PROGRESSIVE PUNCH

A no-holds-barred look at the American presidential race

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Better Dead than Ted—And Bernie Lives!

By Maria Behan

If you’re one of the elite few who caught my first column in the inaugural issue of The Wild Word (http://thewildword.com/step-right-up-and-see-the-show), you may recall my counterintuitive assertion that Scary Monsters like Donald Trump and Texas Senator Ted Cruz may actually be good for the future of America’s political system. I say that not because I pine for a fascist golden age (literally gold under Trump, more like sackcloth and ashes under Cruz). I say that because both candidates are inadvertently bringing down the Republican Party (or in Trump’s case, maybe it’s on purpose—hard to tell with that guy). And since Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency in the early 20th century, that particular party hasn’t been much fun for anyone other than rich folks, religious zealots, and gun nuts.

In the past month, the Republican boogie men (possibly literally, in Cruz’s case) have gotten even creepier. The chills kept coming one after another. There was Cruz gobbling that suspected booger off his lip during one of the debates. (Actually, I think it may have been a bubble of white spittle that migrated from upper to lower lip, then got sucked into his mouth—though I’m not sure that’s much better.) And there was the spectacle of Donald Trump’s “red-meat” persona at his rallies, donning a baseball cap to incite violence against protestors and assuring his supporters that the military would damn well follow President Trump’s orders if he directed them to kill terrorists’ families: “If I say to do it, they do it.”

A different kind of horror arises from tuning in to the “classy” Trump, as showcased at the grotesque, pastel-hued “press conferences” held in his Mar-a-Lago Club, which the website Trumpfully explains is “the greatest mansion ever built.” Apparently, those parodies of presidential press briefings were designed to support the Donald’s assertion that he “can be more presidential than anybody. Other than the great Abe Lincoln.” What humility.

My initial thought was that Trump was the ideal candidate to put the flailing Republican Party out of its misery, but I’ve started to think Cruz might be an even more effective Grim Reaper when it comes to ending the party’s death throes. If you spend even a few minutes listening to Cruz (and I would only ask my worst enemy to do more than that), you can’t help but recoil. Seriously, you won’t be able to control your face. You can try to be all cerebral and dispassionate, but in mere seconds you’ll find yourself wrinkling your nose, grimacing, and narrowing your eyes in disgust. Even then, your physiognomy will be more pleasing than Cruz’s uncanny combination of prissy preacher and silent-movie villain. Scientists have sought to explain why Cruz’s face is, as the Germans like to say, Backpfeifengesicht—which translates as a face in need of a good punch. If you think I’m making this up, check out this piece from a prominent U.S. neurologist who has studied the phenomenon:
https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-fallible-mind/201601/why-ted-cruz-s-facial-expression-makes-me-uneasy.

If you’re intrepid enough to go beyond merely looking at Cruz and actually listen to him, you’ll make the journey from grossed out to positively queasy. Trump just blurts things out as they bubble up to his orange-capped cranium, randomly inserting the words “great” and “beautiful” and “win”—but Cruz means every horrifying word he says. Especially the ones about how America should no longer have any separation between church and state. And should get rid of pretty much every regulation, especially those that protect workers, minorities, and the environment. And everybody, and he means everybody, should be packing a gun.

When Trump isn’t being terrifying, there are moments when he’s almost appealing, especially on the off chance that you’re fond of swaggering Oompa Loompa billionaires. But there are exactly zero moments when Ted Cruz is appealing, or even tolerable. Even most Republicans can’t stomach him. And that’s why I’ve started to hope that Cruz beats out Trump for the Republican nomination. Because for most every human being, Cruz is unendurable—hence, unelectable.

Watching the current Republican primary race has made commentators and regular people alike dust off phrases like “surreal” and “unimaginable.” Or, as British commentator John Oliver memorably dubbed it, the “Clowntown Fuck-the-World Shitshow.” And it ain’t over yet.

Sandernistas, Don’t Lay Down Your Arms!

