Those of us on the left often get accused of being “tax and spend” types who just “throw money at the problem,” but the more I dig into the policy of the last 30-40 years, the more something starts to appear to me.
We are throwing money at the problem. Only problem is, it’s the money we can least afford to throw. It’s your money being thrown at the problems of sluggish economic growth, colossal debt, and that pesky problem of low unemployment and low inflation running hand in hand.
Our money gets thrown at the problem by way of telling us to take out more and more debt: for a home, for school, for a car, maybe even just to survive with predatory payday loans, and for what? So the same massive companies up top can keep afloat on our borrowed money and their borrowed time.
Our money gets thrown at the problem by repeatedly cutting programs that benefit the vast majority of Americans, like healthcare, national parks, and public schools, television, radio. For some reason it’s considered okay to keep cutting those programs, but never okay to ask a billionaire to chip in an extra three percent.
So I’ll give some when people complain about “throwing money at the problem,” as long as the other side is willing to give that just as much, if not more, money is being thrown out of the common coffers and into the pockets of the obscenely rich, who proceed to do nothing other than hoard, manipulate, and further increase their own wealth. We were told 30 years ago that investing in the wealthy would pay dividends, and we’re poorer than ever. When can we ask for our money back?
When I moved into my first home with wife and baby 2 years ago, I noted with a little bit of worry that my front yard had two ash trees in it. Come Spring 2017, both of those trees were infested with the Emerald Ash Borer and were so compromised they needed to be taken down. Unfortunately, I’m still waiting on a work order from the power company to take down the second, so there’s a mostly dead tree in my front yard, the top still trying to bloom and blossom as if it doesn’t seem to know that the rest of it has long since given up. Now, while this might be an apt metaphor to the big-money-supported oligarchs of the Democratic Party, I’m going to look at it a little differently.
Every morning I get my daughter up and get her ready for daycare. At this time, I could peel back the curtains in her bedroom and look at that half-alive tree, sighing and muttering and bemoaning the state of it. It’s ugly. Horrible. Makes us look bad. It’s completely at odds with what a front yard is supposed to represent. And so on.
But I don’t.
Why? Because it doesn’t do any good to worry about the existence of a tree that I knew for a long time was an eyesore. Yeah, it’s terrible, but simply jumping up and down at all times bemoaning its terribleness won’t do anything. Instead, I’m focusing on removing the tree, and the stump of the other ash tree, and planting new ones. It does no good to worry about the horrible present if you’re not also going to say “okay, then what?” and put together a plan to put things right.
So, if you drive past my house on Main Street and see that ugly tree, don’t worry. I know it’s terrible. I’ve known for a while. Possibly longer than you have. But I’m also taking steps to fix it. When you go home, take a look around what makes you upset about the world, and instead of obsessing over the fact that it’s awful and it exists, but look into ways you can re-plant your own, better trees in the future.
Pragmatism. The word has reached a near-sacredstatus in the last decade, particularly since the awkward campaign and embarrassing loss of Hillary Clinton, but like all words, it can be bent to say what you want it to. The formal definition of pragmatism says:
1: a practical approach to problems and affairs tried to strike a balance between principles and pragmatism
and this is certainly something you heard ad infinitum during the campaign. Bernie Sanders, we were told, was not pragmatic. Hillary Clinton was.
Why then, on the grounds of pragmatism alone, did she lose? The very definition of pragmatism would say that, as the most pragmatic candidate in the race, she should have won it easily, but she didn’t. So what happened?
THAT is the New American Pragmatism. It isn’t about cutting deals and not “letting the perfect be the enemy of the good.” It’s realize that even the “good” in this situation isn’t good enough when basic needs and security are not being met for half of the inhabitants of the richest country the world has ever seen. This isn’t about being clever and having complicated policy that can still allow you to make bank while appearing to care about the little guy… it’s just plain caring about the little guy. The varnish of neoliberalism, which was already cracking in the last days of the Clinton presidency, fully peeled off as we raced headlong into disaster in 2016 with the “Change” President actively pushing a trade deal that would prove disastrous for the same people who voted him in.
And for those people, looking at their ballots in November, a third term of Obama no longer seemed pragmatic. What did? Something, anything that might shake things up and help them get to a place where they aren’t fearing for their lives, livelihoods and futures every day of the week. Unfortunately, folks ended up voting for a charlatan who turned out to be as nakedly greedy as any President we’ve seen before, but that will only sharpen the necessity for 2018 to be a campaign not on the old pragmatism of cleverness and cute slogans, but the New American Pragmatism of Basic Needs.
I’m a big guy. Always have been, always will be. Even though I was a year younger than most of the kids in my classes, I was bigger than most of them. I can remember from an early age, first grade or thereabouts, my mother telling me that because I was such a big fella, it came with certain responsibilities. One of them included making sure I didn’t use my size to take advantage of other kids. So even when they picked on me, when they called me fat or a nerd or a fat nerd or whatever six-year-olds said to make other six-year-olds cry in the early 90s, I wouldn’t fight back. I was told they would get their comeuppance, and I needed to keep my nose clean or I’d wind up some sort of delinquent.
The last time I really got into a fight was in second grade, 1992. I still remember it: Nate was getting a little too full of himself during a blacktop football game, and when he turned his cockiness on me, I snapped. From an early age, I saw things pretty simply: there are rules, and you’re supposed to follow them. There are things you should and shouldn’t do, and if you do something you shouldn’t, you get punished. You shouldn’t brag, you shouldn’t boast, and most of all… you shouldn’t bully.
Nate was a big kid: one of the few in the class bigger than I was. I got in a few shots, and so did he, but we were second graders; we didn’t know what we were doing. We scuffled for what felt like all of two seconds before one of the outside supervisors separated us, and I got my first referral from Principal Craig. After that, of course, I realized I had done something wrong, and my mother’s voice kept ringing back into my ears: fight with your words, you’re stronger than you think, be careful, you don’t want to hurt anyone.I adopted an approach of near complete appeasement: I refused to fight back in any way, instead convincing myself that if I took the high road, eventually it would all work out well for me. So in 5th grade, when Robert socked me in the jaw during a football game, I walked away. In 7th grade, when other kids were roughing up my friends, I let them try to take me down instead (they couldn’t). In 12th grade, when someone showed me a picture of my younger sister at 13 and told me, grinning, that he’d like to have sex with her… I did nothing.
I still regret that last one. I’m sorry, Boog.
There was supposed to be a reward, remember. If I kept my nose clean, went to school, worked hard, made friends instead of enemies, it was all waiting for me. Now, I look around at 31 years old and see a world where corrupt, negligent, ignorant men who make a career out of making enemies and weaseling out of debt are given some of the highestseats of power in this country. In short, the bullies have won, and I can only wonder if it’s because too many kids like me were told to take the high road.
But in looking back to that drizzly day on the blacktop again, I realized something: big Nate never really came after me again. Sure, he’d join in to mock me when it was safe in a group of five or six or seven, but after that day in 1992 until the day I moved away in 1999, I don’t remember him ever antagonizing me directly ever again. Maybe, sometimes, when things just get too bad, all that’s needed is to stand up to the bully, and maybe get in a few awkward punches, and that will be enough to make him cave. Most bullies, after all, are weak on the inside and fear someone challenging their power.
Maybe that’s what we need right now. I’m not saying to punch, or do worse, to the bullies that are currently making life unbearable for so many in the world. But as I found out with big Nate, all it took was someone finally challenging them. Even though no blood was drawn, no bruises were raised, standing up to them sent a message.
So I’m sick of trying to take the high road, but I’m not going to wallow in the mud either. It may be tougher to go through the grass, but if you come through the grass with determination in your eyes, that bully in the mud will start running. I’m not going to let myself get punched, and I won’t do the punching, but I’ll have enough sense to duck. The bullies who killed our small towns with their tax cuts, who crippled our schools with their demands for more and more of our money, who are poisoning our air and water because they need to make just one more red cent… it’s time for someone, a whole lotta someones, to say we’re not going to take it anymore. We’re not going to give the bullies a bloody nose, and we’re not going to hurt them like they hurt us… we’ll do one better. We’ll let them know just how badly we could hurt them, and the fear of that is enough to fill the pants of any bully from sea to shining sea.
