Friday, August 28, 2020

Democrats are NOT "Just As Bad"

[Though this is a stand alone article, it is the spiritual successor (and part 2 of 3) of my last post about how people often say "They won't care" about Trump supporters when confronted with his latest behavior.]

“Dems are just as bad,” they say.

You’re going to hear this a lot more in the next two months.

You’re going to hear it from communists and anarchists and the very very far left (along with the occasional libertarian) because Democrats now have to focus on getting their message and the vote out, and the leftists who said, “Never shall I ever…” are now being ignored and worked around and struggling to stay politically relevant by going full saboteur on social media.

You’re going to hear it because, even though Biden’s current platform is more progressive than Obama’s in 2012, and even though Harris ranks in the top ten of progressive Senators (and usually the top five) no matter what medium is doing the scoring (or the top ten worst NOT-conservatives if it’s being scored from the other side), both have had histories that involve some harm to marginalized communities. And yes, people have legitimate axes to grind.

You’re also going to hear it because Russian psyops and right-wing “false flag” operations don’t just make shit up out of the aether to divide us, but instead gin up our existing fractures. And these bad actors will do ANYTHING to get us not to vote. They will be pushing this narrative through dank meme stashes and eloquent posts that somehow get picked up by left-wing communities and go viral. 

The “Dems are just as bad” may take the form of a sophist bumper sticker “X is a Y!” or a very complicated analogy about good cops vs. bad cops all working for the same corrupt system. Or a point by a prominent intellectual pointing out that both parties are contrite to business interests making their differences illusory in some contexts. But regardless of what form it takes, you WILL hear it. 

And no matter who is saying it, they are wrong. 

I don’t want to sound unkind. I don’t want to shit on the opinion of those who I would most accurately describe as having a different philosophical pragmatism about getting that which we both want. I certainly am not being prescriptive about how folks should vote. 

But they are objectively wrong.

It's true that our two parties share harmful assumptions, are all right of a global center, villainize any legitimately left views like redistribution of wealth, and have some real shitty overlap on things like colonialism and capitalism. The nature of our winner-take-all democracy requires an enormous umbrella to be able to counter the slavery-protecting rules of the Electoral College, and the fact that a Wyoming vote counts more than three times as much a California vote. 

Twice in 16 years, a Republican who lost the popular vote has become president. (It’s only happened five times ever since we started recording the popular vote, but twice in the five most recent elections.) It means that instead of an actually progressive party that can lean left, Democrats need to project the image of a moderate party that can (hopefully) build a big enough coalition to counter the Electoral College––along with gerrymandering, voter ID laws, voter purges, poll closures (almost exclusively instigated by Republicans and almost always disenfranchising marginalized  demographics [which happen to lean left]). And now we can add foreign interference, screwing with the Post Office because it’ll suppress mail-in ballots, and voter intimidation if Trump has his way. That “big umbrella” that is required to counter all this cheating means a lot of moderates on the national stage and a lot of marginalized communities getting pushed under the bus to go for the broader appeal. And that means a LOT of folks have absolutely legitimate grievances against Democrats.

That doesn’t make the Dems the “same” as Republicans.  It just doesn’t.

To characterize the legislation and action Dems in the House have been trying to pass for 18 months (including an impeachment, FAR greater Covid stimulus, the Paycheck Fairness Act, the Climate Action Now Act, the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act, the Consumers First Act,  and a host of democratic reforms), all of which either get voted down by the Senate (or are never brought to a vote by Mitch McConnell)……

**takes a deep breath**

To look at all of that, and conclude that Dems “aren't doing anything," or that both sides are “just the same” is the kind of reductive hasty generalization that is broad-brushstrokes enough for podium pounding at the communist’s club or the local anarchist’s meet-and-greet, but is outrageously inappropriate for a sophisticated, accurate, or precise read of our current political climate since the horrifying turn taken in 2016. We went from “not left wing enough for leftists” to the ADL jumping up and down and warning us that that the progression of Trump’s America was ALL TOO FAMILIAR. That is not “just the same.” The casual disregard for lives, health, prosperity (of anyone other than Wall Street), and the Grand-Canyon-sized chasm between parties in order to make a claim like “they’re all alike” has reached the point of its own deliberately obtuse brand of fanaticism. And I don’t say this to be invalidating to folks on the far left. (I am one.) I don’t say it because I don’t understand that capitalism as we know it is unsustainable. (I do.) I don’t say it without fully understanding that except for maybe “The Squad,” Dems too support oppressive institutions and share harmful assumptions. (They surely do.) What I’m pointing out is that folks who think this makes them “the same” completely invalidate some very real differences with very real consequences to very real lives. This isn’t just a matter of cosmetic differences––blues and reds and donkeys and elephants––and it's not just an intellectual exercise either, but in fact their differences are massive, affect real people’s real lives, real people’s prosperity, real people’s health and real people’s safety and security.

