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The Philadelphia Moment: Obama, Clinton, and the Substance of Symbols


The Philadelphia Moment: Obama, Clinton, and the Substance of Symbols

Matthew Stanley

On the day of yet another historic presidential election with what looks to deliver yet another unprecedented result, I, like many others, find myself thinking about the symbolic value of events in Philadelphia last night. Simply, what will it mean that the first black president passed the proverbial torch to the first women nominee from a major party on what's likely to prove the night before her victory?


“Symbols are for the symbol minded” George Carlin.


For the vast majority of American citizens it means the continuation of undisguised class warfare, the destruction of countless lives in the Middle East, a continuation of the unendurable status quo. WTF difference does it make that a black man or a woman attains the highest office in the land when to do so simply continues the suffering of billions? Perhaps the only bright spot in this dismal landscape is that it could be even worse if the republicans ever gained control of congress and the presidency. I fully expect, however, that if the republican thugs retain control of congress they will try to install Paul Ryan as president by impeaching both Clinton and Kaine. So yes, it could be worse, much worse than the status quo for ordinary Americans. If the republicans ever gain complete control we may well find ourselves pining for the days when things were merely dismal. It’s like trying to choose between Hitler or Stalin. After all, Hitler killed only twelve million to Stalin’s twenty million and was much more selective in the killing. Ah, to long for the halcyon days of Hitler! The barbarians are not at the gate. They run the place.


Identity politics continues to be a successful enabler and accelerator of corporate control of government.

Gender, color, and other physical characteristics are irrelevant if I vote for a candidate or incumbent who works against my best interests and the best interests of the majority of Murkins.

The Philadelphia progressives will remember won’t be the election week photo-ops, it will be Clintoncon in July, one of the greatest railroad pageants in history.


on what’s likely to prove the night before her victory?

getting ahead of yourself here much?


The most profound result of this election will probably be the rise of a white nationalist movement in the US led by Trump. Moreover it is part of an international movement with similar movements going on throughout Europe. I think for the first time in American history the values of the Enlightenment are really being directly challenged. Trump and his followers seem to be saying Jefferson had it all wrong. This movement seems to embrace the values of Russia much more than what are considered American values. Trump has actually said he admires Putin as a leader. It appears that Trump and his followers have concluded that democracy is too messy. They seem to yearn for an authoritarian country where there is less arguing and more law and order. And all of the trust is put in one person. Trump’s acceptance speak at the Republican convention could be taken as a symbol for this movement.


I wish you had kept writing your article because these are wonderful questions. Symbolism is important I agree, but symbolism alone seems to me cynical.

How do we measure the empowerment of (well every and any minority or disenfranchised group) because of these symbolic victories? It may be easier to better notice how your circle’s conversations have changed since 2006. Also, are people clinging to or moving past symbolism after their victories? And does it embolden the bigots on the other side?

I feel there may be a difference between one saying “I support (Obama/Clinton), but I really have problems with the Party” or something like that, versus someone getting enveloped by Identity Politics or Politics of Fear or Voter Apathy. It takes much more energy to ‘deprogram’ someone in that sphere.

For those I know who supported Obama (mainly on symbolism, or just Blue-or-Bust, I have a hard time discerning) I hoped that they may temper their enthusiasm with the facts of his presidency… they may have ‘gone quiet’ but they did not change their tune. I try not to say it (because I feel like I sound like an a**) but they were ‘right’- only in a too narrow perspective for my taste.

After 16 years of Symbolism and GOP-bashing (all good things in and of themselves) and reflexive deflecting of legitimate (3rd party) concerns… will they feel they are the ‘victim’? Will they feel they ‘won’ so they don’t have to invest much? Will they feel ‘unpopular’ if they stray from (propaganda)? That is my fear of what our culture would look like in 8 years- more entrenched, polarized and ineffective. My hope is that more people would realize after the Symbolism wears off what the real ‘war’ involves.


Is this free association? Stream of consciousness?