What I Saw at an Iowa Caucus

What I Saw at an Iowa Caucus

As I trudged down the thankfully ice-free sidewalk in my neighborhood in [Iowa town redacted], I wondered whether I wasn’t wasting my time in going to a Democratic caucus as a covert shitlord hoping to push the candidacy of a semi-antisystem outsider. The signs for Warren and Pete were dense, a testament to the high density of catladies of my area. As I walked into the elementary school, I did my best to politely smile but quickly break eye contact with the doughy middle-aged boosters for Biden, Pete, and Pocahontas and took my place in the back of the line to register. Having come alone, I quietly and patiently stood in line minding my own business, in part because I wasn’t eager to have to lie to people about my real political convictions and reasons for coming, but also because I’m an Iowan. Following the rules and minding your own business, being polite and engaging but not overly warm with strangers, for better or worse, is the Midwestern way, part of our own historical/regional expression of White identity.

When I sat down to register, the caucus worker didn’t know me from Adam, but she knew my surname and told me she had “Salians” in her own extended family. This didn’t surprise me, since my family’s name isn’t uncommon in our part of the state. Iowans, like our state, can be a little cool, especially compared to our distant kinsmen of places like Dixie, yet Iowa, the real Iowa of German and Anglo settlers rather than the mocha PR fantasy of the local newspapers and politicians, remains a real place defined in part by networks of kinship and shared ancestry. Those bonds have grown thin here as they have everywhere else, and the friendly 50-something quickly returned to business, took my registration form, and, back to business, ushered me to the end of the table to receive the now-infamous two-sided preference card.

Maneuvering my way through the crowded school gym, I searched in vain for Tulsi’s camp. No dice. Her campaign was basically absent from our precinct and no one was caucusing for her. There were about 10 or so camped out for Yang around a lunch table. The local Yang Gang consisted in a couple of Asians, several weaboos, and two or three chads who could’ve passed for our guys. No doughy middle aged women or their low-T husbands, as was the case in the Warren, Pete, and Klobuchar corners. I decided to chill with the Yang bros in the first alignment, knowing damn well they didn’t stand a chance of gaining viability with this crowd. After that, I was resolved to go over to the Bernie corner. Given that Coconut Mommy was a non-starter, I saw Bernie as the best candidate to bring chaos into the national nomination process, and maybe even to bring some kind of populism back into the discussion. Sometimes it takes a “nazi” to support a Jewish commie (tactically of course).

As our precinct chair got up to the mic and began explaining the admittedly byzantine process of caucusing, the room became warmer, and I don’t just mean the temperature. As the chair, a bespectacled old teacher from the neighborhood, got to the end of his spiel, people would interject and ask questions, some of them rather pointed. But these exchanges never became acrimonious or even heated, and what began to become clear is that these people were neighbors who knew and valued each other, despite supporting different candidates and hailing from different ideological neighborhoods of the American left. Many were clearly puzzled at and frustrated with the new rules, imposed this year by the Iowa Democratic Party to (ironically) try to avoid the confusion that surrounded the 2016 contest between Clinton and Sanders. But as the participants, precinct captains, and chairs began to communicate, often shouting from the other side of the gym, their sense of familiarity and neighborliness with one another was unmistakable, no matter how mistaken their politics.

As I milled around with the 20 or so members of Yang gang, the sharks began to circle. “We like Yang too, you’re welcome to come join us,” said the fat (again, middle-aged) precinct captain for Bootycheeks, as she tried to bribe us with cookies. “Anyone here like Biden?” asked another woman as she passed by our clearly unviable caucus. “We’re only six people short of viability.” I couldn’t help but notice that Biden’s male supporters sort of resembled their candidate: gray-haired, ruddy, older guys, not in terrible shape, well put together, though also looking like they’d had a few drinks in their time. Surprisingly masculine for today’s Democratic constituency, they struck me as relics of an American Left of yore, working class and normal. Had the Biden people had a keg on offer, I might just have let Bernie fend for himself. But we were in an elementary school and Iowans, like their German forebears, are world renowned rule-followers. So I was onto team Bernie.

Bernie had quite the crowd, and ended up placing second behind Warren in my precinct. He seemed to be the guy for young, white (or at least white-looking), twenty-something males, though there were a fair amount of women in his corner as well and even some brown people. Of the four contenders left after the first round (Warren, Sanders, Booty, and Klobuchar) the Bernie corner was definitely the nerdiest. A couple of student-aged guys behind me sperged out about policy minutiae, while in front of me a scrawny kid who didn’t look like he was too long out of high school watched anime on his tablet. With the exception of the Bernie captain, another retired teacher who blew her allotted two minutes of stump speech trying to explain her homemade climate change chart, it was a younger and more awkward crowd than those supporting Warren and the other neo-lib candidates. The more moderate campaigns seemed to draw the support of a lot of the older and middle-aged neighbors, who I imagine are probably mostly content with our country’s status quo minus Orange Man’s hurtful words.

