he was referring to and, maybe not surprisingly, it really was glorious: the deep pink and purple hues of sunset engulfing Lower Manhattan; the glass and steel cutting into the sky, adorned with pinpoints of bright light; the majesty of the man-made against the backdrop of the nature-made. It was my second day back in New York City, the first time I’d truly returned for any length of time since leaving the city with my infant daughter in the spring of 2009. New York was my home at one point, a place I was proud to have fought side-by-side with in the aftermath of 9/11 and a place that helped me rebuild my own life after a catastrophe of a far more personal nature. Now I was back for a week-and-a-half and the city felt both brand new and like a comfortable pair of jeans you slip back into. It wasn’t my home anymore, but strangely it didn’t feel like it couldn’t be if I wanted it to. 

What brought me to New York was work. A TV production job I started six months ago. I haven’t mentioned very often because I’m not really supposed to. I can talk about what I do in a general sense, but the nature and details of the new show I’m working on have to be kept under wraps until the first season — which we’ve been shooting since August — finally airs in the spring of next year. I tortured myself with the question of whether I really wanted to get back into TV, to the point even of being willing to surrender the giant pile of money it would mean for me and my fiancee. I enjoyed writing and podcasting and I was concerned the new gig would cut into those. Looking back on it, I was a fucking idiot for ever wavering. The job has been one of the most interesting and rewarding things I’ve done in my career. It’s exciting, powerful, fulfilling, my crew is spectacular both at our L.A. base and on the road, and it’s just plain fun a good portion of the time. I’m proud of the work we’ve been doing and now that it’s over, we’re all hopeful for a second season.

That’s the thing, see. The gig is now over. Unlike most TV news jobs I’ve had, shooting a season of television isn’t full-time, open-ended or the least bit steady. Everyone goes into it knowing that when the production is wrapped for the season, that’s it. You move on to another gig or go back to doing whatever it was you were doing before the season started. The big paycheck goes away and the crew you worked with may or may not be back if the machinery all starts up again at some point. That’s how the business works. It’s exciting, but it’s also terrifying because you’re constantly hustling. Even finding a moderately successful show to join up with isn’t a guarantee of actual personal success only because, unless that show’s paying you a bloody fortune, there’s still always the possibility that you’ll have to take a gig between seasons that will overlap with your primary project. That’s where I am now: back to writing and podcasting and wondering whether it’s smart to begin looking for a couple of quick projects to do that won’t run into what I hope will be the second season of the one I just finished.

One of my favorite things about doing the show has been the travel involved. I personally produced five episodes of the upcoming debut season. They took me to Upstate New York, New Orleans, Detroit, St. Louis and, for the season finale, New York City. There’s something indescribable about putting together an episode of television and then spending eight days watching it come to life — and about meeting the people and seeing the places you’ve been entering into a plan and a shoot sheet for weeks. We’ve traveled well outside the metropolitan hubs that have been our home bases for these shoots, but the cities themselves have proven surprisingly entertaining. It’s good to be able to see the country and get paid to do it. Particularly, of course, New York City — a place I called home for close to a decade. 

Returning to New York brought back a flood of memories. It’s not “my city” these days, but by staying long enough I started to believe it could be again. I purposely set out to wrap our season in the city, because I thought it would play well on television. We’ve spent ten episodes traveling all over, but we end in the center of the world. As I told someone, despite the fact that it was 9/11 that brought me to New York City 15 years ago and I met my now ex-wife here — our marriage thriving then crumbling — this isn’t a haunted place for me. I’m exhilarated by this city rather than being crushed under its weight. It holds the same kind of heady excitement now that it did when I first arrived here, even though it was a nearly shattered place then. It’s an alien world from the one I now call home, though. There’s a special loathe for New Yorkers who relocate to L.A. — they’re pussies, former warriors who’ve lost the will to keep battling. They took the easy way out.

But at this stage of my life — I turned 47 just a few days ago — I think I deserve easy. As much as I’ve been reminded over the past week and a half how much I love this city, I’m still not sure I could live here again. It’s just a daily uphill battle I’m not in the mood to have to navigate. Besides, I may be out of a job at the moment, but at some point the show I’ve spent six months working on will almost certainly go back into production. And I want to be there when it does. That means being on the West Coast. So that’s where I choose to stay these days. There’s too much there for me to leave, too many people I love who make it a home for me. 

But, still — “Look at that. You never get tired of that.”

As soon as I looked up, I knew my driver was right. There are things here you just never get tired of.