Uh-oh. That feeling, absent for so long now, almost frightening in its unfamiliarity, delightful yes, yet, one suspects, dangerous too; it’s like a tingling in the extremities, working inward. Hope. Hope, and so help me, along with it come risky ideas. Like, maybe it’s not too late, not quite, not yet. Maybe the monster can still be vanquished, and maybe there’s still a chance to set everything to rights, even though everything, absolutely everything, is now so terribly wrong. With all that’s happened in the wake of that awful November night in 2016, almost all of it inconceivable not so very long ago, any emotions not run through with resignation and despair seem ill-advised to the point of foolishness. The safest thing is just to wallow at the bottom of this deep muddy pit, isn’t it? The sides are slippery. Every foot gained trying to climb out of here is just one foot higher to fall, and that little circle of daylight that’s still discernible way up at the distant lip was probably put there just to taunt us. We’ll never get there. Hope is for dupes and dummies. Remember your mantra: it’s the hope that kills you.
Yet hope won’t be denied.
For one thing, she frightens the bastard, you just know she does, and Trump afraid is a wonderful thing, despite the uneasiness of knowing what cornered rats will do. In his dreams, Fat Donny had himself cruising to victory against the fantasy ticket of Sanders-Warren, a pair of extremist commies just ripe for demonization. Instead he’s going to have to smear a couple of likeable centrists who don’t particularly frighten The Base, and to that end all he’s got is whatever bullshit he and his enablers can manufacture in a hurry out of whole cloth. Biden-Harris is the worst possible outcome. It was clear from the get-go that Donald sure didn’t want to run against Biden, who just about everybody knows and likes, gaffes and all – he got himself impeached trying to rig it so that wouldn’t happen – and you can bet he really doesn’t relish the comparisons that’ll now be made between his lifeless silver-haired mannequin of a running mate and the tough, brainy woman of colour who’s about to steal the whole show. Word around town is that he might even dump Pence in a panic and draft Nikki Haley (whose unprincipled sycophancy over the past year has struck everybody as an obvious audition for the job), and who would put it past him, especially when a Pence-Harris debate seems likely to amount to an annihilating collision between matter and antimatter? That’d be a shrewd political move, one I hope Trump doesn’t have the wit to make, but still, Haley is no Kamala Harris. Nobody is, really. The woman has real star power. Charisma.
Right away she presents this thorny problem: what do you even call her? What’s the obvious derisive schoolboy taunt? She’s not crooked. She’s not crazy. She’s not little, or lyin’, and she sure as shit ain’t sleepy. Maybe “Scary”? Like one of the Spice Girls? I mean, it fits, she is after all the Senator who made Bill Barr look like a squirming, pitifully mumbling little schoolboy caught red-handed in the middle of cheating on a test (in a clip that the pundits played over and over again at the time, and will now, inevitably, start playing again ad nauseam), and she damn near eviscerated Joe himself in that first debate, when she went at him over his old opposition to school busing. Still, do you really want to dub your opponent “scary”? Scary to who? You mean you’re scared to run against her? Not the best message. How about “nasty” then? Nasty Kamala. That might work. Trump, who labels as “nasty” all women with the nerve to call him on his bullshit, might just go for that.
He’ll try to call her a radical leftist, too. It’s obviously misguided, and unlikely to stick, but that’s the playbook no matter who runs as a Democrat, and he’ll try. There is some small basis to the taunt. She did take some progressive stands when she was running for the top slot, but on the other hand ideas like Medicare for all don’t sound so ludicrous to American ears any longer, not with the pandemic casting the need for universal health care into high relief, and anyway her history as a rather tough law-and-order type prosecutor and then AG of California doesn’t jibe well with the whole Karl Marx-in-pumps image they’ll try to craft. They could just as well call her anti-progressive, and too pragmatic, hoping to undermine her with the more liberal wing of her own party. There’s some ammo for that approach in her history as AG, but portraying her as too hard and illiberal is a tough row to hoe too, coming from the most blatantly authoritarian proto-fascist to ever occupy the Oval Office (and anyway, the more fascist you make her sound, the less she scares The Base). Similar issues attend any charges that she’s too cozy with Wall Street.
That leaves race. A sure winner, in years gone by, just ask Karl Rove. The problem is, race might not be the magic bullet it used to be. It didn’t work with Obama, whom Kamala resembles in a lot of ways (though it’s arguable that we wouldn’t have Trump today save for the White backlash against the first Black Presidency). Shit, these days, it might not even be a handicap that she’s a woman, let alone a brown one to boot – in fact that might even help, things are so topsy-turvy, what with the polling showing lily-white suburban women sympathizing with frickin’ Black Lives Matter, and decent rich white folk getting in trouble just for standing their ground on their own lawn and pointing their God-given guns at Black protesters who obviously deserved it. Time was, nominating Harris for Veep might have been just what the spin doctors ordered, just the thing to ensure Four More Years. Now though? Now the dog whistle doesn’t always muster the hounds. Now the choice of a woman of colour might even seem overdue. Now she might be GOP kryptonite.
We’ll see. Trump’s cult appeal to his rock-solid, irreducible fan club, comprising an amazing 35-40% of the American public come Hell or high water, obviously has a great deal to do with the darker side of the White American psyche, and Trump and his henchmen will pander to all the worst impulses of their bigoted, low-information Base with everything they’ve got. The attacks will be vicious, racist, misogynistic, and straight out of the gutter. Here’s hoping they backfire. Here’s hoping they make the Republicans look foolish and out of touch.
They are, after all, gunning for a hard target. It’s not just that she’s smart as a whip, and well briefed, and comes at you with all the skills honed by years of prosecutorial argument and cross examination. She’s a happy warrior. She’s obviously terrifyingly competent. Plus, no small thing in this culture, she never takes a bad picture, and that counts extra when running against an orange mongrel with goofball hair who never takes a good one. She always looks put together and on top of things, her eyes shining with overt intelligence. She looks, well, Presidential. God willing, she’ll actually be President one day, maybe as soon as four years from now. Four years from now, it could be her being greeted warmly in the capitals of America’s now wayward allies. Four years from now, Putin could be facing not Donald’s simpering, collaborating mug, but the steely, unsympathetic gaze of a formidable woman with iron in her spine, and won’t that be a kick in the pants for Vlad? Won’t that just rot his kleptocratic socks? He’d have better luck with Thatcher. That alone, just the prospect of watching Kamala bitch-slap foreign potentates up and down their own hallways, gives me a potentially fatal case of the happy what-ifs.
Hope. I swear, it’s a bad thing, but I’ve got it now. I’ve got it bad.