Tag Archives: liberal politics

Mourn on the Fourth of July: The End of America and A Frail Hope for the Future

There was a time, not so long ago, when I was going to publish a blog post entitled, self-indulgently, “Confessions of a Reluctant Patriot.” It was during the last summer Olympics, and I felt so positive and full of hope, buoyed by the possibility that we might, at last, be on the right track as a country. Sure, there were still some things that needed to be done, but it seemed as if there was still a lot of hope, that we could make a better world if we just tried had enough.

Whatever remained of that feeling has been well and truly obliterated.

It’s been buried beneath the screams of children forcibly separated by their borders, by the tectonic shifts in global policy that have left America alienated from traditional democracies and allied with dangerous autocrats, by the systematic unraveling of pretty much every progressive policy gain gained in the last 20 or 30 years, from labor rights to civil rights for people of color to abortion rights to LGBT+ rights. The announcement last week that Anthony Kennedy is retiring from the Supreme Court–which will almost certainly usher in a terrible new era of judicial reversals–just put the final nail in the coffin of my optimism.

And the worst part? WE’RE NOT EVEN HALFWAY THROUGH THIS ADMINISTRATION.

I’m afraid, folks.

I’m afraid that the backlash we’ve all been feeling these past two years is going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better. But honestly? The thing I feel even more than fear is despair, and to me that’s even more unsettling. It suggests that there is no real hope for a brighter future, that human history writ large is not one march toward a  progressively better state of being, that instead a relentless cycle of ever-greater defeat.

And it’s not just that the Republicans have proven themselves completely unwilling and incapable of anything remotely resembling human compassion or empathy, it’s that the Left continues to devour itself. Sure, there is a lot of blame to be handed out to party leadership, but it’s important to remember that they have the thankless (and possibly impossible) task of trying to corral a very unruly party. And it seems that nothing they do is able to please everyone, a symptom, I suppose, of a democratic society riven by such insurmountable differences that it’s hard to imagine a way forward. And for those on the Left, who have grown tired of waiting for the revolution, it does seem at times as if the leadership is ineffective at best and obstructionist at worst.

Obviously, as someone who is radical in philosophy, I sympathize with the frustrations. But we have also reached such a crisis point in our country that we have two choices: we can either contribute to the implosion of the Democratic Party and hand the keys to the kingdom to the GOP, or we can find common ground with those of more moderate persuasion, seize back control of local government, and hopefully begin to claw our way back from the edge of absolute annihilation.

Because make no mistake. The GOP has made it abundantly clear that they are willing and able to capitulate to all of the darker strains of the American psyche that we have struggled for so long to banish. The retirement of Kennedy means that Trump, and his lackeys in the Senate, will be able to nominate a justice who would continue the assault on the most vulnerable members of our society. And let me tell you, their voters will LOVE them for it. The remaking of SCOTUS has been one of the Republicans’ most reliable means of getting out the vote, and when they can show that they’ve actually managed to make good on at least this one campaign promise, they’ll be able to turn their voters out in even greater numbers.

This is going to require A LOT of work, however. It’s going to require getting off our asses and going to vote in every election (which, of course, is going to be easier for some than for others). It’s going to require radicals being willing to accept that not everyone is as radical as they are, just as it’s going to require moderates to recognize when radicals sometimes have their finger on the pulse of the electorate and actually have ideas that are good for everyone.

In other words, it’s time to rediscover the essence of what it means to be a Democrat. Don’t try to burn it all down and start from some third party. Bruised and battered as it may be, the Democratic Party still has the infrastructure we need, and the established politicians know how to write policy. We need to accept that maybe, just maybe, a total burn-it-all-down mentality is more destructive than it is helpful, and that the cost for such a mentality is often disproportionately born by those who are already disenfranchised.

This is going to take a little something from everyone, and we have to recognize that those of us who are radical/progressive/liberal share more in common with one another than with those on the far right. We have to learn how to make the most out of those alliances, to build a future that’s brighter for everyone rather than just the privileged few. We have to learn to build coalitions, to craft policy, to combine the best of the idealist and realist branches of the progressive movement. Only then will we be able to move forward into a better world.

So, while I mourn for an America that seems to have passed forever into the history books, I stubbornly hold on to the possibility for what the future holds. It’s not too late for all of us, if we’re willing to put in the work to make it so. The arc of the universe does indeed bend toward justice, but only when we do everything in our power to help it. It won’t be easy, but it can be done.

Happy Birthday, America.

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Hot Take: How the Democrats Can Win Big in 2018 (and Maybe 2020)–“Dignity”

 

In his opinion for the majority in the case Obergefell v. Hodges, Anthony Kennedy wrote of those seeking the right to marry: “They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.” One word stands out to me about this opinion: “dignity.”

It’s no secret that the famously moderate Kennedy tends to place a lot of emphasis on dignity in his rulings, so his mention of it in the Obergefell decision is unsurprising. What might surprise some, however, is my belief that this term, “dignity,” might be the key to the future of the Democratic Party.

As the Trump era has unfolded–leading to ever-greater indignities, both large and small, the demolition of norms and institutions, and the general degrading of the office of the Presidency–it seems to me that there is one sure way that we Democrats can sell a vision to the American people. If Trump traded on easy solutions, finger-pointing, and xenophobia, it is up to us to show the American people that there is another way to conduct policy and, just as importantly, another way to comport ourselves as a republic and as a body politic.

