Amazing that Susan Sarandon is returning to the national consciousness in a show called Feud. And in a role that features both sides of her own persona. She’s playing a brilliant actor and hero of leftists and unions (Bette Davis) — who reminds a lot of us of Sarandon herself — AND a deluded, murderous psychopath (Baby Jane Hudson) — who also reminds a lot of us of Sarandon! It’s perfectly exquisite! Amazing!
Quickly, about the show: I like it. And I especially like Sarandon. She really seems to get Davis — or maybe her idea of Davis is just a lot like mine, I don’t know — but when she shows up in that Baby Jane makeup, and Jessica Lange’s Crawford slithers offset… just, Wow! This is going to be fun.
And I’m sorry so many of my leftist friends have decided to boycott the show. They’re going to miss a good time. They’re unable to forgive Sarandon for her ill-timed outburst against Hillary Clinton, and are vowing not to watch Feud, even though most of them are gay guys who like me generally live for this sort of thing, a behind-the-scenes telling of some juicy Hollywood history.
Here’s a recap of the feud with Sarandon: Like most socialists and a lot of Democrats, she believed the DNC and the Clintons were awful, awful people, just the worst sort of neoliberals. They (and Obama, in this view) mouthed progressive social stances while marching ahead with the avaricious agenda of globalist corporate power. Rather than endorsing Clinton against the obviously worse option of Trump, Sarandon went for Jill Stein and basically said on national TV that the Cheeto’s election might even be better for the left, as it would hasten some sort of revolution.
From a PR perspective, it was idiotic. If Clinton had won as expected, we might all have forgotten about Sarandon’s inflammatory rhetoric. But Clinton lost, in spectacular fashion. (Actually, she won, by a comfortable margin, but that’s another horror story.) The country is saddled with the petulant psycho-puppet in the White House; a great corrupt contagion has swept into the Capitol; and untold catastrophes are unfolding at home and abroad as the Loser of the Popular Vote undermines America’s foreign policy, social fairness, environmental stewardship, and general moral standing. Shit has gotten fugly.
So we’re all looking again at poor Susan Sarandon this week and asking a few uncomfortable questions. Basically, was she wrong? First, about the Clintons being just as dangerous as Trump, and second, about his election sparking something of revolution? First — because people seem confused about this — we should answer a third question: Wrong or right, did she have any impact on Clinton’s loss? In other words, should we even care about her opinion of HRC?
That’s easy. No. Susan Sarandon had almost zero impact on the election of 2016. (Spoiler alert! There’s a bit of number crunching ahead, and some political opinions.)
Let’s look at Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, the three states that lost the Electoral College for HRC. Those who believe Sarandon and Stein formed some kind of hard-left Axis of Evil rightly point out that Stein’s votes in each state were greater than Trump’s margin against HRC: 51,000 in Mich., 49,000 in Penn., and 31,000 in Wisc. They believe these voters would have all pulled the lever for Hillary in Stein’s absence, assuming that the second spoiler, the Libertarian Gary Johnson, would have no attraction. (Side note: Numerically, Johnson created an even bigger problem for Trump, drawing three times as many votes as Stein in all three states.)
Except that’s bullshit. A CBS News exit poll asked Johnson and Stein voters who they’d have supported in a two-person race; this is what they found: “A quarter of Johnson voters said Clinton, 15 percent said Trump, and 55 percent said they would not have voted. Numbers were similar for Stein voters, with about a quarter saying they would have chosen Clinton, 14 percent saying Trump, and 61 percent saying they would not have voted.” If those numbers are accurate, Stein’s absence alone wouldn’t have helped Clinton’s margin against Trump, even in razor-close Michigan.
We just can’t assign a single ideology or motive to any group of voters. With single-issue voting on the rise, many people choose their candidates seemingly without applying larger logic. Gun nuts vote GOP year after year, and the GOP year after year works to take away their social security. Evangelicals voted this year for a man with only the most passing acquaintance with the Bible. Nationwide, 53% of white women voted this year for a man who brags about raping white women. So it would be foolish to assume Stein’s supporters would have supported either Clinton or Trump given a strictly binary choice.
Anyway, unless voting becomes mandatory, our elections will never present a binary choice. You can always not vote at all. Stein and Johnson voters may forever remain enigmatic, but about nonvoters, one of three things had to be true: They were either unable to vote because they couldn’t get out of work, find childcare, etc.; they were prevented from doing so thanks to the racist voter-suppression tactics of many GOP statehouses; or they just didn’t want to. In Wisconsin, one of the three states that lost the Electoral College for HRC, turnout fell from 72.9% in 2012 to 69.4% in 2016. (The national average was only 60% — so, yay Badgers! Note: I’m taking these numbers from the nonpartisan U.S. Elections Project.) In Michigan, it remained about the same, 64.7%. In Pennsylvania, it actually rose, from 59.5% to 63%. In other words, more than 6 million people in these states stayed home.
Nate Silver and his folks parsed this out further, determining that voters were especially uninspired in states the Democrats won. In Pennsylvania, the only one of the terrible trio of rustbelt states that saw voter interest rise, turnout still fell among reliably Democratic voters. For example, roughly 130,000 fewer African-Americans — not even a microscopic part of Stein’s minuscule coalition — voted in in the state in 2016 than voted in 2012. For a good bead on white voters, check out this terrific post-election piece from NPR exploring the impact of a phenomenon called “rural resentment.”
Clinton’s campaign was laser-focused on Trump’s many horrifying disqualifications. Fair enough: He’s a racist, sexist, queer-phobic, narcissistic, half-witted, pathological liar. So far, his administration is a bigger shitshow than anyone even imagined. Unfortunately, voters have hated Clinton for 25 years; as of November, their hatred of Trump was barely a year old. Plus, it turns out you have to clearly articulate what you are for, as well as what you are against. “Stronger Together” is a beautiful sentiment — but it doesn’t even have a verb. “Make America Great Again” is a sick, bigoted lie, and it’s robbed essentially from Ronald Reagan, but it starts with a powerful verb, in imperative voice no less.
So, no. Sarandon had nothing to do with Clinton’s loss. We can blame only three people for that: Clinton, James Comey, and Vladimir Putin — these are the folks, along with the GOP’s racist voter fraud schemes, who depressed turnout for the Democrats last year.
But was Sarandon right about Clinton? I don’t know. The leftist war against neoliberalism seems about half-right to me. The 1 percent has only grown in power under the Clintons and Obama. But, though I know he ramped up the drone war and didn’t jail any bankers and kept Guantanamo open, Obama is still the greatest president of my lifetime. We saved the economy. We got health care for every American. We legalized gay marriage coast to coast. We turned the corner on fossil fuels. Isn’t all that worth something? And wouldn’t Clinton have kept that up?
My beef with Clinton was essentially numeric. She’d been despised for far too long to win a national election. She was the riskier nominee, even against a 74-year-old Jewish socialist. If Sarandon had focused on that, at least people wouldn’t be dismissing her as privileged. (There’s no worse insult on the left.) They’d have called her a simple killjoy.
That last thing she said — about Trump sparking a real revolution — if you’ve been to a rally these last few months; if you’ve written your congressperson or called the House panel on X, Y, an Z, I think you know the answer.
So how about let’s drop our little feud with Susan, and get back to the war with Donald.