Introducing Sunday Hot Takes

Starting this weekend, The Activist will be publishing weekly writing by our editors as well as YDSA members from around the country. We hope to increase the number and diversity of writers as well as the number and diversity of topics that The Activist coversAny and all YDSA members are invited to submit contributions, which should be no more than 500 words and e-mailed to [email protected]. The first “Sunday Hot Takes” features writing on the “moderate” voter, Matt Christman’s CushVlogs, the F-35, and Gamestonk.

The “Moderate” Voter — Elias Khoury, University of Michigan

We’re always told that the key to winning elections is appealing to “moderate” voters. Since they fall somewhere between the two major parties, whoever wins the lion’s share of them is all but guaranteed victory. This is a key precept of what political scientists call the median voter theorem. It was also the argument for nominating Mike Bloomberg to take on Trump in 2020 (which would’ve been disastrous). But who are these moderates and what do they believe?

Some say that moderates are fiscally conservative and socially liberal — libertarians, essentially. I don’t buy it. If this were true, they’d have no business being undecided. Acting rationally, these people would always choose the Democratic establishment over the GOP since only the former combines nominal social tolerance with right-wing economics.

The data suggests that the American moderate is actually just the opposite. They are culturally conservative but side with progressives on the social democratic policy set. That probably describes a lot of our grandparents — especially those who are immigrants.

My paternal grandmother, who hails from Syria, is a two-time Bernie voter who calls herself a Republican despite never having voted for one for president. She usually qualifies that statement by saying, “But I agree with liberals on some things.” Yet she would never in a million years call herself a Democrat. Her reflex is to defend Republicans and attack Democrats even though she is split between the two on policy. This is further proof that the Democratic brand is utterly toxic.

And not for no reason. Democrats are no prize. I wouldn’t be a socialist if I believed they were. But let’s not forget that the GOP is a full-blown personality cult. The choice between the two is clear and it always has been.

Republicans made a fascist game show host commander-in-chief and then stormed the Capitol in an attempt to install him as dictator after he lost reelection. Say what you want about the blue team, but they don’t do stuff like that. You’d think such hyperpartisan radicalism would make so-called “moderates” hesitant to identify with the GOP. Guess not.

Every self-proclaimed moderate — 38% of the electorate, according to 2020 exit polls — should reflexively vote Democrat because the other side are extremists. But that’s not what happens — 34% of them voted to reelect Trump — and it probably never will be.

American politics is doomed, and it’s time to start blaming the fence-sitters.

Log Off: A Review of Matt Christman’s CushVlogs — Andrew Pfannkuche and Cody Kern, both Illinois State University

Between the start of the pandemic and last month Matt Christman of Chapo Trap House vlogged an average of four times a week. His vlogs are an honest self-reflection of a leftist who feels that the current movement is failing despite his own efforts to the contrary. They are simultaneously depressing, entertaining and thought provoking and serve many purposes: as a reading group about American history, as the polemics and struggles of a classical Marxist, and as a place to “shoot shit,” both about the internet and the world beyond. If you enjoy Chapo Trap House, you will enjoy CushVlogs. Christman’s plain and strictly classical Marxist analysis of the world has led him to many arguments we find convincing: about college education being the major class determinant for our times, the historical trajectory of the United States, and of structural weakness of our movement. He presents one argument, however, that we would like to share in more detail.

Christman has continually argued that there is no “left” in America. In one episode, Christman described himself “pre-left.” He explained how there is no “left” in America because there is no working class in America, only workers with no class conscious to channel into an identity, and therefore, political action. Christman stated that a left movement will come from outside of the current group of terminally online “leftists” but rather those who are consciously “opting-out” of it. His advice to everyone on “left” Twitter who wants to do good has to start by logging off. Doing almost anything else is better than spending time online. Social media alienates us from one another and  destroys hope – the most important part of any left movement – in a better world. To build a left working-class movement we have to abandon our online mindsets, our obsessions with purity, and focus on the actual material conditions of the people around us: only then can we begin to build a more equitable society.

Y/DSAers need to be able to come to terms with Christman’s sobering analysis, not because it is necessarily correct, but because it highlights a fundamental flaw in our current movement. The problems Christman identifies cannot be overcome by organizing, they are structural, (sub)cultural, and so deeply rooted as to be impossible to overcome. Christman’s solution, to log off, is not a formula to save the left but rather a way to save ourselves – to save our hope in the left project – and allow us to reevaluate our work outside the deeply disturbed echo chambers we find ourselves in online. We are writing this to thank Matt Christman, he has provided an example and given us something to think about, but most importantly he has offered us a simple piece of good advice: log off.