The beauty of a stress on dignity is that it provides a way of addressing, meaningfully, in my view, the concerns of those who have in recent months suggested that the focus of the national party on “social issues” poses a danger to Democrats in traditionally conservative or moderate districts. Leaving aside the arbitrary and misleading distinction between economic and social issues (a subject for a later rant, I’m sure), it seems to me that it would be more effective and moral for Democrats in those areas to stress that their stances on LGBT+, racial, and gender issues are, essentially, about dignity. I would proffer that the majority of Americans, whether they fall to the right or the left of the political center, can at least agree on the fundamental right to dignity before the law.

Of course, this will require Democratic politicians to actually assert leadership, rather than simply acquiescing to the wishes and desires–no matter how destructive and backward they are–of their core constituents. There is a certain tendency among Democrats, particularly those who are vulnerable in states that Trump won, to think that any stance of theirs that is opposite to their conservative majority constituency will jeopardize their seat, and maybe they’re right. But it also occurs to me that people like Senator Joe Manchin (from my own home state of West Virginia) would do well to remember that there are many LGBT+ people in his state who crave the same dignity as their hetero kin. Their lives are just as important, their needs just as great, and their right to dignity as constitutional.

To some, this emphasis on dignity might come off as trite, or as respectability politics, and that’s true to an extent. However, if 2016 and its dreadful aftermath have taught us anything, it’s that we have a long, hard battle ahead of us, and we need to use all of the weapons in our arsenal. Maybe I’m naïve, but I like to think that the majority of Americans are decent folk, people who are willing to change and adapt. They’re not perfect, but with some notable exceptions they understand dignity and its importance, indeed its necessity, for emotional well-being.

Dignity, as a concept that (almost) everyone can sympathize with and embrace, may just give we Democrats a way out of the wilderness.

Weekly Rant: The Unbearable Privilege of Susan Sarandon

In case you missed it, Susan Sarandon stands by her earlier condemnation of Hillary Clinton. According to Sarandon, if we’d had Hillary elected, we’d be at war, fracking would continue unabated, and we would have had more of the “sneaky” parts of the Obama administration (the deportations, drone strikes, etc.)

Of course, I’m not at all surprised by Sarandon’s stubborn refusal to admit she was wrong (and her selective memory of the Christ Hayes interview, which I was watching in real time). And to some extent I really don’t care what she thinks. She’s really quite amazing as an actress–as her most recent turn as Bette Davis in Feud demonstrates–but I’ve become increasingly disenchanted with the idea that we should look to the stars for inspiration. They’re just people, after all, and thus prone to flaws and mistakes just like anyone else. The danger is that many people follow their lead, and when a powerful progressive voice declines to support a progressive candidate, and even make the specious argument that Trump might hasten the revolution, I get pissed. And not just at Sarandon, either.

For the real rub about her interview is that it speaks of a sentiment that still has a strong pull on the far Left. Those who voted for Green Party candidate Jill Stein still refuse to admit that they were mistaken, even though we know that the number of Green Party voters in the key states of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Michigan would have decisively tipped the election to Clinton. They still believe that Clinton would have been more dangerous and destructive than Trump, even with mountains of evidence to the contrary (which continue to grow higher each and every day).

What infuriates me the most about Sarandon and those like her, though, is how insulated they are from the results of their “protest” votes. They claim to care about black lives, about the environment, about queer people, about immigrants, about a host of liberal causes. Yet, when they are given the choice between a party that is against all of those things, again and again they spurn it and throw their votes to an unviable third party (the reasons why a third party is unviable will be the subject of another rant). Rather than seek out actual policy proposals that would advance these causes and candidates who could effectively work with other legislators to implement them, those on the far Left would rather hold every candidate up to a purity test that they are destined to fail. Like those on the Right, who fetishize principles (“fetal life,” “the second amendment,” “free enterprise,” “the sanctity of marriage,” and the like”) over people, the Left cares more about purity than about the actual lives of actual people who are affected by their decisions.

This, my friends, is the insidious danger of false equivalence. Once everything is equal, once every candidate is equally flawed, and each party equally corrupt, then it becomes possible to vote your conscience, even if that means throwing everyone else under the bus. Once upon a time we on the Left were the party of getting things done, of hammering out solutions and compromises to move a progressive agenda forward. Now, we’ve become the bomb-throwers, the ones willing to destroy the entire system with absolutely no idea how to replace it. And a lot of my white progressive friends continue to refuse to see how their protest votes actively hurt the very people and causes they claim to care about.

Well, I hope that Sarandon and her ilk are happy with what they have wrought. When the Republican tax plan destroys graduate education; when the revitalized oil, gas, and coal industries destroy the environment; when net neutrality is gutted; when the court system is completely remade in Trump’s image; when white nationalism and white supremacy continue to grow in power with Trump’s tacit encouragement; when the progressive clock is not just rolled back but demolished; when the world trembles before the possibility of nuclear war; remember that we could have had a Clinton presidency. Remember that this didn’t have to happen.

And for the love of all the gods, vote Democrat in 2016.

Though you might not realize it, some of our lives depend on it.

Including mine.