It used to be, in politics, that we had a sort of a seller’s market on that magical, un-catchable unicorn of policy called “consensus.” The idea was you had to create consensus, or spend that precious political capital to build consensus, so you had to be very stingy with what you chose to support and not to support. There was a crisis of demand for consensus, so says the old-style politicians: there’s so little of it, and so few people seem to want the same things. So, we needed austerity to make sure we didn’t completely spend ourselves into a nightmare.
Then, the bottom fell out of the consensus market.
It used to be so hard to find consensus on the more fiddly social issues: the old Republican trifecta of “guns, gays and God” allowed right-wing culture warriors (and others faking it, along for the ride on the gravy train) to score win after win, but their additionally psychocapitalist economic policy was built to fail. And when it did fail, and an entire generation found themselves with mountainous debt, no good jobs, fakefood, unsafe drinking water, sky-high rents and no prospect for a better tomorrow, well… let’s just say a whole lot of people took their “consensus” stock out of something like who should be allowed to use what bathroom and instead flooded the market on issues like healthcare, taxes, and government corruption.
Long story short? It’s really hard to care about what someone is doing with their own body and their own life choices when your own life seems to have no choice but to suffer greatly. Add to it the fact that our new President likes to jet off for golf every weekend and lived in a literal golden tower, and you’ll start to notice that consensus on more than a few key progressive issues is a lot easier to come by these days.
OLIGARCHY: You’re a kook! You’re a pie-in-the-sky idealist! That’s what you are. How can you do a thing like this? Build up the Middle Class’ hopes and then smash all his dreams to pieces. You’re a Communist!
PROGRESSIVE: I said Good Day!
OLIGARCHY: Come on, Middle Class, let’s get out of here. I’ll get even with him if it’s the last thing I ever do. If Sanders wants us to vote for Hillary, that’s what we’ll do.
MIDDLE CLASS: Mr. Progressive . . .
(Middle Class leaves his last $27 on the Progressive’s desk.)
PROGRESSIVE: So shines a good deed in a weary world.
Middle Class . . . You won! You did it! You did it! I knew you would; I just knew you would. Oh, Middle Class, forgive me for putting you through this. Please, forgive me. Come in, Mr. Sanders. Middle Class, meet Mr. Sanders.
(BERNIE SANDERS enters.)
MIDDLE CLASS: Sanders!
PROGRESSIVE: No, no, that’s not Slugworth. He works for me.
MIDDLE CLASS: For you? But he endorsed Hillary!
PROGRESSIVE: I had to test you, Middle Class. And you passed the test. You won!
OLIGARCHY: Won what?
PROGRESSIVE: The jackpot, my dear sir, the grand and glorious jackpot.
MIDDLE CLASS: A living wage?
PROGRESSIVE: Yes, a living wage, but that’s just the beginning. We have to get on, we have to get on; we have so much time, and so little to do. Strike that. Reverse it. This way please. We’ll take the Elevator. Step in, Middle Class. Oligarchy, sir. This is the Great Class Elevator.
OLIGARCHY: It’s Socialism.
PROGRESSIVE: It’s DEMOCRATIC Socialism. Full Socialism can only go one way, but Democratic Socialism can blend the economy, with private businesses and public services…
MIDDLE CLASS: And universal healthcare?
PROGRESSIVE: . . . and fair elections and sustained prosperity and progress for all of us, rich and not. It can take you to any state in the union one of these buttons. Any of these buttons. Just press a button and ZING! You’re off. And up until now I’ve pressed them all . . . except one. This one. Go ahead, Middle Class.
MIDDLE CLASS: Me? (He pushes the button labeled ROOSEVELT REVOLUTION.)
PROGRESSIVE: There it goes. Hold on tight. I’m not exactly sure what’s going to happen. Faster, faster . . . If we don’t pick up enough speed, we’ll never get through.
MIDDLE CLASS: Get through what?
OLIGARCHY: You mean we’re going . . .?
PROGRESSIVE: Up and up!
OLIGARCHY: But this ceiling is made of glass. It’ll shatter into a thousand pieces. We’ll be cut to ribbons!
PROGRESSIVE: No one said the revolution would be easy. Hold on, everybody. Here it comes.
(The Elevator crashes through the roof and flies into the sky.)
OLIGARCHY: You did it, Mr. Progressive, congratulations!
PROGRESSIVE Get up. Take a look.
MIDDLE CLASS: Grandpa, our town looks so pretty from up here.
OLIGARCHY: It’s so many of the little folks, all working together… that’s what makes this country great, isn’t it?
MIDDLE CLASS: Yes!
OLIGARCHY: It really looks beautiful.
MIDDLE CLASS: Look! There’s my school, Oligarchy! They’re rebuilding it!
PROGRESSIVE: How did you like the Democratic Socialism, Middle Class?
MIDDLE CLASS: I think it’s the most sensible idea in the whole world.
PROGRESSIVE: I’m very pleased to hear you say that because I’m giving it to you. That’s all right, isn’t it?
OLIGARCHY: You’re giving Middle Class the–?
PROGRESSIVE: I can’t go on forever, and I don’t really want to try. So, who can I trust to run the factory when I leave and take care of the Revolution for me? Not an oligarch. An oligarch would want to do everything his own way, not mine. That’s why I decided a long time ago I had to go to the Middle Class. America has a very honest, loving Middle Class that I can trust to work toward everyone’s benefit.
MIDDLE CLASS: And that’s why you sent out Mr. Sanders?
PROGRESSIVE: That’s right. So the country’s yours, Middle Class; you can move in immediately.
OLIGARCHY: And me?
PROGRESSIVE: Absolutely… as long as you don’t mind making 50 times more than your workers instead of 300.
MIDDLE CLASS: What happens to the rest of–
PROGRESSIVE: The whole country. I want you to bring them all. But Middle Class . . . don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he always wanted.
Oligarchy: Mr. Progressive?
Progressive: I am extraordinarily busy, sir. Revolutions don’t start themselves.
Oligarchy: I just wanted to ask about the prosperity – Uh, the sustained economic prosperity… for the 99%. When do we get it?
Progressive: You don’t.
Oligarchy: Why not?
Progressive: Because you broke the rules.
Oligarchy: What rules? We didn’t see any rules. Did we, Middle Class?
Progressive: Wrong, sir! Wrong! Under the Preamble to the Constitution of the United States of America, it states quite clearly that the phrase “in order to form a more perfect union” renders void if – and you can read it for yourself in this photostatic copy – “I, the economic elite, cease to provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare,” et cetera, et cetera…”secure the blessings of libery,” et cetera, et cetera…”to ourselves and our posterity!” It’s all there, black and white, clear as crystal! You stole from the American people. You demanded tax cuts and redistribution to further enrich yourself at the horrible expense of hunger, pain, and despair for the vast majority of Americans, requiring an entire social and political revolution to rectify and return the country to a more equitable distribution of wealth, power & opportunity, so you get nothing! You lose! Good day sir!
As I’ve stated before, I’m not exactly a handyman. However, my father, an old farmer pushing 70, has done his share of repairs on the farm, in the house, and on the job. Yesterday, he stopped by to help me with our dishwasher. For over a month now, it would run normally, and the pump would kick in, but it would fail to drain. I’d done everything I could with YouTube tutorials, but as I’m a fairly new homebuyer, I was pretty much flummoxed. I needed the experience of someone who has done this sort of thing before (and another Dad & husband who knows what it’s like to try to DIY everything to avoid losing your shirt in bills) to get my dishwasher up and running again.
