Revolutionary Disseverance, “You say you want a revolution? Well, you know…”

When Senator Sanders called for a political revolution at the first Democratic Presidential debate you could feel the palpable discomfort on stage.  Only Jim Webb addressed the word “revolution” directly, and with a heartfelt disdain and contempt befitting his own incongruity: Webb looked like he was auditioning looking for a Republican debate circa 1974 so that he might run to the left of Reagan.  Secretary Clinton was typically self-conscious in posing her own establishment contrast as a “progressive who likes to get things done.”  She then invoked just a shard of that seemingly necessary and utterly vile American Exceptionalism. 

This not only irks but also means to suggest that she knows what sells and will not sell within short-attention span America.  What will opponents use against Senator Sanders or anyone who questions the innate superiority of American choices? “I love Denmark. We are the United States of America…” blahblahblah.  We have not had an educational or nuanced argument over socialism since the 1930s.  And when has intellectual discourse penetrated the American ethos when instead we can wave a patriot’s flag?

The irony is that America is already in the midst of a revolution. But as Senator Sanders’ Democratic colleagues fail to appreciate, the revolution they should fear is not the one he proposes.  With laser focus on Presidential aspirations the real issues of democracy are being addressed by an army of Republican zealots fully committed to local and State government rule.  The Democratic Party no longer has such organizational religions at their beck and call: the NRA, evangelical Christians, and libertarian corporate wealth now purchasing the memes of their self-interest in the age of Citizens United.  Money is speech, corporations are people.  As legal targets those issues would require a revolution to change: Supreme Court appointments that dramatically shift the majority, a Congress determined to legislate change, and a populace rallied to the causes of progressives supporting a new Congress and Executive.
The problem, as this piece by Elias Isquith makes clear, is that governments engage change only when the roots demand and act.  There isa revolution underway:  Senator Sanders calls for its counterpart, its honest apposition.  But to establishment Democrats Bernie has brought far too much transparency and candor to what a revolution of change would require of us, all of us on both sides of the revolutions.  (  Be sure to follow up with the Vox piece by Matt Yglesias, as well.)
Democrats are currently losing that revolution to the real revolutionaries of the Right on the ground and in the halls of power from small town halls to Congress.  Senator Sanders is determined to proclaim the need for revolution as fervently as the Democratic establishment denies that it already underway and we are losing.   He is appealing to the American people to understand that the revolution is right before their eyes and that they will suffer its consequences by the sheer din of their own complacency.  Is he as frustrated as he is optimistic that Americans will not rise, listen, learn, and act?
Conservative Republicans not only control those basic levels of government at present, their activists have religious determination to see their causes through.  Make no mistake, in America the Right’s causes are motivated not only by their particular religion but by a determination to succeed characteristic of true religious zealotry.  To elevate political goals to the level of intransigent certitude that accepts nihilism over compromise is religious narcissism.   Democrats could use a warm dose of that zealotry while doing their best to remain keenly aware of the unwelcome consequences of both certitude and narcissism.  Under these circumstances we cannot ignore the whole house is on fire and we’re going to have change the terms of engagement.  Just how is that going to be accomplished?
Isquith mentions how Democrats once had organized labor to provide some of that zeal for their cause but also how this has been systematically dissolved, especially since the age of Reagan.  “Unions” is as demonized a term as “liberal” while “conservative” has mainstreamed into acceptable, nay, normative American discourse.  The result should be plain to see: Republicans are not only zealots for their policies, they have been effective evangelicals with messianic claims.  As we follow the efficacies of language we can also turn to the success of dogma: no claim can quite touch America’s religious sensibilities more a than the disdain for taxes.  This topic has effectively been reduced to another dogmatism, reiterated with the catechismic simplicity of Norquistism.  Just say no.
Of course the Republican establishment wants only a revolution it can control, or more like a rebellion that continues to fuel zealotry without undermining the interests of the managing oligarchs and kleptocrats.  This dilemma is it at the heart of their current disarray in choosing a new Speaker: the rebellious are in control and their revolution will carry the day.  Here is where Democrats must pause for at least two reasons.  

First, the religious and social conservative zealots willmake their own strange reconciliation with Wall Street economics and others because they are determined to win the election.  As urgent as their cause may be, they are willing to accept incremental advances without relinquishing their greater objectives.  Second, though we may enjoy their current circular firing squad, our revelry will be short-lived when real politics happens on school and town boards, county legislatures, and State houses that control the discourse. Because of the realities of gerrymandering, a Republican Congress fears the local primary over their Democratic opponents and can deny that the country’s greater good is founded upon compromise.  The Republican Congressional sinecure, like their grifting, is made from religious zeal that blithely welcomes apocalypse, so long as that governmental dysfunction insures their individual success.  Religious zealotry becomes indistinguishable from personal narcissism.
Rather than fear Senator Sanders revolution, Secretary Clinton will require its complement from Democrats if there is even the slightest chance that, as she says, she will be “a progressive who likes to get things done.”  What she fails to appreciate is that there is precious little common ground as far as Republicans are concerned (today, as a matter of course, they are threatening her impeachment before her nomination, much less election).  If she believesher own rhetoric —and don’t we all wonder about that—when she says, “I know how to find common ground…” she vastly underestimates the power of religious zealotry to direct her opponent’s actions.  More early term Obama for 2017?  That she might advance Senator Sanders’ call for revolution is unlikely, no matter what we think of convictions that play into the hands of opponents ideologically.  The issue is practical, just as she claims to understand.  Who believes that? 

Perhaps what she needs instead is a revolution, a Sanders revolution led by Sanders to meet the Republican revolution already underway.  If the republic can withstand the consequences of revolutions, it may yet win the battle over religious zealots who would choose nihilism over compromise.

While establishment Democrats point to future demographics and resort to perceived saleable arguments, Sanders progressives recognize the broader implications of denial and the consequences of political ennui.  We not only feel the Bern, we know the Republican’s zealots will not yield.

1 Comment

  1. Douglas, I appreciate these observations so much, but why so pessimistic?

    There must be another way to see this situation. How about instead, we take Chafee’s example and examine how much the Republican Party has shifted further and further to the right? Frighteningly so, as you point out. I have a feeling that this may not end in their favor. And I think the answer that the Dems will need lies right there. The Republicans will tear themselves apart from the inside. Yes, they will vote with zeal. Yes they will be lead by religious conviction (which is so against the rules..). But they won’t be able to agree on a candidate just as they haven’t been able to agree on a Speaker. At least I pray (Yes, I said that) that this is how things will go. They are not all fanatics. But, yes, they do vote. This may be a narrow angle through which social equalities can be saved… IF we can out vote them.

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