Skip to main content

If there's one kind of diary or comment I hate, it's those that talk about the death of Democracy, or which more or less repeat the line that because of Citizens United, or some other victory of the special interests or Corporate America, or whatever, that everything's going to hell.

I can't say the temptation to feel down about things isn't there.  In fact, that's part of what makes me despise such talk.  I know I'm capable of giving in to such despair myself.  Oh, God, I know how far I could take it.  I can think of, remember some pretty dark and fucked up things.

Some call it realism.  Some call it facing facts.  What they forget to factor in is the fact that much of this reality, much of this fact dwells in people's head.  But what they also forget is that this country's been in worse shape before.

There was a time where the FBI and the police could more actively interfere in our lives, where they could beat confessions out of people.  There was a time where union strikebreakers didn't just pull petty tricks in a legislature, they pulled guns.

There was a time when corporate power was so pervasive and unquestionable that the corruption was carried out openly.

We've been through worse economic times.  Our party's been through worse political times.  We've seen times when open and excessive pollution were not dealt with by federal law, where corporations didn't even have to acknowledge the need to preserve the environment.

Racially, do I need to say a thing?  Folks know how bad it was.

I suggest people look at this history of this country, learn just how tough people have had it, how bad our issues have been.  Yes, we've seen setbacks politically, setbacks on fighting corruption, setbacks on the environment and the economy.  Yes, corporate and regressive interests have experienced a renaissance.  But even now their limits are showing, and that's why they fight so desperately.  That they cite Egypt in spreading their fears about the show of union solidarity in Wisconsin shows how desperate, how scared they really are.

They know they have to scare people witless, get people wrapped up in panic, lest they realize whose interests the strikebreakers really serve.  They don't want to have to pay for their mistakes, and ironically, they're spending a lot of time and money to avoid doing so.

It doesn't make me feel all that good to see the austerity nuts winning battles, or the Union busters get closer to disempowering the workers of America.  I take a lot of the crap that's happened over the last decade and change to heart, and it weighs on me.

But I feel that I've got a choice here.  I feel I always have a choice.  I can get discouraged, but will it help me at all to despair?  How can I inspire others to act by saying the Democracy that would allow them to take back what's theirs is dead?  Only if they believe that they can pour their life, their will, into that Democracy and at least eventually get something back, will people follow us towards winning the political battles that need to be won.

One of the biggest ifs in any political battle, is people's willingness to show up.  People don't show up if there's no point in showing up.  Now you can complain that the politicians don't make it worth your while, but I think focusing on the politicians is shortsighted.  Politicians can be disgraces.  But they can also be forced to think of their own political self-preservation.  If we make it politically radioactive to do a certain thing, we can take even a politician on the take and push them towards supporting a better policy.

No, what you need is a cause that fights on even when the individual battles are sometimes, or even often lost.  You need to have that willpower to stand up and say yes to fighting on, even when it seems all is lost.  The alternative is to willingly become a victim of circumstances and rivals, a person who has given up what chance they had to be heard , to no benefit of their own.

We need to be proactive and assertive as a movement, because our opponents are not in it to lose.  They ruthless and very willing to win. Now, we don't have to be as callous or reckless as they are, but we do have to stick with the fight as long as they do, unless we're planning on giving them an unforced advantage.  Nearly everything they've done over the past few years, the past decade even, is built on making us throw away our ambitions to fight for what we believe in.  It's built on grinding our willpower, our faith in our cause, our support for our leadership, and everything else into the dirt.

To turn aside from the fight, turn aside from the hope of winning the fight might seem easier, but in the long run it grants no peace of mind, no improvements in one's situation.  

Because we live in relatively comfortable times, with much of the social safety net still in place, with labor laws still relatively strong, because we live in a time where the efforts of our forebears have granted us greater peace of mind and good fortune than they have, we aren't fighting for these things, as our grandfathers and their great grandfathers did, out of a sense of desperate necessity.

Those people, those generations knew that if they did not fight for their best interests, for the nation's best interests, they would be well and truly screwed.  Those people had their backs to the wall.  We don't.