As for the Democratic side of the U.S. presidential nomination process, if you’re a progressive, I’ve got one syllable for you: Ow!

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders took one on the chin during the March 15 Democratic contests, losing to former secretary of state Hillary Clinton in all five of the states that held primaries that day. It was a pummeling in places like Florida, less so in others, notably Missouri, where Clinton defeated Sanders by a mere two-tenths of 1 percent. In his gentlemanly way, Sanders declined to contest the results.

Coming a week after his wildly heartening upset win in Michigan, March 15 truly felt like the Ides of March to Sanders supporters. Especially if they tuned in to the mainstream media, which mentions Sanders begrudgingly at the best of times. After that night’s setback, many commentators began gleefully fingering the handles of his political coffin.

But because some of those races were close, and the Democratic Party apportions delegates on a proportional basis, Sanders actually didn’t do as terribly on March 15 as we’ve been led to believe. In terms of the delegates pledged to support each candidate at the Democratic nominating convention this July, he wasn’t all that far behind Clinton, despite his supposed wipeout: Clinton had 1,147 pledged delegates; Sanders 830. Yes, that gap widens if you factor in the so-called superdelegates, party officials who can switch their allegiance at any time. But if Sanders beats Clinton in terms of the popular vote, or looks more likely to take down the eventual Republican nominee, those superdelegates will do what they did for Obama in 2008: Defect from Clinton to support the winning side.

The numbers are still a bit fuzzy at this point, but it seems that Sanders needs to win about 58 percent of the delegates in the remaining primary and caucus states to wrest the Democratic Party nomination away from Clinton. Pretty much every commentator says that makes Sanders’ path to victory “slim” at best.

Those same pundits estimate that Trump must win about 58 percent of the remaining delegates to clinch the Republican nomination. And many of those commentators believe it’s pretty likely that Trump will be the party’s contender in the election this November. I was never much good at math, so I’ll ask you: Doesn’t Bernie’s 58% = Donald’s 58%?

If the odds are pretty much the same, why is it that the media acts like Sanders doesn’t have a chance in hell, while Trump looks just about inevitable? Part of it is understandable: Trump is the front-runner in his party’s nomination battle, and Sanders trails behind his own party’s front-runner, Clinton.

But I also think it’s pretty undeniable that much of the mainstream media is biased in its coverage of Sanders and his campaign. Outlets once considered fair—liberal even—like The Guardian in the UK and The New York Times in the U.S., have gone off the deep end in terms of slanting their coverage to support Clinton. Indeed, The New York Times recently got caught tampering with an article in its online incarnation, rewriting it so it went from being largely favorable to Sanders to considerably more negative. When thousands of people, including journalists, cried foul, the paper offered some wan words about “context.” But The New York Times was well and truly busted—a successful skirmish in the ongoing Sanders revolution.

Despite the media’s attempts at a premature burial, I’m hopeful the Sanders campaign has plenty of life in it still. Fewer than half of the states have voted, and the majority of the ones remaining look promising for his campaign. The southern states, which all went Clinton’s way, have finished (mis)speaking. Now it’s the turn of the West and some other progressive strongholds to have their say. If Sanders’ believers hold their nerve and fight on, Clinton’s campaign may be about to recede from its high-water mark.

I’ll close this column the same way I ended my first one: With mention of Republican Senator Marco Rubio, or “Little Marco,” as Trump likes to call him. The Ides of March was nearly as bad for him as for Julius Caesar, so Rubio pulled out of the race that night. In his swan song, he indulged in what most Republicans can’t get enough of: talk about God, and in particular, how God feels about them personally. He told us “It is not God’s plan that I will become president in 2016.” Phew, good to know. Then he added that “God makes no mistakes.”

Looking at Rubio, I can believe that pronouncement. But then how does Rubio explain Donald Trump?

Maria Behan writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications such as The Stinging Fly, The Irish Times, and Northern California Best Places.