Tuesday, December 22, 2015

For a joy-filled long game ...

Last week I published here an opinion so optimistic that friends asked me if I really believed it. I asked myself the same thing. Later I was in discussion with some wise progressive political thinkers who take a much more dire view of our times. In response to their political pessimism, and my own, I wrote this. I do think this is true in these waning days of 2015.

Trump and the Republican presidential clown show are manifestations of the death rattle of a particular phase of United States white supremacy. Periodic eruptions of violence create an atmosphere that serves the interests of the declining power centers. The resulting panic could lead to a genuinely fascist outcome.

But it need not. For people engaged in struggles for justice, the moment requires hanging on to realities that elites of all stripes would prefer we look away from. And it then requires "keeping our eyes on the prize" -- continuing to work for a world of relative equality of material enjoyments, of justice, and of peace within and among peoples.

Some realities to hang on to amid the noise:

1) The current collapse of unlamented states in the Middle East and the very dramatic violence wrapped in religious garments that has ensued are NO threat to the United States or any large number of its residents unless we are so unfortunate as to go to those places.

2) Small, even Paris sized, violent episodes happening periodically will not materially change reality in this country unless we let them. And, in fact, there have been no such planned, efficient terrorist events here. There have been a couple of pairs of individuals (in Boston and San Bernardino) who claimed overseas inspiration wreaking local carnage because this is a society where people can. But nothing like an actual terror campaign has been directed from outside. And, of course, being a country where nuts settle their disputes and unleash their demons with guns, we have violence from individuals and the daily state-sanctioned violence of the authorities.

3) It is in the interests of elites of all sorts to keep us focused on "all terror all the time." It is not in our interest to comply.

4) Yes, the policies of our rulers are very much implicated in the mess in the Middle East. What's done is done. We can call this out, but it is currently largely irrelevant except as inspiration not to allow them to repeat and extend their meddling. Yes we need a peace movement and, being the world's number one imperial colossus, will need one for the foreseeable future.

Not all is terrible. This is a country that -- after kicking, screaming, and violent protest -- has managed again and again to incorporate and normalize new populations with diverse cultures and more or less make it work. White backlash cannot stop demographic change and demographic power shift. Sure, the losers will throw up every possible obstacle to losing their dominance, from police aggression against vulnerable communities, to suppression of democratic participation, to outright fascist thuggery. That's the nature of struggle.

Yes, the Trump/Republican fascist alliance is terribly dangerous. It must be denounced, exposed, and blocked everywhere we can. But it is also a symptom that change is happening and that's where we need to focus. We do not have to let this moment throw us off our game -- but we do have to understand that our game is a long one and there will be casualties. (In fact, the most oppressed communities tend to know this better than the relatively well off, especially the latter sad truth.)

We need to continue to work for equality: that means curbing the abuses of the owners of capital as much as possible and spreading the wealth more fairly. But also we need to understand that the sort of labor that societies of the future will need will be different than in the past. We've got a lot of envisioning to do if we don't want our economic system designed for us by Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos and Martin Shkreli.

We need to keep up the fight for safety in the communities at immediate risk. This means first and foremost being there broadly and respectfully for #BlackLivesMatter, for other victims of state violence, for Muslim communities under threat, and for abortion providers. This is not sweating the small stuff; this is people's lives.

There are moments when elite interests coincide with broader human interests. Really. We need the capacity to recognize this when it happens and get in there and push in the right direction. A couple of recent occasions included Obama's decision in 2013 not to go jumping into Syria chasing Assad's chemical weapons and also the recent Iran nuclear deal. There seems to be some chance that climate unsustainability is scaring our elites so badly that they will move toward curbing CO2. Again, time to get in there and push, while elaborating and deepening our own understanding of the crisis.

We have to work the democratic levers of power that exist within the system. Electoral politics is almost always a fight to hold space so as to preserve the possibility that outsider movements can coalesce and grow to change the system. But that tiresome truth is no reason to give up on it. Every popular movement in this country needs to do what it can in its circumstances to ensure that we come out of the 2016 election with a Democratic president (any Democratic president will do) and as many Democratic Senators as possible. This is about living to fight another day.

Finally, for those of us in the progressive forces who are white, there's a necessary job to be done to help white citizens of this country live through the demographic transition with joy instead of fear. We aren't going to win all of 'em, but there are more plausible converts than always seem apparent and it is our job to nurture those we can bring along for our country's next wild ride.


DJan said...

Jan, I read your posts and rarely (if ever) comment. But this one is so well written and hopeful in so many ways, I just had to speak up as a lurker who cherishes you and your wisdom. Thank you for giving me such a well balanced expression of who and what and where we are in this country. And may you enjoy a wonderful holiday season! :-)

Michael Strickland said...

What Djan said. You not only roll up your sleeves all the time but are articulate about the why and how. Merry Christmas, you Radical Episcopalian Believer.

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