There are people with their own complicated reasons not to vote and not to vote for Biden, and I grudgingly respect many of them that don't smack of middle-class-white-cis-person-(who-doesn’t-do-much-activism-anyway)-wants-a-winged-unicorn-pony-in-one-election-cycle-or-will-post-guillotine-memes-instead-of-doing-harm-reduction. Also, lord knows there's salient criticism about both Biden and Harris. (Although, with that said and Triple Legit™ stamped, some of the talking points, I should mention, sure do sound an awful lot like they’re right out of that particularly rabid pro-Sanders camp in the primaries [who shall remain unnamed], and have a strange lack of downward drilling and nuance for ideas coming from folks who claim to actually care about both those things.) There will always be salient criticism about anyone with an actual political…you know….CAREER. Something that happened on their watch. Something that got added to a bill that had to be passed. Something that was politically popular at the time and now we have a greater understanding of its problems. And Biden in particular is a centrist Dem—a concession to that big umbrella, a particularly rabid right wing series of attacks that anyone left of Joe Manchin, and the fact that we can’t govern if we don’t win––and someone with a long career of calls that truly harmed people. I don't know what the political calculus of each decision was. I don't know what he would have risked to do otherwise. But I do know he has hurt people, and some of them have every valid and legitimate reason to be unable to participate in handing him even more power.

However, to say that the parties, their platforms, their offerings for POTUS, their SCOTUS nominees, their LOWER court nominees, their border policies, their international diplomacy, their tax policies, their social safety net concerns, their civil rights records, their policy initiatives, or even their Covid-19 responses are "just the same”….Well, it tells me only that the person saying so sees no difference in some of my friends’ deaths from from Covid-19 that a proper response could have prevented; it tells me that the laws passed (always by the right) against body autonomy or trans rights are meaningless to them; it tells me that a politicized Covid response that isn't "Fuck you. This mask is mildly uncomfortable and I want to go to Applebee’s again" isn't appreciably different so why bother; it tells me that MY being alive and healthy when the A.C.A. saved my life (or either dead or bankrupt and with a chronic medical condition) doesn't matter to them; it tells me that the death of one of my ex-partners to cancer rather than the A.C.A. saving her life would be "just the same"; it tells me that the party trying to raise the minimum wage and the party that blocks it at every turn are the same in their eyes; it tells me they don't care about the tens of thousands of regulations that were put into place over decades to protect people from predators, and that are now being gutted, are pretty much non-issues as far as they’re concerned; it tells me they have little or no sympathy for folks who feel like they have to flee the country because they and their children are no longer even base-level safe, from mass deportations, from the threat of nuclear exchange over Tweets, from a leader praising autocratic despots and alienating democracies, from stochastic terrorism, hate crimes, and ginned up alt-right mobs; it tells me that a border response where cruelty is literally spelled out in memos as The Point™ doesn't strike them as a moral imperative enough to even acknowledge that a difference exists (never mind to act upon it); it tells me that a six-figure death toll that every epidemiologist and most other countries responses told us didn’t have to happen is not a meaningful reason to delineate; it tells me that the difference between passing laws that disenfranchise marginalized populations and those who fight tooth and nail against such laws is considered a trivial difference; it tells me that the difference between not moving fast enough and STILL declaring something a hoax with regard to the greatest humanitarian threat of our age does not carry that much weight.

Also this might be a bitter pill, but ALL of that is exactly what a Russian psyop or “alt-right" false flag operation would WANT them to say. It is exactly the “stay home” message being crafted by everyone who finds liberal politics anathema. 

I do not say this to shit on those lefter than me, though lord knows they’d seem like they’d rather come full force after the labor class that they see as too centrist than actually take on the right or the monied class. And lord ALSO knows that the idea that they are going to WIN OVER that labor class by telling them all their pragmatic concerns in the US political landscape are meaningless might need to at least take a tour of the swing states and talk to some people who don’t already agree with them.