We worked through every possibility with a variety of outcomes: pump good, filter cleaned, and pipes all cleaned out both from the garbage disposal and from the dishwasher itself. That last one finally managed to drain when I disconnected it from the air vent, causing some of the foulest smelling water I’ve ever encountered to finally drain into a bucket and get tossed onto any unwanted weeds I had in the backyard. Once everything else was clean, we focused on the aforementioned air vent as the culprit. I’d never taken one apart before, but I was able to see how the parts went together and I was soon looking down a nightmare telescope into what could only be described as Hell’s Meatloaf crammed in there. After some more cleaning, soaking, and percussive maintenance (slamming it against the garbage bin a few times), we had it cleaned to the point where we could reassemble and now the dishwasher is back in fighting shape.
Boy, if that isn’t a metaphor for what needs to be done to the Democrats, huh? Using the guidance of the old liberals, the young folk need to get down into the muck and take it apart bit by bit, cleaning out all the muck until it’s all running clean again. You can call it #DemEnter, Brand New Congress, Justice Democrats, or any of the fantastic resistance groups thriving in America today… but me? I think I’m going to start calling it engaging in “Dishwasher Politics.”
Following my column six days ago, I realized that I neglected a crucial part of the dynamic I laid out between Republicans (who win best when they feel they are losing) and Democrats (who lose the most when they are winning). I spoke at great length about what it meant to win by losing and lose by winning, but I forgot to mention what happens after this power dynamic has been laid out, accepted, and cemented. So, consider this a follow-up where I think I figure out how this dynamic allows the Democrats to screw everything up, even when it seems like everything is going their way.
In short, Democrats don’t seem to understand the dynamic I mentioned six days ago. The Democratic party leadership has been in so deep with the technocratic, data-driven, young-urban-professional-fetish crowd for so long that, much like the economists who thought their figures and numbers were rock solid on the eve of the last crash, their dogma and orthodoxy goes unquestioned even in the face of clear and obvious logic. It is impossible, nay, unthinkable for their projections and their data to be incorrect, because they have the know-how and the Ivy League education and all the bells & whistles and the machine that goes “ping.” In this line of thinking, this austere, test-tube and sterile lab sort of thinking, the world will behave a certain way, has to behave a certain way, or else every single one of your methods won’t work, and your methods being proven correct and your own personal gratification comes before what’s actually good for the vast majority of people living in this country.
And so we get the now-infuriating staple of the Milquetoast Democrat: still holding on to the frayed, scorched remains of comity and lofty gentlemanliness in a world more polarized, vicious, and partisan than ever. In their minds, politicians have to act a certain way, because to act another way would be unseemly and would get you laughed straight out of the latest multi-million dollar soiree, don’t you know. As such, these Milquetoast Democrats cannot even conceive of a world as upside down as this one, where you win by losing and lose by winning. Our entire strategy is based on people behaving a certain way and, come hell or high water, that is the way we’re going to run our campaign. It doesn’t matter that people, that life exists in a hard, cruel and dirty world, and that people sometimes make decisions that are counter to their own best interests due to emotion or other human failings: in the mind of the Milquetoast Democrat, we all must simple transcend our failings until we reach the great bipartisan Nirvana of the Third Way.
This is how the Democrats, gifted with quite possibly the most chaotic, slipshod, and full-bore fascist administration in American history, still cannot seem to make hay. They cannot conceive of something so very unprofessional or unbecoming as winning by losing, and so they use the same sort of tactics and strategies that would have worked in a more civilized Congress of a more civilized time. But we do not live in a civilized time, we live in a time of a maniacal, fascist-leaning Republican party who can only succeed in their narrative if they are the put upon, the persecuted, the fighters for freedom and liberty and other nostrums made empty by decades of petty partisan bickering. They need to be seen as the losers, even as they occupy the White House, the House, the Senate, state governments and governorships. In fact, Republicans haven’t controlled this much of our country since 1928, and therein lies how their winning can and will ultimately be their catastrophic loss.
And so, now, we finally come to the main thrust of the article: how can the Democrats make the best of this situation that seems completely upside down? Well, in a world where Republicans win by losing… stop making them out to be losers. You are walking right into the trap by pointing out every flaw, every foible, every resignation and faux pas and gaffe. Let’s face it, you’re not going to convince anyone on the other side if you go around talking about how terrible Trump is; all that’s going to do is soothe the egos of others on your side.
Stop talking about how bad Trump is.
Let me repeat it for the cheap seats:
STOP TALKING ABOUT HOW BAD TRUMP IS
If you really want to beat Trump, you must acknowledge that he won. Trump’s brand of bargain-basement fascism is wholly dependent on feeling persecuted, in the minority, being the one fighting back. By making him own the mess, by insisting that they are in charge and that it’s their problem now and they have the task of governing, it will sap them of all of their anti-establishment power. When you make these grade-school bullies the ones who suddenly have to run the school, they collapse, as we have seen, but pointing out each time they stumble only puts more fuel on their fire of persecution. Stop talking about how terrible Trump is, start focusing on what he needs to do to be great, because we know he’ll never get there.
Senator Bernie Sanders understands this: even before the inauguration, he has been running a very simple, and very effective , strategy: hold Trump accountable for what he said during the campaign. Use his own words to take the fire out of his actions. If he said he’s not going to cut Social Security, hold him accountable. If he said he’s going to gut regulation of the food we eat, hold him accountable when people start getting sick. To simply play the elitist card and call the idiot an idiot will do no good when there is an entire army of your so-called “idiots” who are waiting for the time when they can rise up against those who rightfully insulted them, and therein lies their strength.
We are not dealing with politics as usual: we are dealing with a deeply flawed, yet dangerous Republican party whose strength comes from being put in the corner like a rabid dog. It needs to be our duty then, as opposition, to let that dog run free five miles out of town in a cornfield until it eventually succumbs to the disease inside it. It is sick and knows only when it is being threatened, so don’t threaten it. Hold it accountable for its own disease, don’t cure it, don’t give in to what it wants, and it will burn itself out. It may seem counter intuitive to give a fool like Trump what he wants and concede that he is President, but putting the Republicans in a position where people are counting on them is a sure fire way to watch them self-destruct, as long as we hold them accountable when they lie, cheat or steal.
So stop with the outrage. Stop being besmirched and shocked and appalled. You knew this was going to be horrible, so stop complaining that it is horrible so they can paint you as some elitist trying to keep them down. They are in charge now, and they have to deal with that. Stop fretting about how terrible it is and start holding them accountable for how terrible they are. To just throw up your hands and say “it’s terrible” is an abdication of responsibility, but to say “you did something terrible and now all of America knows it” will break their back. An emotional appeal to the horribleness, a breathless “won’t someone think of the children” screed will only strike those on the fence as partisan hackery; the key is a genuine, level-headed approach that relies on their own statements, their own promises, and their own policies’ failures to uphold them.
Stop clutching your pearls and gasping at the latest horrible thing you knew would come out of a cabal of genuinely horrible people: expect it, understand it, and like a judoka turn it back around on them to expose their hypocrisy, their sociopathy, and their fascism. Carping and harping will only make people roll their eyes, we need to make it evident in their words. The Democrats need to learn how to turn a loss into a win, by properly cultivating the fire of an angry majority, or we’ll be looking at 8 years of Trump.
Just like how we as an American culture are starting to come to grips with failure not necessarily being a bad thing, we also need to understand how you can win by losing. Now, unlike the demagogues currently in the White House who insist a ban isn’t a ban except when it is, I’m looking to argue the devil in the details and the nuance that often gets overlooked in a crippled media culture of tweets, hot takes, and gut emotions.
