Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Sunday, January 29, 2017

When will it end with the "so it begins" tweets?

We lost an election we shouldn't have lost -- that was the beginning -- and now we confront a series of increasingly terrible battles we have to win, almost every single one of which is harder than and in part harder because we lost the election we shouldn't have lost.

I agree it is important to highlight white-nationalist and authoritarian tendencies in Trump Republicanism -- if only to draw on the available archive of effective resistance to such tendencies for those who are most vulnerable and those who are our allies -- but it is also important to recognize historical disanalogies in the American situation (the richness of US physical resources, the advantage of US geopolitical and historical positioning, the diversity of US stakeholders, the affordances shaped by legal, infrastructural, and professional norms, forms and legacies, and so on) to other fascist and authoritarian formations in which we might lodge equally necessary hopes and fears in our present circumstances.

But another thing that bugs me about the hundred or so daily "and so it begins" posts that scroll by me these days is that they seem to be written from a weirdly high orbit, as if surveying the historical scene from an Olympian cloudlet perch while munching popcorn. And yet every tweet seems to be accompanied by the same portentous sigh, in each the same diagnosis is being offered up for our appreciation. Not doing much of anything is not the new doing something... there is nothing new about well-educated armchair quarterbacking (not above this myself) and all-protest-no-policies fauxvolutionaries and purity cabaret among privileged Beautiful Losers. As always, it seems, many lefties and liberals online are falling over themselves to signal to one another how very cool and not surprised they are by all this, how very nonplussed they are as Trump's dangerous ineptitudes and dizzying corruptions and demonstrable crimes multiply. But who cares if you are surprised or not?

We Democrats (and this includes many people to the left of most Democrats, like me, who nonetheless recognize the Democratic Party as the nationally-viable party organization and diverse stakeholder coalition to which we must all of us in the US indispensably turn as the available pragmatic and reformist tool to implement policies in the service of sustainable equity-in-diversity, even if we know that educational, agitational, organizational work to transform the terrain of the possible and the important in which parties function is also indispensable and sometimes pressures the party to its annoyance even while mostly it enables the party to remain relevant and effective, such as it is) must do the following:   
[one] identify what is actually happening, we must not overestimate the nature or extent of our failure (we won the popular vote by millions, Democrats gained seats in both the House and the Senate, living wage and drug legalization and other liberal policies won support across the country, eg) nor underestimate the unprecedented violations of the Trump administration (it is still early days, but Trump's violation of the emoluments clause is grounds for impeachment, as may be his incitement of executive officials to carry out policies Courts have stayed, but his attacks on citizens, legal residents, people seeking asylum, American families with undocumented members, the press, whole agencies and departments of government and the life-long dedicated public service professionals who undertake their work, eg), since both overestimating our defeat and underestimating their victories leads us to mis-assess the realities at hand;
[two] put a face on those who suffer from urgent problems and bad policies, and provide narrative(s) (some carefully targeted regionally and demographically, some evoking a more general democratic and social justice ethos) that will solicit identification with the sufferer and blame Republicans as the villains prolonging this suffering against the efforts of Democrats;
[three] provide (and repeat and repeat and repeat and repeat) concise catchphrases that provide a Democratic vision of good accountable government of a people made happier and stronger by their diversity, a government that provides public investments, social welfare and equal recourse to law as preconditions for freedom as an alternative to the failed and unfair Republican vision that divides, isolates, and neglects individuals ("individualism") the better for incumbent-elite minorities to conquer, exploit, concentrate, and accumulate wealth and authority;
[four] give majorities something to root for: no, this doesn't mean pissing on Democrats singly or as a party every chance you get, but celebrating our good ideas (read the Democratic Party platform) and accomplishments at least as much as we criticize their compromises and before we relentlessly, thanklessly move on to the next problem the solution to which we disdain as imperfect to useless before cracking the whip yet again;
[five] while it is good for Democratic elected representatives to be as progressive as is compatible with their actually-existing constituency, it is never good for a moderate Democrat in a moderate district to be replaced by a Republican (whether you want to call him moderate for a Republican or not in this epoch of Republican extremity) who threatens Democratic majorities in Local or State or Federal and so undermine the effectiveness of the best Democrats in those bodies who are empowered when they are part of a governing majority -- so, if a Democrat is doing something wrong or not doing enough good, pitch your righteous criticisms in a way that strengthens, never weakens, the candidate or the Party, find a Democrat who is doing the right thing or doing better and spotlight the alternative they represent and find out how that Democrat might use your support, connect you to networks and resources to make a difference on the issue more than you realized possible, help to educate the erring Democrat, strive to craft the arguments to make the issue more a Party priority or change platform language or craft specific policy language.
"And so it begins..." Trump the Killer Clown is a very old story -- to the extent that it isn't a completely idiosyncratic and unprecedented one. Politics is always happening, history is already underway. It cannot be politics that "so... begins," for politics doesn't "begin" or "end." Politics is the ongoing, and indeed interminable, reconciliation of the diversity of aspirations of the diversity of sharers of our place and time, including reconciling our sense of which shared problems are the most urgent ones we face. Trump isn't a re-run on cable you already know the story to. Although Trump is in many ways an unprecedented figure (Jacksonian, Nixonian, Reaganomic, Gingrichian, W-esque resonances notwithstanding), it is also true that his rhetoric is a kind of reductio ad absurdum of movement conservative themes, especially as these were ground down to their rhetoric essences in the crucible of a quarter-century of Hate Radio and now circulating virally on social media ("virality" like "AI" or "robotic" or "automated" is a metaphor, much of the work of which seems to me to disavow personal responsibility for decisions made by authors, coders, curators, designers, owners, executives of the techs, apps, platforms invested with figurative agency).

Anyway, we don't know what is going to happen. Many truly terrible things that did not have to happen are going to happen -- beautiful and encouraging things will also happen. We don't know how many vulnerable people we can save from harm, we don't how much damage we can prevent to the unsung compromised fragile indispensable social welfare programs and public investments on which we depend to survive and flourish. To win we are going to have to count on the work of a lot of people who tend to get disdained as "Establishment" types -- lawyers, social workers, teachers, administrators, members of venerable civil rights and social support organizations -- and in less than two years' time we need above all else to do that most Establishment sort of thing of all: to try to get Democrats elected in greater numbers to the House of Representatives, in State legislatures, in Governors' mansions, in Mayors' offices and School Boards and City Councils.

1 comment:

jollyspaniard said...

Mr Brexit may be responsible for killing Brexit. People have been inspired by the demos in the USA. A Stop Brexit March was announced during Trumps first week and it is going to be very large maybe the biggest London has seen.