I say this because I have skin in this game. Trans family members who have been openly, and with legislative violence, ATTACKED by this administration. Dear loved ones who I will lose to basically an evacuation for the sake of their children. Friends who haven't seen their family (who last communicated from the southern border) in months. Family who can't afford to skip over five states for an abortion. And the memory of how I and someone I love are literally alive today because of the "just the same" Dems forcing through some vestige of a health care plan against every measure of resistance….from the GOP.

“Both the same” is a useful metonymy when everyone in the room has a big-picture lens on anti-capitalism or anti-colonialism, or maybe passingly understood when Noam Chomsky is being quoted out of context in an 11-year-old interview (that he has since repeatedly clarified). It's much less useful when some 3edgy5me white male libertarian who thinks they have the world figured out because 95% of the differences in the parties never affect them decides to whip up some dank memes. But it's positively disastrous when brought into a robust discussion of current mainstream U.S. politics, harm reduction, or how dangerous ceding power is in a (regrettably) two-party country, it reeks of breathtaking solipsism that blows off six-figure body counts, a southern border policy designed to terrify people as a deterrent, and rising fascism as something too minor to “get distracted by” on the way to “more important things.” 

They are not “just the same.” They demonstrably, objectively, are NOT.

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

But They Won't Care

“BUT his followers won't care!” goes the shout every time we point out some new outrage. Whether it’s a brazen assault on free and fair democratic elections or some latest breathtaking display of naked racism. Even when the reason they followed him (his business acumen) proves to be based on lies.

They won’t care.

I know they won't. They don't.  He's hitting the notes they want him to hit, and they have demonstrated time and time again that they are more morally bankrupt than one of Trump's businesses, and that nothing––not values, not pluralism, not governance, not reputation, not even facts––matters to them more than winning and hurting "the right people." 

They shouted, “fuck your feelings.” And just in case we didn’t understand just exactly what they meant, the minute they were in power, they showed us.

And anyone who might stand against Trump abandoned integrity to make a Faustian deal. They deliberately look away and pretend they can't see what's happening while the GOP stacks the courts, shoves children in concentration camps, milks the wildest and most hurtful conspiracies for cheap political points, rams through tax cuts for the rich, and sabotages healthcare. They are, pragmatically speaking, indistinguishable from a cult. NOTHING will get through to them until they are separated from the cult for a time. 

Yes, I totally understand that he has a mid-70s approval rating in the Republican Party (far from the mid-90s he chronically lies about on Twitter). I understand that they're all having a laugh at how apoplectic he makes the "snowflakes" on the left. Considering that pissing us off and fucking our feelings and triggering us was the closest thing they actually had to a unifying, cohesive ideology in 2016, that's not super surprising. 

I also understand that he overtly manifested the racism, bigotry, and hatred of the poor–– most of which they barely, if ever, concealed––into an avatar who came out and said all the hateful shit they got tired of having to be "so PC" and tiptoe around. It is obvious that––not DESPITE his mob connections, undisclosed finances, and financial fetters to foreign powers but BECAUSE of them––he symbolizes to them that it is better to be absolutely anything (even a tax evading conman obviously wading in criminal corruption) than to not be rich.

We don't share these stories for "them." They have cast themselves as the victims in their own persecuted narrative and think Obamacare is tantamount to concentration camps (while they ignore ACTUAL concentration camps). We don't think we're finally going to hit the proof or the bridge-too-far moral depravity that makes them turn around and say, "Oh holy shit. What have we done?" Most simply do not demonstrate that kind of self-reflection. 

Nothing could be more emblematic of the ongoing and escalating erosion of democracy––first through voter suppression and gerrymandering but now onward and upward to all-but-proven collusion between Russia and his entire staff, collusion with Ukraine that basically even the GOP had to admit totally happened (but just didn’t remove him from office because that would be letting the Democrats win), and now an open and shockingly admitted attack on the USPS to fuck up mail-in ballots…**deep breath**

Okay, you probably forgot where that sentence started since there are so many examples of attacking democracy to list. Let me recap.

Nothing could be more emblematic of the ongoing and escalating erosion of democracy than the GOP's cheerful willingness to ignore–not just ignore even, but to MOCK–a giant and growing body of evidence that Trump will absolutely cheat to win an election. Nothing could be more indicative of their hypocrisy than to spend a decade lauding themselves as fiscally responsible and howling about every penny out of a balanced budget, only to turn around and drop 1.5 trillion on tax breaks for corporations and millionaires in their tax code followed by $500 billion in corporate stimulus for the pandemic––regarding which, Trump assured everyone he would be disregarding any attempt at congressional oversight. Even their patriotism falls apart like wood eaten out by termites. It's little more than a shallow jingoistic facade, a flag draped over discarded veterans, and the seething contempt for the institutions and values (be it law enforcement or democratic pluralism) that they claim to love when the anthem is playing, but turn on like an abusive spouse the minute they're stopped from doing just exactly what they want.