The Middle Class may be in decline, but it isn't yet in the shape it was during the Great Depression.  That means people aren't as motivated as they would be, if things had truly gotten that bad.  That may be the irony in our current situation, that we succeeded in heading off a massive economic failure, and by doing that let people breathe easier, and go back to their old bad habits of thought.  Like the Egyptians in the book of Exodus, we lament our condition as the plague hits us, say we'll repent of our sin, and once the plague is lifted, harden our hearts and turn right back to our previous dispositions.

It may be the case that things have to get really catastrophically fucked for us as a country, before we'll recover our wits and do what's in our best interests.

But I think, if you time it right, and you keep it up, you can convince people before things get that screwed up.  I'm an optimist that way.  However, you got to motivate people, and by that, I don't mean motivate them to stay home, or give up.  That, to me, is a serious sin for anybody looking to push a political cause.  You're hamstringing yourself before you've even started the footrace.

The realism and pragmatist I practice tells me that everybody, myself included, has free will.  Our intelligence is too complex to be neatly predicted, neatly boxed and categorized.  While the structures of thought and ideology can be very rigid at times, people are always thinking, always considering the logic of things, even if they don't realize it.  There are always cracks and inconsistencies in the edifices of people's beliefs, contradictions and conditionals at work that make it possible for people trying to change other people's minds to work their way in and persuade folks to their side.

I'm a big believer in Marvin Minsky's Society of Mind theory.  I think folks minds are made up of simpler, more basic functional pieces, and that the way the connections in people's minds work, turning just a few of these basic parts of a person's thinking around can have a drastic effect in terms of what they support.

We could call this, in political talk, a wedge issue, an issue that helps us break the political loyalties of a person away from what they currently support.  Such methods have been used on us for decades now.  We need to learn how to apply them ourselves, probe and exploit the weaknesses in the Republican's appeal to people.

But I believe, if you're dealing with the complexity of the human mind, and then multiplying that by the millions of citizens of this country, and, in turn, the complexity of the issues we face, then you have a very tough problem with no easy answers.

However, you also have, amidst all that confusion, all that sturm und drang, a shitload of opportunities waiting for you, if you have the perseverance, the persistence, the willpower to follow it.

When Democrats have that fighting spirit, like in 2006 or 2008, we can win, because we'll put forward the effort and the creative thought to actually change the political reality as it exists in our favor.

When we don't, we fall flat on our face.

If I was frustrated with many here over the last year, it was because they couldn't see how they were undermining their own fortunes, their own willpower, doing, as I believe the Republicans planned, much of the work of destroying themselves that the GOP wanted them to do.

We relied too much on our leadership, on our strong leader remaining uniformly unsullied, and by doing that, gave the Republicans the means to break our willpower, by repeatedly blocking the ability of those politicians to do as we wanted them to do.  We let our disappointment and our impatience take on a life of its own.  We let our pessimism, our discontent infect those we would have support our side.  We demotivated ourselves, but worse, we demotivated those who felt no strong loyalty to our party, our cause.

We shed some of our impurities, but unfortunately, impurities are a fact of life in politics.  If you have broad support, it's often achieved by compromise, by reaching out to others who don't support everything you want done.

In majoritarian politics, that necessity is always there.  We must appeal beyond our own groups, our own people.  The Republicans, for the time being, have assembled such a hard core, forced the national political scen of their party to adhere to a rather rigid dogmatic line, but the price for that was that they had to organize towards that for decades, and now have to face political fights with very little flexibility in their positions, a brittle political arrangement, if there ever was one.

For now, though, they are powerful because of that.  The Beck and Rush Limbaugh bullshit flows around the party like electrons around a superconductor, the currents meeting little resistance.  The national party can pump a lot of power through their voters without a lot of waste.

But, as I pointed out, their position is brittle.  That captive audience of theirs won't do much good if many have abandoned the party, whether they be party core or independent supporters.

The Republicans and their patrons can be defeated, should be defeated, if you want to push your agenda in the public forum successfully.  We can mourn the failures and disappointments without giving up the cause, without robbing ourselves of the ability to fight back and take advantage of positive opportunities.

It's pretty fucking useless in my opinion to ask questions like "Where were you when Democracy died", or shit like that.  That's the kind of talk that leads people to do nothing, to spread despair and cynicism, to wallow in their misery instead of fighting back.

