Pessimism and Pushback

Hardly anyone seems very happy, right now, and across most of the center-left, attitudes range from frustration and anger to fear and despair. Probably inevitably, Democrats/democrats are also turning frustration upon one another, as we recognize to one degree or another that we’re stuck in a a corner and paralyzed by divided agendas.

Among what we might call the officers’ ranks, there is an emerging pattern of concern, as well as exasperated pushback. I think the concern is well-placed. The past week, alone, was one of intense misery and nothing stands in the way of more.

The pushback disputes or simply denies the latter. For that reason I think it’s mostly just plain wrong, as well as unhelpful.

There’s a subset of the pushback which does, I think, make a valid and important point. Marcy Wheeler has deployed various rebuttals to the people screaming that Attorney General Garland is failing in his duty to charge and convict the enemies of democracy. But she also agrees with me that, ultimately, the Department of Justice cannot solve the assault on democracy anyway, so outrage from people who perceive the DOJ “letting it happen” is just a fundamentally wrong premise.

Otherwise, the pushback seems mostly out of touch, and a confirmation of how screwed we are rather than any real counter-argument. A Lawyers for Good Government email very literally just listed, at length, major awful circumstances continuing or emerging despite our years of work, then said “that’s why we have to fight and win” without addressing in any way what effective “fight” we are supposed to wage. Indivisible, today, tried out an idea that mocking the weariness and despair—as an easy, alluring indulgence of desire to be lazy, watch tv, etc.—would pep people up. I don’t feel like it works very well. Teri Kanefield makes some of the same points as Wheeler, but mostly just yells at people for somehow manifesting defeat by letting the theft of our rights and democracy make us killjoys.

Swing Left has not attempted quite as direct contrarianism, but its recent “we’ve got this” pep talks are almost comical in their disengagement from what people see happening right in front of us. “The first step in our plan was defending the Democratic trifecta in Virginia this year,” the group wrote a couple weeks after the loss of all three parts of said trifecta a year after Biden won the state by double digits.

No one seems to have much idea what to do about the functional indifference of our political system to a major political party becoming feral, antidemocratic and monstrous. Our unwieldy opposed coalition is, itself, hamstrung by some bad faith and a lot of distrust.

I am increasingly convinced—enough to work on a book about the idea—that this struggle was largely lost decades ago and that most of what we think have been “battles of ideas” in America’s national politics have in fact been driven by mechanical reflex. I don’t imagine my books making money for me, so I may as well summarize this for what it’s worth.

It looks a lot to me like America’s national electorate is a mostly deadlocked combination of

  • absolute committed partisan voters
  • voters who are always dissatisfied with the sitting president, and who vote to annihilate his party, no matter what, and
  • voters who have a more consistent party preference but who won’t believe any argument that they need to vote in midterm elections always instead of just when the opposition is president

The unifying theme being that most of what elites talk about is essentially meaningless to most of the electorate, as are most political tactics, which works out to a big unaddressed hole in all the Democrats’ and democrats’ calls to continue engaging. Engaging in what? The idea that (at least if we ignore voter suppression and gerrymandering and other cheating and so on) it has to be possible to win in ’22 because we just (sorta) won both of the past two cycles falls apart if what actually won during those elections was dislike of presidents and their parties whoever they happen to be.

Of course, maybe this is just some crackpot theory of mine. But it still seems like a lot of people aren’t buying what the leaders are selling, and “OK, now listen, cheer the fuck up fuckers” doesn’t seem like it’s going to fix that.

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