On the surface, the idea is this: Republicans win when they lose, and Democrats lose when they win. This has to do with the central climate and personality that each party has staked out for itself more or less since the 1960s. As I stated earlier, today’s Democratic establishment is in the middle of a fetish for professionalism, qualifications, and data, leaving behind their winning strategy of appealing to the down-in-the-dirt working man. This has left the door open for the Republicans to appeal to the working class, but in doing the near impossible task of appealing to both the workers and their brutally exploitative billionaire CEOs, the party has taken the path of least resistance and doubled down on emotional appeals. So we see the bout before us, with the the party that wants to be thought of as the smart people in charge of everything vs. the party of the forgotten man, the common man who is angry he can’t make ends meet, and wants to topple the ivory tower even if that entails voting for a buffoon as President.
This immediately sets up a power dynamic. The DLC-style Democrats, full of tech CEOs, innovators, disruptors, and other buzzwords that grate on rural nerves like a SkilSaw, are seen as the rich elite in power. The brilliance of marketing and messaging on the Republican side has now got that party telling the poor people that they should instead vote for the party of tax cuts for billionaires on a false promise that they can be a billionaire too someday, although they never will. When you set up a power dynamic like this, you’ll immediately find that one side is actually more effective as a loser, and the other as a winner.
How? As we’re seeing with the shambling, slipshod approach of the Trump administration, it’s hard to govern when all you know how to do is protest. It’s hard to run the house when all you know how to do, and all you’ve told people to do, is burn it down. Republicans function best, as they did through the Obama administration, as the people looking to unseat the out-of-touch eggheads in office. But to be in that position of non-governance relies entirely on not winning enough people to your side to be the ones in charge. As we’ve seen, once these maniacal, far-right dreams are put onto paper, you have people in the streets. The core of Republican theory since Bill Clinton has been that you can get more done by bullying the liberal nerds from a rabid minority position than actually owning up to your own ideas from the majority. They know their policies are no good for the vast majority of the American people, but as long as they can’t win enough to pass them, they’ll always have a bonkers base of support (and money, of course) to feather their beds well into their old age.
On the flip side, you have the group so used to being sanguine and in control suddenly not sure how to be the protestors. They were supposed to win, Vox told us, and possibly win big. They were the ones with the data, with the know-how, with the Ivy League bona-fides and supposedly superior “ground game.” They were to be swept into office by a populous who was “woke” and understood that an austere, charmless and almost medically sterile approach to government is the only true choice. Now, when the sparkling white pantsuit is in tatters, the Democrats find themselves either flabbergasted, shell-shocked, or finding anyone and everyone to blame other than themselves for their failure. After all, they had every advantage, every good grade, every credential box ticked… they weren’t just supposed to win, it was a complete refutation of reality as they saw it if they didn’t win.
Well, it’s the end of the world as we know it, and the Electoral College feels fine. I’m reminded of Rob Schneider’s character in the popcorn punch-fest Demolition Man:
So we find ourselves in a strange place where the Republicans are losing because they won, with leaks and scandals threatening the legitimacy of the President within a month of taking office, and where the Democrats are confused at how exactly they can win by losing. As we learned from the DNC emails and from DNC strategy for nearly decades, winning is the only thing that was important to them, even if it meant selling workers down the river, privatizing Social Security or pursuing the destructive yet elusive “Grand Bargain.” Now, in a world where winning doesn’t mean winning, the Democratic leadership is hopelessly lost, trying to keep order as their own voters are now the ones threatening to burn the house down. While I’m sure those in power currently wring their hands and worry for their own political skins in the future, this return to rabble-rousing liberal politics is already paying dividends as millions march and a 74-year-old Socialist Jew with bad hair overcame a nearly 60 point deficit and won 22 states and 84% of the youth primary vote.
But what happens when those DLC-style establishment Democrats do win? Do they follow through on liberal causes? Not as often as the public wants. Following Barack Obama’s election as a rabble-rouser & change candidate in 2009, most of the country was hungry for proper punishment on the unscrupulous and fraudulent bankers who crashed the economy. Instead, the rabble-rouser chided big finance, saying his administration “is the only thing between you and the pitchforks.” What followed was a program of aid to the big banks instead of splitting them up, and they are now larger than they were before the crash. As a final sting to the people hungry for justice, not one big-time banker spent a minute in jail in America. Add to that Bill “I Feel Your Pain” Clinton’s commitment to NAFTA or privatizing Social Security, and you set up a system where Democrats do Republican things in office, further emboldening the cuckoo Republican minority to further fight back and further obstruct, painting them as the defender of the little guy.
So even when Democrats win in the past 30 years, they lose. And even when Republicans lose in the past 30 years, they win. Reagan’s policies were such utter failures even he had to soak the rich a little, and by 1992 the people were begging for progressive change. After two damp squibs of Clinton and Obama failed to bring about the bold systemic change that the bottom half of Americans knew had to happen to keep food on the table, or a table in their house, or even keeping their house, the crushed working class decided to throw an orange, toxic Molotov cocktail through the window of the establishment.
So, the choice in clear: the Democrats, now in historic minorities not seen since 1928, need to learn how to win by losing. The core of the old-school Democratic party is that strong, downtrodden, broke-but-not-broken working class who put Progressives in power, only to then complain years later when Progressive reforms make their lives so much better that they have to pay more in taxes. But when that happens (and it will, and that’s okay), the solution isn’t to try to ape the big-business balderdash of the other side, it’s to stick to your guns as the tax-cut & deregulation fairies lead us down a primrose path to destruction, only to be rescued by Progressivism again. Progressives are a group who win only to lose, and then win by losing. Seize this moment to bring about a Roosevelt Revolution in this country, and start backing the only approach that has been proven to win both coming and going.
What we saw on Tuesday night is not surprising to anyone calling themselves a liberal or progressive in America’s great rural expanses. For years, rural progressives have been howling from the rooftops that a storm was brewing. I myself have said the phrase “if something’s going to happen in this country, it’s going to start in the small towns” so many times that my wife is sick of hearing it. As much as we didn’t want to believe it, we always feared in the back of our minds that it would happen.
Why? Because we see it every day.
People can’t afford to eat well, surviving on chemical-laced, bargain-basement pseudo-foods. People can’t afford to live well, with barely enough money after buying the basics of survival to afford housing, clothes, heat, bills, and somewhere 56 items down the line perhaps something for their life’s enrichment. People can’t afford to be well, with a half-measure of national healthcare that still leaves too many people too sick too often. After 8 years of promising hope and change and delivering next to nothing for average, troubled people outside the ivory towers of the establishment, how can you possibly be surprised when they strike back?
I wanted to use the word “workaday” when I was describing the folks up there, but then I realized I couldn’t… because the jobs are all gone. All the wanted was a house, kids, spouse, and a decent-paying job so they can put in their time, retire, and say they lived a good life. Instead, supposed “liberals” like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama sold these folks down the river by gutting welfare, pushing NAFTA, pushing the TPP, and being sure to tell them to buy a house with money they didn’t have (to further enrich Wall Street criminals) and offer them absolutely no help when the market crashed. Let’s face it: the only thing the past 30 years of Al From’s DLC-style Democrats were liberal with were bombs and bailouts.
Michael Hudson has a terrific article in CounterPunch magazine titled Revolts of the Debtors: From Socrates to Ibn Khaldun. In the article, Hudson makes a terrific observation from someone you might remember from History class called Socrates. In short, Socrates says you shouldn’t have to repay a debt to someone if that someone is a lunatic. And in the eyes of most of us out here, outside of the Beltway and the bubble and the liberal fortresses, Goldman Sachs are lunatics. Citigroup are lunatics. Even someone like Hillary Clinton was a lunatic that we did not owe one more red cent. If someone is going to take your money to do evil, Socrates said, then they do not deserve to get your money.
And now, in their rage and their hatred and their righteous feelings of being cheated and swindled by what was supposed to be the Party of the People, they struck out. Unfortunately, instead of striking out and finding someone in which they could safely bank their trust (like a certain Democratic Socialist from Vermont) they struck out at the only other thing they could grab to stop their plunge into the despairing abyss.
For now, they have some footing, and only too late will we all learn that the rock we stand on today is not only hollow, but built on sinking sand. Our only hope is to find someone outside of this murky and disgusting abyss to throw us a rope and pull us out.