I learned long ago, the hard way, that to face the challenges of life, you have to be willing to believe that you can win, that you can triumph over adversity, that you can right the wrongs.  Even if that isn't always true, and you don't always win, the willpower and the motivation keep you from passing up the opportunities you need to pursue in order to improve your lot in life, and the fortunes of your country.

Don't deny yourself the strength of mind, the strength of motivation necessary to change the world.  Don't get off on the Despair porn, and waste your brainpower thinking of reasons why what you want can never come to pass.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Tip: Intelligence is a survival trait... (18+ / 0-) the extent people are willing to use it to save themselves from destruction, self or otherwise.  If we think our ideas are the best, that our agenda is for the good of the country, it's a crime to sit on our asses and moan and groan about how everything's going into the toilet.

    We need to fight the inclination towards pessimism if we want to beat the system arrayed against us.

    The Republicans: Let's kill jobs and cut deficits until the economy recovers. The Democrats: Let's create jobs and boost the economy until it can help us resolve the deficit. Who needs to win the next election?

    by Stephen Daugherty on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 08:11:26 AM PST

  •  Thank you so much Stephen. (7+ / 0-)

    Really needed this today.

    It's greatly appreciated.

    "I want us to live up to her expectations. I want our democracy to be as good as she imagined it." President Obama

    by Onomastic on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 08:55:54 AM PST

  •  People think exaggeration is a bulwark (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    gramofsam1, Onomastic, FiredUpInCA

    They believe that if we don't freak out over the tiniest stuff then the flood will just come rushing in. They also believe people will not respond to anything that is not framed as a crisis or an emergency.

    For a lot of people that resonates with their natural inclination to view and state everything in the most dramatic terms. And "woe is me/us" statements serve to placate the emotional needs of the wailer. Unfortunately, they also tend to undermine actual change.

    And if those wails find an context where they're met with ready approval...  well, I'll let you look up the concept of "epistemic closure" yourself.

    Progress comes from a combination of being a realist and an optimist: being real about the problems and flaws, but viewing those problems and flaws with enough perspective that they don't overwhelm the emotional system into hopelessness.

    So it's all well and good to rant about "the day democracy died" if emotional reinforcement for your despair is what one is interested in. But it is ironic that these same people are mostly concerned with the views and voting of elected officials they don't agree with.

    There's certainly no question that there are constant erosional forces acting on our democracy, and that every day there are people inventing fresh ways to game the system, and that the sophistication of the mice constantly leapfrogs the sophistication of the mousetraps. However, I agree with your general point of view: it's far better to be a vigilant watchman over our democracy than a Henny Penny.

    I'm a concert pianist with a double doctorate... AND YOU CAN BE TOO!

    by kenlac on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 09:07:34 AM PST

  •  What a powerful diary (5+ / 0-)

    to read and re-read. This belongs on the Rec List, IMHO.

    Thank you!

  •  Van Jones: (5+ / 0-)
    "...despite some gains, we face despair again. We can't go there."

    or, for the more cynical,

    Hunter Thompson:

    "In a nation run by swine, all pigs are upward-mobile and the rest of us are fucked until we can put our acts together: not necessarily to win, but mainly to keep from losing completely."

    either/or, this is a very good (sensible) diary

    thanks Stephen

    "Show up. Pay attention. Tell the truth. And don't be attached to the results." -- Angeles Arrien

    by Sybil Liberty on Mon Feb 28, 2011 at 09:19:43 AM PST

  •  your long but true posting, Yes, true. (5+ / 0-)

    My extraordinary 93 year old father lives out in MO with his lovely, age appropriate 91 year old sweetie. He still goes swing dancing with her and writes cogent letters to the editor explaining the difference between National Socialism, Soviet Socialism and working for a decent society for all your neighbors.

    One day about 5 years ago I found an unopened box of VHS tapes in his garage, 4 volumes on the life of FDR. He and I sat down to watch them together and it was a useful experience for a 60 year old kid like myself to see just how very bad things were when he was young, what he faced and faced down. Things have been really bad many times and then they get better, or get made better, by people like him, or us.  

    We gotta keep eating our vegetables and singing together and givng money when we can and explaining how things seem to us and insisting that democracy work, damnit. Smile. Yes.

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site