This social order, this political system, this economy — it is the best we can hope for, some claim. The best of all possible worlds. Or else the best under present conditions. Good enough for the time being. Be grateful for what we have. It could be a lot worse. Accordingly, what we should accept: A little less suffering is good even if not confronting the cause for the time being, as pain management for the symptoms is better than nothing at all. Let’s moderate and reform a bad system, small steps toward small changes. We’ll deal with the real issues and hard problems later on… after the next election… after the next crisis…
Just don’t rock the boat or we might capsize. Radical ideals and revolutionary aspirations are dangerous. Let’s settle for compromise, no matter how imperfect, no matter how often it fails, no matter how bad it gets. We need to be reasonable and practical, to be patient and accept the lesser evil. After all, the perfect is the enemy of the good. Keep our dreams manageable. Because if you shoot for the stars, you might crash and burn. It’s better to stay safe and succeed at low standards. These are dangerous times and we are fighting a rearguard action. This is not time for big talk. The barbarians are at the gate. Let’s just hunker down and hope the storm passes.
And on and on.
Bullshit! That isn’t good enough, not for those suffering and oppressed. These are the excuses of fearful children cowering before abuse, of the comfortable classes trying to soothe their own guilty consciences while they look the other way.
On this day in 1936, David Lummis was born. And on the same date a little over a quarter century later in 1963, W.E.B. Dubois died. The former said that, “The spirit of democracy appears now and then in history, at those moments when people fight for it. If you try to achieve democracy by waiting for it, you will wait forever.” And the latter had similar sentiments: “Call back some faint spirit of Jefferson and Lincoln, and when again we can hold a fair election on real issues, let’s vote, and not till then. Is this impossible? Then democracy in America is impossible.” (see REAL Democracy History Calendar: August 27 – September 2)
Those are words not intended for the faint hearts of good liberals with their good intentions. These aren’t calm and compliant voices. Instead, the sentiment expressed is that of immediacy and urgency. There is no time like the present, and it will only get worse and harder as time goes on. This attitude of social responsibility and moral courage is nothing new. It’s what our country was founded upon, what the greatest of the revolutionaries hoped for us later generations — in the words of Thomas Paine, the most democratic of the founders, on more than one occasion:
“I prefer peace. But if trouble must come, let it come in my time, so that my children can live in peace.” And: “If we fail to act, we’re self-deceiving cowards condemning our children to tyranny and cheating the world of a beacon of liberty.” And: “let it be said by our children’s children that when we were tested we refused to let this journey end, that we did not turn back nor did we falter; and with eyes fixed on the horizon and God’s grace upon us, we carried forth that great gift of freedom and delivered it safely to future generations.” And another:
“As parents, we can have no joy, knowing that this government is not sufficiently lasting to ensure any thing which we may bequeath to posterity: And by a plain method of argument, as we are running the next generation into debt, we ought to do the work of it, otherwise we use them meanly and pitifully. In order to discover the line of our duty rightly, we should take our children in our hand, and fix our station a few years farther into life; that eminence will present a prospect which a few present fears and prejudices conceal from our sight.”
Paine’s only child was lost earlier in his life when his wife died in childbirth. It didn’t stop him from caring about the children of others, from being willing to sacrifice his own personal benefit for the sake of future generations. He had many opportunities to have settled down and lived an easy life. Yet it wasn’t in him to remain silent before injustice and bow down before oppression. Yes, he was quite capable of being an asshole and a troublemaker but more important he did it with moral righteousness. Having watched The Young Karl Marx, I realized much of the same could describe Marx as well, someone who like Paine refused to back down from what he knew was right.
Without righteous assholes pushing for change, there would have been no revolutionary era, no progressive reform, no abolition of slavery, no labor movement, no universal suffrage, and no United States as a battleground for justice and fairness. Paine for certain was ahead of his time and, in many ways, he is ahead of our time as well (such as his having advocated for the equivalent of a basic income). What are we waiting for to finally live up to the vision and ideals our country was founded upon? If the time has never been quite right for fully functioning democracy in more than two centuries of American history, the time will never be right. Otherwise, we have to accept that the time is always right when what needs to be done is before us, a lesson hammered home by the fiery sermonizing of Martin Luther King, jr:
“Now is the time to make real the promises of democracy. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice. Now is the time to lift our nation from the quick sands of racial injustice to the solid rock of brotherhood. Now is the time to make justice a reality for all of God’s children.”