It’s time for outsiders. We’ve put off real change for far too long in favor of cosmetic, feel good politics that only bandaged over a festering wound of inequality. Now, we have no choice but to embrace the rapid change because we waited too long to take it slow, and that means it’s going to be a bumpy ride.
And for that, we’ll need strong, young backs to ride it out.
I finally managed to finish the 804-page masterpiece that is Rick Perlstein’s The Invisible Bridge, and I can say with conviction that it is one of the greatest books I have ever read. Perlstein manages to successfully blend political narrative with actual cultural historical anecdotes in a way that should be taught to every History teacher on the planet. If we had a Rick Perlstein in every class, History would be everyone’s favorite class.
Not even a week after finishing the book, I stumbled across this article in The Atlantic, and here’s where I have to take a break from taking the piss out of Generation X and recognize one fighting the good fight and making stuff happen. According to The Atlantic, Matt Stoller is a budget analyst on the Senate Budget Committe, and you should all give him a Google or a Bing or a Yahoo or whatever and check out his work, or follow him over at @MattStoller on Twitter. His article, titled “How Democrats Killed Their Populist Soul,” is the perfect after dinner cordial to complement Perlstein’s sumptuous 8-course feast. Between the two of them, we’ve managed to finally pinpoint, like some sort of isolated protein that causes all cancer, just where everything went so damn wrong in this country politically.
For the record, my parents are Boomers. They are not, however… usually, the Boomers who insist that their generation descended from Olympus on the wings of eagles to lead America to the Promised Land, despite doing more to usher in a New Gilded Age than almost anyone else. No, my Boomer parents were hardworking farmers who lost the family farm in the 1980s (thanks, conservatives and offensively-high interest rate hikes!) and ended up living lives, well, much like the current Millennial generation: multiple jobs, paycheck-to-paycheck, completely missing out on whatever it was some of the other Boomers cashed in on to trade in their Birkenstocks for Briefcases.
As such, my parents never gave up their liberal/independent roots, and it’s not too much of a stretch to say that Bernie Sanders’ campaign sounded an awful lot like what was bandied about the dinner table every night during my childhood. But what of the other Boomers, the ones who decided to take us down this road into a neoliberal nightmare where a war hawk who talks about privatizing retirement in a is considered the liberal party’s standard-bearer? Well, if you’ve spent any time reading all of my malarkey here at GenExt, you’ll find what I’m about to say very familiar. It all boils down to one maxim that seems almost universal: children don’t want to be like their parents.
It sounds pat, I know, but the more I read about people the more I realize just how much we are at the mercy of our emotions. We have that primitive, snap-to, fight-or-flight section of our brain that pumps happy chemicals into our system when we indulge it, and in no better way to we like to indulge ourselves personally is through self-preservation. And when you convince yourself that you are right, good, and smart, and other people are not… that’s self-preservation. At the same time, we feel a need to make ourselves our own people and, after almost twenty years of being told by other people how to live our lives, we’re willing to strike out and show them that they were wrong and we were right and you just don’t understand, Mom and Dad!
So… what happens when this happens on a national scale?
Well, most recently you get the Millennial generation going, in some case, more than 80 percent for Bernie Sanders. But the Bernie movement is actually a refutation of a previous refutation, in a series of refutations that probably twists and bends itself back into a spiral for most of modern humanity. The last major Generational refutation has its genesis in those plucky little scamps known as the Watergate Babies.
After the Watergate scandal rocked America to its core, people wanted a change. They didn’t care how, or who, they just knew that Watergate was bad so the opposite of it was good. The only problem is, in their rush to judgement, the labeled the entirety of government as bad when it was, let’s be honest, only a majority of it. And so, in their rage the Boomers struck what they thought was the ultimate blow of rebellion, the culmination of the Summer of Love in utterly destroying what remained of American Progressivism in our national government. If it was government, it had to be destroyed… and people wonder why Reagan got elected twice.
The only problem with this zero-sum, lizard-brain thinking was, of course, that nuance keeps everything from being simple and easy. We lost a good number of good men in government in the post-Watergate massacre, but beyond that is the most insidious aspect. Before Watergate, liberals were New Deal liberals, vaguely socialist, strongly Progressive and committed to doing public good, whether they be liberal Democrats or Republicans. In responding the way they did, the Boomers put in office what they thought were liberals who would continue to carry the torch that had brought us so much prosperity, but instead began what became known as the New Democrats: socially liberal, but in most other cases actually quite conservative.
Because, y’know, being liberal in your policies reminded people too much of Nixon, who actually had a fairly liberal record. The Boomers cut off their nose to spite their face, and after nearly 40 years of festering that wound has not healed, and we have the sick, festering boil of a national government that currently occasionally enjoys an approval rating just below head lice. What’s worse is that New Democrats only fed into the idea that things were bad, so when things got worse we kept thinking we needed to elect more and more people like them who promised to fix the system but ultimately made it worse. In short, when the Boomers decided government was only for scumbags, we wound up with a government mostly full of scumbags.
It’s the same old story. Generation 1 does a thing, Generation 2 does the opposite, and then Generation 3 can then do the opposite of that, which actually becomes what Generation 1 did in the first place. Now, in the current case, we’ve got the wildcard of Generation X who sort of split the difference: some of them want to be Sanders-style Progressives, but some of them are still old enough to remember the cynicism of a Post-Watergate world. Millennials, in contrast, have no memory of the don’t-trust-government ethos of the Reagan years, and only know government is the only thing left that can keep them out of endless poverty. Only time will tell what will happen there, but the most hopeful thing to take out of this situation is that change is coming, and the light will soon dawn on a new birth of American Progressivism, if only because one generation doesn’t want to be anything like the generation that came before it.
I’m not exactly a “handy” man. In fact, I find myself singing Billy Bragg’s “Handyman Blues” fairly often, and loving it.
But I’ve done my share of construction, both permanent and temporary. I’ve constructed close to 20 different stage sets in my time in college and community theatre, and I’ve been helping my family do home repairs since I was big enough to lift a hammer. On the other hand, I’ve also helped tear down close to 20 different stage sets and different things around my childhood and adulthood homes.
The first thing you realize, usually during your first tear-down, is that hey, this is so much easier than building something! I remember distinctly destroying a dilapidated old particle-board lean-to at my childhood home, and that was downright fun. One or two swings of a grub-hoe and the entire wall collapsed; it made you feel like Hercules, especially when you’re ten years old. But as I look at the state of things today, particularly in the Middle East, I can’t help but be reminded of how much easier it was to swing a grub-hoe than it is to perfectly level out a new piece of construction.
As Naomi Klein put it perfectly in her exemplary 2007 work Shock Doctrine when she called the current system of war-for-profit “Disaster Capitalism.” After bleeding the American Middle Class dry with wage cuts, pension disintegrations, credit binges and housing crashes, the rich and richer decided the best way to keep making money was to look outside the country, but darn it if those other countries got uppity when we tried to make them act in the US’ best interests instead of theirs. What followed was a half-century and more of coups, overthrows, and financial arm-twisting that would make and UFC fighter flinch. Unfortunately for those global elites, however, they were too blinded by their own desire to amass more and more and yet more wealth that they didn’t see the next logical step in this pattern. Simply put: you can’t keep doing this to people.
And so, as Robert Kennedy Jr explains, they start to fight back. In another amazing case of global blindness, the rich and powerful declined to read the lessons of their own American history, where a small group of committed rebels and guerrillas could topple even the world’s strongest superpower. As such, we’re seeing the US being bled dry in an eerie parallel to the great empires of humanity: Rome, England, and even those pesky Soviets were whittled down to irrelevancy and collapse by fighting a little war here, a little fight there, a little police action everywhere to keep their bloated empires afloat. But how exactly do these rebels keep finding willing sacrifices to their cause?
That’s where it gets really fascinating.