Golden Goose Egg — Griffin Mahon, University of Virginia

Last month, the Air Force Chief of Staff said that the Air Force should develop affordable, lightweight fighter planes. At least he didn’t say access to affordable planes! You might be wondering: doesn’t the Air Force already have planes? The short answer is yes. Most recently, they’ve got the F-35, which has been in development since the ‘90s and first flew fifteen years ago. But when it takes you that long to build a plane, lots of expensive bells and whistles get added on until suddenly it’s not so affordable or lightweight. 

A single F-35 costs over 100 million dollars. You can decide for yourself if that’s a good deal but the better part is that they barely work – that’s why the program has taken so long. Don’t just take my word for it. About a dozen countries have ordered F-35s, initially including bastions of democracy like Israel, Turkey, and the UAE. Only a small percentage of the total orders have been delivered and some countries have already threatened to cancel because of all the defects. But the current plan is for the U.S. to make 2,500 of them. America, fuck yeah!

We’ll see if the next plane somehow fits its projected role. I’m doubtful. But I’m certain that the military-industrial complex’s mission creep comes from the fact that the arms industry has basically bought off part of the federal government. And this is facilitated by the structures of the military. Officers retire and become consultants or work for the manufacturers they were getting invoices from while in uniform. Last year, Congress actually authorized the purchase of fourteen more F-35s than the Pentagon had even asked for! There is no accountability whatsoever.

Maybe they need the planes for a good reason. Not quite. How many planes does the U.S. currently have? 13,000, four to five times more than Russia and China. When was the last air-to-air combat? A Syrian plane was shot down in 2017, but until then there hadn’t been any lethal engagements since Kosovo in 1999. Air superiority may define modern war but under-equipped groups have been able to take down helicopters and drones with shoulder-fired missiles.

There are lots of examples of top brass being critical of the U.S.’s wars, or at least how we go about them. But they’ve usually earned their rank by being completely uncritical. The revolving door keeps higher-ups quiet until they’re off the public payroll. And the capitalists are smart: they’ve spatially fixed their political power by spreading out weapons manufacturing all across the country. Capitalism and its drive to war rely upon legalized corruption. And yet, with all those guns and papered-over bribes, the U.S. still can’t fully impose its military will on the rest of the world. Thank goodness.

There’s a saying that terrorists are just an army without an air force. What does that make a country with an army and an air force and 800 military bases but not Medicare for All?

Mad Money: The Market is a Mess — Ruy Martinez, Harvard

If you have spent any amount of time looking at the news, you will have heard of the incredible movements of Gamestop. Gamestop has been lambasted for terrible customer service, aggressive sales tactics, awful treatment of employees, and a generally failing business model in the wake of Steam gaining more and more market share. But for one day, the valuation of the company was a whopping $22 billion.

As Marxists, we should make sure we focus on what really happened: the markets for investing in companies are an inefficient mess because the market is an inefficient mess.

The basic idea of a stock market is that regular people can buy shares of companies, either from other people or from the company themselves, to own a stake in a company. Own a share of GME? You’re technically a capitalist! Cancelled!

One approach, popularized by the late John “Jack” Bogle, founder of the Vanguard Group, states that because the market is almost always efficient, you should just buy the market as a whole and watch your earnings grow. If there are inefficiencies, it’d take a genius and a team of other geniuses to pick them out.

But the stock market is not about companies — it’s not even about buying low or selling high. For many engaging in the market, it’s about a ticket to riches. Low probability derivatives like options are sold to those with diamonds in their eyes, while massive groups like Citadel sell those low probability options for positive returns as dreams get burnt to flames. Hedge funds are borrowing shares that were already borrowed while hedge funds and retail traders on the other side buy up a company with only an aspirational chance to be worth a quarter of the current value to drive up the price.

Marx wrote about how speculation is how capitalism deals with the crisis of overproduction. In an economy with high unemployment, millions on the brink of homelessness, and hellish conditions for frontline workers, Elon Musk temporarily became the richest person in the world based on a company that produced less than 500,000 vehicles last year. It’s hard to imagine that this doesn’t fit Marx’s description. Regular people are entering a speculative frenzy to “squeeze” other companies, putting their IRAs on the line for a dream of being rich beyond their wildest dreams on companies like Gamestop, AMC and Blackberry.

You tell me, is the market efficient right now?

What are you thinking about this week? YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit articles to The Activist here.

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