The thing is the American public knows this. They feel the urgency in the everyday experience of their lives, as the chasm of inequality grows. Americans feel stressed and anxious, often desperate in not knowing what is coming next. This isn’t a stable situation that will last much longer. Maintaining the status quo and seeking gradual reform is not an option at this point. Either we collectively make major changes that transform our society or revolution will follow, probably sooner than later.
None of this is a secret. The population is getting restless and, as long as freedom and justice is denied, we’ll keep getting demagogues like Donald Trump and eventually an authoritarian far more dangerous. Most Americans have lost faith in public institutions and, realizing how it is rigged by dark money and hidden influences, have stopped voting in most elections. This leaves the field open for the worst elements in our society. If the ruling elite keep this up, they might as well point a gun at their own heads because that is essentially what they’re doing. All of their power-mongering will harm themselves in the end.
The public has made clear what they are demanding. The problem is the public, short of revolution, has no power to enforce their demands. Still, the demands remain and the pressure continues to build, as the American public shifts further to the left of the political establishment… and in reaction, the political establishment pushes further right.
For example, the Clintons and Obama only came out in support of same sex marriage a few years ago, long after the majority of Americans had already declared being in favor. This same pattern is seen on numerous popular and important issues, from abortion rights to free college tuition. Also, consider the fact that most Americans have long wanted healthcare reform far to the left of anything Democratic politicians were willing to fight for and their corporate backers were willing to allow. Even now, the Washington cronies of the DNC won’t back the radical healthcare reform that the public is demanding, despite the majority of Republicans having joined the majority of Americans in supporting Medicare for all. The same is establishment failure is seen with net neutrality, as 83% of voters and three out of four Republicans are in support). And I could list many other examples.
The DNC follows, doesn’t lead.
Pause for a moment, take a deep breath, and let that sink in. On issues like this that could decide elections, the DNC is to the right of the average Republican. That is mind blowing! Claims of lesser evil that again and again leads to ever greater evil? No thanks and fuck you! And Democratic ignoramuses pretend to act surprised by how Donald Trump, in having made promises reminiscent of the New Deal (e.g., infrastructure rebuilding), won the presidency. Maybe it has something to do with their own candidates being neck-deep in corruption and cronyism, not to mention their pockets overflowing with dirty money. The American public isn’t so stupid as to not realize that the Clintons are full of shit and a danger to our society. There was no lesser evil but instead two greater evils, one a blunt force trauma to the skull that was an immediate shock to the body politic and the other a putrid gangrenous rot that will kill more slowly.
The polarization isn’t between conservative and liberals but between the powerful and disfranchised, the rich and the poor, the comfortable and desperate, those against self-governance and those for it (this has been true for centuries, going back to the American Revolution: “we always had governed ourselves, and we always meant to. They didn’t mean we should.”). A century ago, popular conservative politicians made powerful conservative arguments for economic populism and corporate regulation: “The true friend of property, the true conservative, is he who insists that property shall be the servant and not the master of the commonwealth,” as it was put by Theodore Roosevelt (New Nationalism speech), a born plutocrat who was no friend of left-wingers but smart enough to know the only sustainable path into the future was social democracy. Here we are after generations of hard fighting and what do we have? Supposed ‘liberals’ like the Clinton Democrats are in the back pocket of big money (of big tech, big banks, etc) with their backroom deals, closed door talks, and games of pay-to-play. This has given covering fire for Republicans to go far right-wing and so given a platform for the most radical of reactionaries.
The ruling elite keeps talking about moderation and centrism. But we the American public don’t want moderation toward the center of the ruling elite. What we want is fairness and justice, pure and simple. If democracy is allowed, most Americans would love to have it. Failing that, there are darker paths we could go down. That would be a sad fate for a country that began with so much promise. We shouldn’t allow that to happen, not without a fight. Instead, let us choose democracy and commit to it with every fiber of our being. No matter how dark it gets, it’s never too late to do the right thing. Now is the time.