Groups like Al-Qaeda, The Islamic State, and even some of the right-wing white-power terror groups all have a similar calling card: disaster. Every one of them preaches to the frustrated and the dispossessed that all of their problems come from some tyrannical state, which in both the cases of Islamic and Christian fundamentalists turns out to be America. The dizzying irony of this situation is that, for all of their investments in disasters as a way to ensure a steady stream of income, not one of these muckety-mucks in America’s ruling class figured they could be out-disastered by a small group of people looking to profit themselves off of the original disaster created by the first disaster merchants.
In short, folks like the Islamic State or Cliven Bundy are beating the big disaster-capitalism machine at their own game.
The promised spoils are always rich: money, power, women or, in the case of Bundy, never having to pay back taxes. And above it all, the refrain is always the same: if it wasn’t for that darn government, you’d be successful. You’d be rich. You’d be winning. Does any of this sound familiar? It should. In their quest for greed, the disaster capitalists didn’t seem to realize that their disaster would spawn children of the disaster who then saw how much worse things were and be motivated to fight against the original disaster. This is the biggest issue with campaigns or motivations based solely around tearing things down: eventually, you run out of stuff to wreck. And if, by then, people don’t have what they want, what do you do?
It’s so much easier to destroy than to create, and those looking to exploit destruction for a quick buck may have met their match in a monster of their own creation. As Gandhi once said, “An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind” and the disaster capitalists have spent more than a half-century plucking out eyeballs all over the world. Unfortunately, they never thought to think that someone might come for their eyes, so now we thrash about blindly: bombing here, waging war there, only feeding the monster we’ve created. There is a reason the government rebuilt Europe after World War II instead of letting corporations do the job.
We need to move forward with a plan that doesn’t involve violence, war, or anything else that makes folks like Dick Cheney lick their chops. We need to stop pressing disaster and destruction as a mean to somehow lead to prosperity. You can’t destroy the village in order to save it, and for some reason we’re still grappling with that basic lesson we should have learned in Vietnam. When I swung the grub-hoe through the wall of that lean-to, I didn’t make the wall stronger… but later, when we spent the money and built the new shed out of steel, we had something that is still strong and secure when I drive past my childhood home even today. It may be easier, and more profitable, to tear down, but nobody wins unless we make the hard choices and commit to building up.
I have heard ad nauseam these past months that big, bold change is foolish, unattainable, even dangerous. Now, if we put aside the multiple Historical examples where it happened (the ending of American slavery, the Trustbusting of the Progressive Era, the New Deal) or the awful catastrophes we had to wait patiently for in order to enact them (Civil War, Labor unrest, the Great Depression) and if we look proactively at the situation through the wide eye of History, there is a case to be made that we have been progressing very incrementally since the 1960s.
We’ve made strides here and there: Civil Rights, Environmental Protection, Health Care Reform, Equal Rights by gender, orientation, identification… each of these are little incremental pieces moving forward. For those who say some candidates are promising too much, too fast, there are millions of Americans saying the last few decades have done too little, and too slowly. Some of the ideas being thrown around in the Democratic Primary are not considered radical anywhere else in the developed world, and are not bold leaps forward but merely the steps that are necessary to take for this country to survive as a functioning Republic. You say you want incrementalism, I say it’s already here, and I am not alone. In the words of a famous Minnesotan:
“My friends, to those who say that we are rushing this issue of civil rights, I say to them we are 172 years late. To those who say that this civil-rights program is an infringement on states’ rights, I say this: The time has arrived in America for the Democratic Party to get out of the shadow of states’ rights and to walk forthrightly into the bright sunshine of human rights.“
Hubert H. Humphrey campaigned for human rights.
Healthcare is a human right.
Education is a human right.
Social mobility is a human right.
A living wage is a human right.
Opportunity is a human right.
Prosperity is a human right.
Free and fair elections are a human right.
To those who say we are rushing these issues, I say we are 68 years too late.
Reaganism dictates that taxes are the enemy: any tax, anywhere, anyhow. In 2010, while most other states were going disturbingly red and setting themselves up for disaster, Minnesota did something curious: they elected a DFL governor specifically on the policy of raising taxes. Curiously, this did NOT lead to a statewide collapse, as the followers of Reaganism claimed for decades, but instead lead toMinnesota being a shining beacon of progress and prosperity in the middle of other Midwestern Republican-led states falling into ruin.
And yet, the Big Lie of Evil Taxes goes on. Cutting taxes, the Republicans claim, will allow those at the top to have more money to invest, and in investing there will be more supply, which will lead to more business, which will lead to more jobs, which will lead to more money. This, in essence, is the “Trickle Down” theory of economics.
Now, anyone with five minutes of economic study can tell you that increasing the supply while most people don’t have enough money to demand or even afford new products is ridiculous, stupid, and backwards, but let’s not assume the Republicans have any actual experience with how economics works in reality. Indeed, if Paul Ryan and his magic asterisks are the best they have, it seems rude to kick them when they’re down.
So, we know Trickle Down Economics doesn’t work because… well, reality exists, I suppose. But something does end up trickling down when those at the Federal and State level drool over the idea of cutting taxes here, there, everywhere, in a box, with a fox, and so on like some sort of demented Dr. Seuss character. It’s not the prosperity that trickles down, however… it’s the taxes.
We live in a social society. Certain social services and items are provided for us through public works, mainly because they are too big or too complex to make money for a private firm. We have public schools, public roads, public parks, and so on… and all of them are paid by taxes. So, when DC and St. Paul decide to cut taxes to save their own political skin, the towns and counties and townships have to pick up the slack. Suddenly, your local school tax goes up. The price to fix your roads or your bridges goes up. The price of having clean water goes up and, as we’ve seen in Flint, Michigan, it leads to shortcuts that damage lives. All the while, the rich and powerful sit in their cushy estates or in one of their many, many houses and count the cash they saved in tax breaks, while you and your neighbors struggle to get by with even half of what you had ten years ago.
The answer is simple: when someone like Greg Davids or Jeremy Miller bloviates about cutting taxes, saying it will be good for all, ask them if they’re going to cut your local taxes, too, or if the benefits of tax cuts are only for the richest people instead. Governor Dayton and the DFL have proven that if you tax the rich, we all do better, so this November you need to bring the DFL back to a position where they can make sure we all do better, even if it means one less townhouse for a billionaire.
So I finally saw the new Star Wars. The wife and I waited until it came to a small, independent historic theater that charges fantastic rates for Sunday matinees. The movie itself was fantastically enjoyable, if a little predictable and a little too referential at times… but its heart was in the right place and it was a hell of a lot of fun. There were a few moments where JJ Abrams started shining through in the dialogue, or the camera work, but I can’t lie to you… I cried with joy when I saw the X-Wings ride to the rescue over the lake at Takodana.
BUT… the movie got me thinking. And you all know that’s never a good thing. I started thinking about my usual “chestnuts” as my wife calls them: history, sociology, and the patterns that can be seen in each. I also decided to dust off the skills I used to write my undergrad thesis, namely that people will often say or write things they are feeling into fiction because it is a more forgiving way to express yourself.
So this begs the question… what does Star Wars: The Force Awakens say? In my mind, quite a lot.
Think of how the different generations have experienced Star Wars. The Boomers saw it as the much-needed reprieve from the still-looming spectre of Watergate: good guys taking down bad guys, and now we can all feel a little better. For Gen X, they grew up with the movie and had the opportunity to look back fondly on a childhood experience and, more importantly, look on it again as adults and start to dissect it. Millennials also felt the rush as children, and had a front row seat for the prequels. Beyond the Millennials are children who have always known the prequels as a fact of life.
So what does this all mean?
The Boomers were the Dreamers, once upon a time. They were going to change the world, they were going to make it better… but Watergate was the final blow for a death of a thousand cuts as cynicism took hold. Most Boomers now see themselves as incrementally-minded “Realists,” believing that change can only truly come slowly. They now look on Star Wars as entertainment only, instead of one of the best cultural relics of their starry-eyed salad days. Boomers created Star Wars, but much like Kylo Ren, they aren’t own up to the light in them.
