First Letter, June 24th, 2017
With the rise of what can be called Trump Republicanism, the Democratic Party seems to be in a shambles. With each successive special election held since November, they have continued to field candidates who fail to garner votes -- even in the face of Trump's repeated missteps.
Even now, there seems to be a divorce between what can be charitably called small-s socialists and Republicans-lite within the party. Small-s socialists want broad economic reforms, broad social changes in the way that people interact with each other, and a commitment to defense that doesn't engage unless absolutely necessary. Republican-lite views the economic issues in society as healthy capitalism, believe that traditional politicking will still work, and generally think that being able to compromise is the way to move forward.
This past year has exposed glaring blind spots in both factions, culminating in their failure at the polls. The small-s socialists are very rationalist when it comes to their critiques of moneyed interests, but inevitably do little more than ostracize when it comes to identity politics. Republican-lite people want to engage in a reasonable, compromise-prone politics, but inevitably appear weak and feckless in the face of a modern Republican party that is so unreasonable that it is not only willing to "go there," but does so, and frequently, leaving Republican-lite looking stupid and tone-deaf.
At the root of most of these issues is the zombie monolith that is liberal political speak, speech so sterilized by communications professionals as to be jingoistic, vague, and meaningless. As Trump has demonstrated repeatedly — and as voters seem to continue to reward — speaking plainly, with all its flaws and foibles, may fail communications vetting but scores where it counts.
The irony, of course, is that this sort of political double-talk is more a testament to the rise of the intelligentsia and less a testament to the roots of liberal forebears. In his 1936 Madison Square Garden Speech, FDR described the classes in society that hated him as "the old enemies of peace: business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering." He then pointedly stated "They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred." Shades of Trump, who in one of his oft quoted tweets, made his own audacious reference to his "many enemies."
To this point, the modern Democrats seem to be lost in their own hubris: they speak above their most vital constituency — those who are the most financially and socially vulnerable — and then act bewildered when these people either fail to vote or vote with Republicans. If Trump has shown us anything, it is that this mid-90's, thoroughly sterilized exec-u-speak approach to communications is dead.
Why continue the zombie monolith that is liberal political speak? Do we really only know how to speak to each other, in ways that only the post-graduates on the coasts can be comfortable?
Republican-lite operates in a shell-game mentality — hide or obfuscate true passions and viewpoints from voters because if the voters ever found out, they would vote Republican. The problem? It isn't that the voters are going to vote Republican, it's that the voters are going to vote boldly. Being economically populist clearly works; look at Trump's campaign. When he got into office, all of that went right out the window, but it didn't matter because he paired his false promises with the single best weapon liberals and progressives have handed to Republicans in decades. It isn't Nancy Pelosi, though she does her fair share, but instead the perplexing identity politics assignment of saints and satans.
It's like a suicide pact that cultural liberals have made made with each other to fall on their swords: identity politics has devolved into speech policing, in which we can no longer call a spade a spade unless we happen to be a member of that spade's demographics. It begs us to suspend our incredulity, to irrationally love one person due to demographics while irrationally hating another person due to demographics. Nevermind that equality will never be achieved by creating appropriate and inappropriate prejudices.
For example, religiosity: scornful of conservative Christianity? Approved. Scornful of conservative Islam? Forbidden, bordering on racism.
This, in turn, creates a whole subset of completely intellectually dissonant objectives: despite being avowedly pro-woman and pro-LGBTQI, the level of subjugation that several prominent strains of Islamic practice in the contemporary world subject these groups of people to is blithely ignored.
Why? Because Republicans (or conservatives generally) are viewed as Islamophobic in a broad way. Cultural liberals thus go way too far in the other direction, turning off their rational minds and simply engaging in blind Islamophilia, excusing broad instances of illiberal behavior that would never be allowed from Christianity. Is all of the Islamic faith horrible? Of course not, and to make such a broad statement would be ridiculous. Is there a lot of Islamic faith traditions that are extremely antagonistic to the equality of women and sexual minorities? Resoundingly yes. Does it excuse their behavior because there are Christians who believe in the same thing? Nope, and it doesn't excuse the Christians who believe it, either.
Modern Democrats have become so totally defined by what Republicans do, say, and think, they have taken no time to tend to who they are intrinsically, what they believe, what they support and why. It's become so totally muddled with reactionary responses to the other side that it completely obliterates a consistent message amongst the patchwork of reactionary ideas in conflict with fundamental liberal belief systems.
Perhaps even worse, modern Democrats who subscribe to the Republicans-lite mantra aren't fooling anyone. Let's take Mr Ossoff: here we have a graduate of the London School of Economics and the Georgetown University who left being a political aide in Washington to messianically run for elected office in a backwoods suburb of Atlanta, Georgia. Like most Republicans-lite, his only passion seemed to be in saying all the right things in all the right ways that his Democratic forebears did for 30 years before him. He was the essential preppy white kid from affluence with a textbook success story, textbook biography, and glossy white teeth to boot. No human being is that perfect, that wholesome, or that convenient. Ever. For a party trying to relate to its meekest and smallest, he is a textbook definition of an insider who already had access to power ceremonially returning home and seeking a blessing to officially wield the power. His positions? Predictable Republican fare: no new taxes, guns are good, etc.
No kid with that resume is going to feel relatable except to every inside-the-beltway kid who is defined by their constant ambition. He immediately comes across as the kid in high school who wore suits to class and was already far too busy and important to be bothered with the people around him. Is that a fair assessment of Mr Ossoff? Of course not; as likely as not, it's probably not even correct. Does just a cursory glance at his biography and appearance lend itself to that stereotype? Yep.
Sure he narrowed the gap, but lost decisively by five points. In a presidential election, that sort of a gap would be considered a mandate. Party elders have tried to spin the loss as having gone from 20 points to 5 points. Congratulations: you decisively lost.
Will the party figure out how to lose its reactionary impulses and define itself by its own beliefs and not in antagonism to an adversary?
Will it stop fielding its blandly inoffensive, cookie-cutter-globe-trotting-already-has-access-candidates who pretend to be relatable in some backwoods district?
Will it finally let go of the zombie monolith that is liberal political speak, its blindly illiberal impulse to designate some people saints and some people satans due to their demographic instead of having a rational, universal principle that is sacred regardless of the offender or the upholder's demographic or identity background?
I fear not, and I fear that 2018 will simply be a reminder that the party is in a shambles, too removed from the needs of their fundamental constituency to be bothered to let go of their convenient viewpoints and their pet biases. Let's remember who that fundamental constituency is: the low, the poor, the locked-out-of-access, the forgotten, the hated and the hounded.
It is the irony of their privilege that they, who perpetually weaponize that word, are too privileged to feel any pressure to be politically effective, intellectually consistent, or emotionally vulnerable people to which voters can relate and not simply their pearly teeth, tussled hair, and perfect words. The tragedy is that their fundamental constituency doesn't have the luxury of that privileged choice, and will suffer when the politically ineffective same-old-same-old fails at the polls and the results come home to roost.