So no, I don't particularly expect they will witness some bit of proof or consequence of their policies and suddenly see reason. They still strongly believe the emperor is wearing full regalia. 

But they're not who I'm talking to. They're not who YOU should be talking to either. They have relinquished their right to reasoned engagement. They have abandoned integrity. They have lost all sense of a moral compass. What they defend is indefensible, even if they don’t claim to be capital-B believers themselves.

They are unreachable. No bridge would ever be sufficient. At least no bridge constructed with so much as a shred of compassion for those on the other side who they’ve taken a twisted delight in hurting and killing and laughing at (calling them “identity politics or social justice warriors”) for having the temerity to point out they are part of a group being treated with state sponsored, systemic, systematic violence. 

No, they’re not who I’m talking to. They are lost and if they're ever coming back, it will be up to factors I cannot control. 

1- Who I am talking to is the  30% of people who COULD vote but are apathetic, and who every poll in the fucking world says lean left. (But who just kind of hate the DNC so much that they sit out civic engagement.) Add a few thousand votes in the right state, and that’s the ball game. [In 2016, the Michigan vote was so close that TWO votes per precinct would have flipped the state. That’s two. One….two. You don’t even have to take off BOTH your gloves to count that high.]

I’m talking to the anti-political machine-rager who might realize that SCOTUS appointments really will have a direct impact on people's lives and rights, expanding them for “religious convictions” and curtailing them for anyone who isn’t a cis, het, white man. I’m talking to those who are (justifiably) incensed that their vote isn't going to fix a system that was built with bigotry baked in, and I’m talking to those who might be convinced that elections still have OTHER consequences––ones that matter. I am talking to folks who don’t realize that unless the revolution is scheduled for the first Tuesday in November, those of us who haven't (yet) been disenfranchised can at least help choose between “politicians who might move the timbre of discourse to the left and make it easier to be a local chapter of a grassroots socialism movement” and “literally fascism that will crack our heads and make survival take most of our time and energy.” I’m talking to everyone who maybe doesn’t realize that even though civic engagement doesn’t always make things better, apathy, always, always, ALWAYS makes things worse. And I’m talking to people to remind them of other avenues to political power and action than MERELY voting––because voting is literally the least we can do.

2- Who I’m talking to is the few of them who aren’t a monolith. Elections are won and lost in swing states sometimes by 1 or 2 points or even less. Peel off one or two out of a HUNDRED from his approval ratings––convince them that maybe there are a few things worse than big scary Democrats running the show for four years––and you don’t need to reach this monolithic “THEY.” 

2.5- Who I am talking to is politicians (especially Senators) of “purple” constituencies who May realize that they are committing political suicide to support him through yet another ridiculous scandal.

3- Who I’m talking to is the people who haven’t realized yet that our silence is choice. Any sort of democratic non-blood-in-the-streets revolution that REALLY restructures our society isn't going to happen because we threw up our hands in the face of a tough election and said, "Whatever...THEY aren't listening." 

Because of course they aren’t.

We speak truth to power. That’s “them.” They are power. They don’t have to listen and they don’t have to care, but it’s still vital that we speak. We don’t have to be persuading them successfully to not let them us silence us (or more accurately, to silence ourselves and each other). We don’t even have to be talking to “them” to be strengthening and fortifying each other, because this is like a millstone, and it would grind us all to powder if not for each other.

4- Perhaps most importantly, I’m talking to us. I’m not even talking to “them.” I’m talking to anyone else who’s been a frog in the pot for too long. We’re talking to each other. We hold each other up and ground each other and remind each OTHER of the outrageousness we’ve been exposed to for four years. We remind each other, so that we don't grow desensitized to suffering. So that we don’t forget that today’s news cycle is built on a hundred other scandals and outrages before it that we are so tired of fighting but that all happened. So that we don’t succumb to the gaslighting that he did nothing wrong, and if he did then we deserved it. We do it to hold ourselves strong so that we don’t give up. Because "what's the point?” is what they want us to say. They want us to give up and let them monkey-throw feces all over every value we have without making such a fuss. 

Who I’m talking to is everyone who needs to be reminded that THIS IS NOT NORMAL. And that we CAN do something about it.