As we milled around between rounds, I got to talking with a Bernie bro who looked to be about late twenties or a little older. We shot the you-know-what about the different candidates, prospects for the primary race, and of course, about Comrade Bernie himself. “I mean, I’m okay with having a Republican president and just disagreeing with him on policies. But the things he says are just so over the line, and the way he thinks he’s above the law…” he trailed off and I filled the awkward silence with, “yeah, he can be very polarizing.” Kind of gay and cucky on my part, but I wasn’t really looking for a confrontation. Of course the real problem with Trump is that he doesn’t actually govern according to his awesomely offensive 2016 rhetoric. If he did, I’d have been at the Republican caucus helping to BTFO Joe Walsh. “I admire that Bernie’s been ideologically consistent for so long,” I offered, this time honestly. “But I think the reality is that the discourse in our politics is going to become more polarizing as…time goes on…and Bernie’s going to have to get more pugnacious.” What I’d wanted to say was that a less white country, not to mention a country where coastal elites, both tribal and white, are becoming more overtly hostile to white Middle America, is inevitably going to become angrier and more vulgar in its political conversations.

“Yeah, I just, I mean, there are things you just can’t say.” My point had been lost, but oh well. Like I said, as a crypto-nationalist at a Democratic caucus in a neighborhood where I live and work, I wasn’t exactly eager to push it. We continued chatting about other things as the round came to a close, and all around the room I saw my neighbors doing the same. People who were supposed to despise each other on the basis of their support for opposing candidates laughed, joked, and exchanged baked goods. They congratulated each other on their candidates’ campaigns and chattered about their kids. Don’t get me wrong, I despise their politics and broadly defined liberal worldview, but when you’re talking to people in real life, in real time, some of those considerations become secondary, at least for a brief two hours on a February night. In a world of increasing social isolation and atomization, the Iowa caucuses are a kind of throwback to an older version of Iowa, and an older America, where politics really was local and communal. You didn’t just sit in your house and seethe quietly at your political villain of choice while consuming the mass-media narrative of your choice; you had to communicate with neighbors and friends, confront their arguments, and make the case for your own candidate or policy preference. At my caucus, something of the old Iowa, the real Iowa, was back from the dead and really present, if only for two and a half hours. It then dissipated, giving way to the current year as we shuffled back to our houses to listen to Wolf Blitzer and the should-be convict Terry McAullife talk about what incompetent hicks we are on cable news.

The Iowa Democratic Party is certainly guilty of at least gross incompetence if not more. I don’t want to get into the conspiracy theories, or conspiracy facts, here and now. But it struck me right away that the consternation among the talking heads about the botched caucuses was very obviously a thin veil for their real problems with the First in the Nation Iowa Caucuses. First, there’s the unforgiveable whiteness of my beloved home state. Even with proportionately large black populations in our bigger towns (which many guys in our thing are surprised to learn), the influx of southeast Asians in the ’70s, and the ongoing invasions from our country’s south, Iowa remains around 90% white, an unforgiveable affront, we are told, to a nation and a Democratic party quickly becoming “younger, more secular, and [most importantly] more diverse.” Second, which I don’t think those in our circles have picked up on quite as strongly, is that Iowa’s caucusing system encourages community and social interaction among neighbors. To caucus, you have to go to a place and deal with people who live around you. Inevitably, people end up talking, arguing, and often coming to conclusions that don’t quite align with the desiderata of Democratic or Republican elites. White people getting together to talk politics is dangerous, has always been dangerous, and our nepotistic elites are disproportionately descended from an ethnos that learned (or relearned) that first hand less than a century ago. Don’t think they’ve forgotten.

Our elites would prefer that we vote in a primary instead of caucus because the standard election maintains the anonymity and isolation that have become typical of middle-class American life. That isolation is good for them. An absence of social capital among neighbors and fellow citizens deprives us of forums for discussion, which can lead to the proliferation of ideas that don’t conform to either side of the kosher sandwich. People who feel a sense of communal solidarity and local belonging are less likely to pick Fox News or MSNBC as their magisterium. Isolated people without identity or community are weak and defenseless against the machinations of intellectual, political, and financial elites. Caucusing is certainly no panacea for our problems, but the structure itself harkens back to a time before this evil system had as strong as a stranglehold as it now has, and for that reason alone it has become an abomination in the eyes of Globohomo.

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