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Chelsea Manning Is The Nightmare Democrats Deserve


Somewhere, Roy Moore is singing hallelujahs. The disgraceful Alabama justice turned disgraced Senate candidate has for some months born alone the curse of representing, in very flesh, the demons of a major American political party.

Now, however, with Chelsea Manning’s decision to seek the Democratic nomination in the upcoming Maryland Senate race, at last Moore shares this burden. That Manning looks vaguely child-like is merely the icing on the former justice’s cake.

Manning is, after all, simply Moore in softer dress: a rage-stoking, base-riling ghoul sent to torment the political establishment (i.e., grownups) into submission. In both men’s view, the country will always be burning, and deservedly so.

For Moore, our crime is the insufficiently theocratic nature of America’s institutions, a curious position given his obsession with Sharia law (“in Illinois, Indiana—up there, I don’t know”). For Manning, our faults lie in the horrors performed by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“literally the new gestapo”), the inhumanity of free markets (“imagine a world where caring for each other matters more than the accumulation of material things”), and the evil wrought by U.S. law enforcement, military, and intelligence personnel (“foreign and domestic oppression in the name of the elites”).

Manning’s preoccupations, in other words, are identical to those of the Left’s activist base—a group of which, despite his crimes, he remains an honored member. Which is what makes this political moment so very sweet.

A Swamp-Candidate Disaster

For conservatives who have suffered through Moore, Todd “legitimate rape” Akin, and the current president of the United States, the senatorial campaign of convicted WikiLeaker and “trans” “woman” Manning is nothing less than a dream come true. It’s a chance for Democrats to experience their very own swamp-candidate disaster.

A dilettante as well as a radical, Manning brings to the race no achievements, yet his campaign, at least if one wishes to remain a Democrat in good standing, is distressingly difficult to oppose. Express your disgust with Manning’s unapologetic acts of treason, and you’re a neo-liberal war-monger. Complain that Manning’s only preparation for office is the thousand books he read in prison, and you’re anti-woman. Suggest that, as a human being suffering from acute mental illness, Manning deserves sympathy and (depoliticized) psychological treatment, and you are, quite frankly, a transphobic monster.

No wonder Democratic incumbent Ben Cardin’s response to Manning’s campaign has been utter, terrified silence. To so much as acknowledge Manning’s existence is too great a risk for a professional politician like Cardin to take.

Alas, the media seems determined to prevent the emergence of any narrative that could harm the sitting senator, blandly reporting the facts of Manning’s impending run while remaining conspicuously light on analysis. Imagine for a moment that the politics in question were reversed: that Manning was a felonious embodiment of Trumpism rather than the Left’s anti-Americanism in a miniskirt. MSNBC, I think it’s safe to say, would be setting up chairs at Manning’s rallies. CNN would be spinning off a whole new channel.

How Do You Like Them Apples?

The media’s smothering blanket notwithstanding, however, supporters of Cardin (or of Democratic majorities) ought not to rest easy just yet. Nor should conservatives worry that the Chelsea show will close before its best scenes. Central to Manning’s conception of the world is his claim—part threat, part mantra he repeats on Twitter with disturbing frequency—that “we have more power than they do” (emphases added).

Manning is wrong about that. The truly powerful don’t need to tweet about it. But he’s right to imply that he will be listened to by the only “we” that Democrats tend to care about these days: their unappeasable, outrage-oriented, intellectually monolithic base. Manning has an “identity” that can weaponize that anger. White, cis-gendered, old, and privileged Cardin most certainly does not. There may not be political casualties ahead, but neither is autumn in Maryland likely to be boring.

What all of this portends is anyone’s guess, of course. In a certain kind of ironic world, conservative crowing about Manning’s lunacy leads to an embrace of his candidacy on the broader Left. Cardin stumbles, perhaps by “misgendering” his opponent. Republicans nominate a former CIA officer. And January 2019 sees the swearing in of Senator Manning (D-Fort Leavenworth).

Is such a scenario possible? Of course it is. But the odds are not particularly good. Manning might have had a puncher’s chance had he waited for the forthcoming Oprah wave election, which promises to wash into office all manner of social media stars. But in an off year? In Maryland? With a midterm electorate? I think not.

Rather, conservatives can rest easy (or stay up late giggling), secure in the knowledge that Manning, traitor, will soon be repeating important progressive talking points with an increasingly large megaphone. That he is, finally, the nightmare that Democrats deserve. Chelsea Manning for senator? No, Chelsea Manning for president.