Generation X was the first to question Star Wars. One remembers the famous scene in the seminal Gen X slacker-opus Clerks where Dante sums up Gen X in one statement: Empire was the best Star Wars movie. His pal Randall is even taken aback by such a statement, calling it “blasphemy.” Gen X spent decades dissecting Star Wars which gave us people like Marco Rubio, who now think Anakin Skywalker was just a misunderstood man who had some bad things happen to him, and not a mass murdering sociopath. In many ways, both in fiction and reality, Gen X fell in love with the Empire, and this is seen in the WTO protester turned corporate office-holders scattered through the generation. Gen X’ers knew the game to be lost from the get-go in their trademark nihilistic worldview, and so gladly fall in line, much like the children trained from birth to be First Order soldiers. However, Gen X still loves what Star Wars means deep down in the part of their mind that experienced it with chid-like wonder, and when it comes to pull the trigger, just like Finn, they can’t.
The Millennials saw them both, the original trilogy and the prequel trilogy, as youth. They could see the good and the bad in both, some even going so far as to defend or even like the prequel movies into adulthood. To them, the horribly flawed world George Lucas bungled forth in the prequels is indicative of the time they live in: a time where cynicism reigns and an ineffectual government can do seemingly nothing against creeping fascism. Millennials feel for the young Obi-Wan and Padme, who appear to be the only noble figures in a society turning to garbage. They feel much the same way: wishing for those far off days of comparatively easy victories on the forest moon of Endor while grappling with the light side and the dark in themselves. Stand for your principles, or sell everything out for a job that barely makes enough to survive? Millennials are Rey, scraping out an existence yet dreaming of more and willing to go to the fight, knowing there’s nothing of any value left for them in their old lives.
And what lies beyond? The brash pilot Poe Dameron, not quite understanding the nuances of the fight, fresh faced and daring, but a powerful person to have in your corner. Their skill with technology is almost innate, much like Poe in his X-Wing, leading us to only wonder what the future has in store for this little-explored character. As we’re already seeing in the social trends, those beyond the Millennials will do even more to banish the darkness of cynicism and approach the light once again. It will be interesting to see if those beyond the Millennials, now possible even the children of Gen X, will influence and help their parents the way Poe brought Finn along for the ride.
And so, we close out the movie with the Boomers tortured by their crises of faith between the halcyon Eisenhower days their parents helped build and the cynical Reagan nightmare they put together. In their minds, they knew they had to slay the Eisenhower ideas in order to survive, but perhaps they were only obeying a higher, more sinister power? Meanwhile, Gen X lies in a coma after finally taking up the fight and falling nobly to the confused Boomers, who do outnumber them. The Millennials swear to take after the X-ers, and fly off in search of an old man, older even than the Boomers, to be their last hope and train them in the ways of the light.
Ladies and gentleman, Bernie Sanders is Luke Skywalker: a crusader since his teens, a believer in the good of people, haunted by mistakes he has made and times where he has come up short, being dragged into the fight because he knows it is necessary. Though once thought extinguished, a fascist group is on the rise again, lead by a white man with orange hair (as opposed to an orange man with platinum blonde hair) and now a ragtag group of rebels, Millennials and those beyond, are fighting back as best they can to remove this threat. We have seen already, as this group destroys other establishment worlds, that this fascist rise means to subjugate the galaxy neath a booted, authoritarian heel, but no one took them seriously enough except the Resistance. The time is now for Luke to return and bring back order and peace to a galaxy in chaos, but he is not alone. He has the youth of today, and of tomorrow, with him.
After the results of last night’s Super Tuesday, it is clear: there has been an awakening. First the dark side, in Trump, and now the light. Minnesota and Colorado are often seen as some of the most progressive states in the nation, and they see what is coming and what needs to be done. They have called out to “Bernie-wan” as their only hope, and it is time for nobility to make a comeback in a world threatened by cynicism. When the Man of Steel stands in his ruined city as a victorious god, that is a false nobility. When Rey seeks comfort in Leia’s arms, even after the battle against the Starkiller has been won, that is true nobility. When Hillary Clinton champions using an entire minority group as a tool, a “firewall,” that is a false nobility. When Bernie sanders stops his speech to attend to someone who faints, that is true nobility.
This is a lightning in a bottle moment. If nobility cannot win now, it may turn to cynicism. Fear, anger, aggression, the dark side are they, and just like the generations before, the Millennials and those after them could fall if something is not done. It’s time for nobility to make a comeback. If not now… when?
If any of you know those of the historical bent like me, you know we try to see patterns in EVERYTHING. Let’s try this one on and see if it works.
It’s been argued for a while now that we’re living in another Gilded Age… so let’s see how things might match up when it comes to the Oval Office.
Abraham Lincoln to Theodore Roosevelt:
Following a crisis at the very soul of the American experiment, a good man is cut down before he can finish repairing the country. Following him, we have many weak Presidents at the mercy of large interests and base racial animosities. The “spoils system” becomes de rigeur for the Executive Office, with only token nods to cracking down on the inherent corruption candidate after candidate. It takes more crises, mounting crises to finally galvanize the American people into fighting back and supporting an ultimately Progressive candidate for President in Theodore Roosevelt. If we break it down:
Abraham Lincoln: wanted to mend the country, cut down before he could finish Andrew Johnson: Allowed racial animosities and general incompetence as President to sabotage the good work done by Lincoln. Ulysses S. Grant: Ultimately overwhelmed by corruption within his office, leaving a checkered legacy. Rutherford B. Hayes: elected by a trick of government over the popular vote, attempted basic reform that left fires merely smoldering. James A. Garfield/Chester A. Arthur: President struck down quickly by cheated, spoils seeking officer, successor offers a few regulations to combat the system. Cleveland/Harrison/Cleveland: Diametrical, nasty politics leads to inconsequential, uninteresting Presidents devoured by an acrimonious Congress McKinley/Theodore Roosevelt: Yet more tragedy finally leads to the ascension of a true Progressive who enacts desperately needed and wildly popular reforms against the wishes of big businesses and such.
Now, let’s take a look at the New Gilded Age, brought along partially by Supreme Court Decisions since the late 1970s allowing more money in the political process, essentially returning us to…
Jimmy Carter: wanted to mend the country, cut down before he could finish. Ronald Reagan: Allowed racial animosities and general incompetence as President to sabotage the good work done by Carter. Ultimately overwhelmed by corruption within his office, leaving a checkered legacy. George H.W. Bush/Bill Clinton: President struck down quickly by cheated public, successor offers a few regulations to combat the system. Attempted basic reform that left fires merely smoldering. George W. Bush: Elected by a trick of government over the popular vote, several crises leads to rising discontent Barack Obama: Diametrical, nasty politics leads to inconsequential, uninteresting President devoured by an acrimonious Congress.
Now, this could be where we see the analog of Teddy Roosevelt. It could be now, and it could be:
Bernie Sanders: Yet more tragedy finally leads to the ascension of a true Progressive who enacts desperately needed and wildly popular reforms against the wishes of big businesses and such.
If it’s not Bernie now, it’ll be someone like Bernie later. You just can’t stop it.
In 1999, in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, my then graduate student Justin Kruger and I published a paper that documented how, in many areas of life, incompetent people do not recognize—scratch that, cannot recognize—just how incompetent they are, a phenomenon that has come to be known as the Dunning-Kruger effect. Logic itself almost demands this lack of self-insight: For poor performers to recognize their ineptitude would require them to possess the very expertise they lack. To know how skilled or unskilled you are at using the rules of grammar, for instance, you must have a good working knowledge of those rules, an impossibility among the incompetent. Poor performers—and we are all poor performers at some things—fail to see the flaws in their thinking or the answers they lack.
Indeed, we have all become quite confident idiots: assured in our beliefs, because everything is a belief now: we “Believe in America” when we support Mitt Romney, and we have to “Stand with Scott Walker,” against some vaguely defined foe. On one hand, we have brilliantly evil political hacks who now how to abuse this misinformation and new political religion to deceive a large amount of the population who will believe anything said by the right people because not only have they successfully blended the revival tent and the bully pulpit, but they have also taken full advantage of media indolence to flood the airwaves with confirmation bias, wherein you believe what you believe because it supports what you believe.
Green Day was right back in 2004: it’s calling out to Idiot America.
Which is not to say the Idiocracy is sequestered to only one side of the debate. Plenty of people defend any and all of President Obama’s actions out of the same misguided sense of belief, even when their belief turns out to be paradoxical. From Pacific Standard, again:
In a survey of roughly 500 Americans conducted in late 2010, we found that over a quarter of liberals (but only six percent of conservatives) endorsed both the statement “President Obama’s policies have already created a strong revival in the economy” and “Statutes and regulations enacted by the previous Republican presidential administration have made a strong economic recovery impossible.” Both statements are pleasing to the liberal eye and honor a liberal ideology, but how can Obama have already created a strong recovery that Republican policies have rendered impossible?
We need to end this system of politics by belief. We need to end this demagoguery and this political pablum. Ever since Watergate, we have had a disturbing love/hate relationship with our government: we love it when it takes care of us, but we’re not ready to forgive it yet for past and current indiscretions. We’re not ready to move on, so instead we migrate from one false prophet to another, whether it was Bill Clinton saying “I feel your pain” while repealing Glass-Steagall, W. Bush vowing to hunt down terrorists and ultimately failing in every aspect of it, or even Barack Obama promising “Hope and Change” while failing to prosecute the big banks. We expect our politicians to be sinless messiahs, and we eviscerate them when they cannot deliver. This is not a healthy way to exist as a nation, and we must face this (which I have covered before), but the first step that needs to be taken can, again, be found in this Pacific Standard article:
The built-in features of our brains, and the life experiences we accumulate, do in fact fill our heads with immense knowledge; what they do not confer is insight into the dimensions of our ignorance. As such, wisdom may not involve facts and formulas so much as the ability to recognize when a limit has been reached. Stumbling through all our cognitive clutter just to recognize a true “I don’t know” may not constitute failure as much as it does an enviable success, a crucial signpost that shows us we are traveling in the right direction toward the truth.
As I wrote way back in 2012, America needs to learn how to be able to say “I don’t know” and, in the process of doing so, find it somewhere inside us as a nation to not only forgive those who make mistakes (without the transparent lip-service of a for-profit charlatan preacher) but also to forgive ourselves for making the mistake of believing in the first place. It is not a crime to believe, but it is shameful to never forgive.
I am currently working with my wife on a possible proposal to my high school alma mater. The proposal would seek to turn the school into a technology and vo-tech focused school, attempting to specialize the small country school district. In my mind, specialization is the way to save rural schools, but never in my life would I have thought I would be fighting to preserve a school that played host to so many of my worst memories. But, in an effort to practice what I preach, I am looking for forgive and forget, working for the betterment of all, and disregarding the sins of the past. It’s not easy; in fact, it’s pretty damned hard… but if any good is to come out of this world, people are going to have to start gritting their teeth.
We already discussed the nuts and bolts of the idea, and my newfound belief that America has simply dropped the ball too many times in regard to capital punishment for the our system to be trusted with that heavy responsibility anymore. This time, let’s look beyond the prudent and the pragmatic and look into the soul of this graph, and find out what those plotted points really mean.
There are only two rationales for the death penalty, according to these findings, that are actually moving upward in the most recent data. One of them is moving upward, but woefully short of its peak in 2001, and the other seems to be the only one that can be claimed to be gaining any sort of ground in the past twenty years. Both of these responses, and their relative popularity, say dark and troubling things for the collective consciousness of Americans in an already dark and morbid topic.
Let’s look first at the fiscal fret response of “it will save the taxpayers’ money.” More and more evidence is showing that, actually, the opposite is the case, as endless appeals end up costing states far more than a simple life incarceration ever could. While some bloodthirsty sorts would simply suggest that the solution would be to remove the appeals process, sending countless innocents to die for some sort of perverse satiation, there is a stealthier bloodthirstiness lurking below the surface. Prudence and technocratic purity aside, this idea states that, as a nation, Americans may be perfectly fine with the idea of brutally killing a man, possibly an innocent man, in a botched execution if it means saving them a few pennies in property taxes. If that does not chill you to the bone, I do not know what else I can say. That, to me, does not say America.
Let us look now at the second response that has ticked upward most recently: the idea that someone who gets the death penalty “deserved it.” What, also, does this say about American society, if we treat what should be the sterile duty of objectively judging and punishing those who do wrong as some kind of satisfaction? How can enough people in this country seem to want that justification, that soothing feeling of knowing someone “deserved it” whether or not that was actually the case? This is the true crisis of confidence in America, where clan mentality and fear rule the day. When people who were once the envy of the world lock themselves in their lives, greedily gather up all they can, and actively feel satisfaction in the death of their countrymen. The words are repeated: fear, hide, take, defend… and we all obey out of a blind and primal fear that someone else, some sort of “other” will take what we have gathered from us.
America is better than this. This is wrong. We need to start expecting more from ourselves as a nation and, if we don’t, I worry that the scenes now playing on your television sets and computer screens, scenes of violence and unrest, will only continue.
You can click on the link up there (or the picture) if you need a more in depth look. I read through the article and caught a video on the internet news show The Young Turks regarding this chart and, I am happy to say… possibly the happiest I have ever been to say… that I was wrong.
For years, I supported the American use of the death penalty. I held it as one of my cherished conservative ideas that would throw phone pollsters into a tizzy when I professed supported for both capital punishment and women’s reproductive health, among other things. But, as John Maynard Keynes once said:
“When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”
There is still part of me that likes the idea of the death penalty. There is a hard-nosed, black-and-white side of me that says in certain circumstances, certain one million-to-one-circumstances, it is prudent to sentence a person to death. It is the cold logic section of my brain that says this: if a person is so badly mentally damaged that they are beyond any sort of rehabilitation, when there is literally no hope to keep them from doing terrible things to other people, then we are bound as a society of laws to do whatever we can to remove that flawed variable from the equation.
However, life is not an equation. And we, as humans, try as we might, cannot ever hope to replicate the perfection of a simple equation such as this one. When in previous years I would have said that America had the right to kill those wrongdoers who are irrefutably guilty and irredeemably abhorrent, my continuing study has concluded that, as fallible creatures, we are too often convicting, sentencing, and killing the wrong people. Some of these people could be rehabilitated, some of them could be saved, and most importantly some of them could be innocent. Information coming to light recently is not only telling the American public more and more that we are executing the wrong people, but that our execution methods are becoming more and more barbaric.
In short, we are failing the test set down in our constitution’s Eighth Amendment: we are engaging in cruel and unusual punishment. As such, we cannot continue with this. Until the system can be perfected, I see no reason, moral or otherwise, to continue with the current practice. If we cannot pass the tests we set down for ourselves, we do not deserve to continue. We have forfeited our right to do so.
Looking even deeper, I find that I am wrong again: for years, I bought into the idea that the death penalty was a cheaper alternative to lifetime incarceration. As you can see by the chart above, the fiscally responsible excuse for executions seems to be still gaining ground in today’s society. Unfortunately, I made the mistake of believing too many people and not reading enough. As stated by the Associated Press:
“It’s 10 times more expensive to kill them than to keep them alive,”
It is not longer the prudent option, and it is not longer the most economical option. America is among the last of the developed countries to still use the Death Penalty, and the reasons are becoming more and more clear. Despite a misinformed public that believes the opposite (and until recently I counted myself among them), the Death Penalty is far too imperfect and to be used in any good faith in today’s United States of America.