How Demonizing Foes Subverts Progressivism
I have no delusion that words, brilliant or mundane, will overcome the profoundly alienated or cynical, nor those of fixed and polarized mindsets. Yet words are what we have, so I indulge my hopeful fancy: to articulate positions that inform an open mind, even alter a point of view. Online essays wander about, often to strange venues. My BP critiques surfaced on oil and gas industry trade sites. I concede the "middle" is divided, split into 1) the more affluent, socially-tolerant yet distrustful of government (the Christie crowd); 2) working class voters, socially conservative yet economically populist; and 3) the young, uninformed and disengaged.
For the true-believing scribe (my first group), anything goes, from direct attack and harangue, to name-calling, snark, ridicule, even we trust pertinent character indictments. Open to conspiracy and salted with paranoia, the outcomes vary from admonition to ultimatums: "they" (in power) must do something or else we (out of power) will seize the barricades. Par for the course, whether right or left: nearly all foes are thuggish evil-doers whose perverse notions undermine America's greatness, strike down working/middle classes, breed widespread immorality, plus worsen climate change, public education and income inequity.
Thus, we online junkies encounter ceaseless calls to action, though nearly all distill thusly:
- Information-driven journalism that respects legitimate evidence, like "Christie's bio reinforces bullying" or "Obama's drones dwarf Dubya's" or "Commie welfare threatens America's work ethnic" or "Doomed Obamacare will implode." Shock and awe in this mode usually stay sub-textual.
- Rants that inveigh against deranged or malicious foes whose crusades and funding assail the author's values, life conditions, or take on history (cyclical, Biblical, progressive, absurdist or end of times). Buoyed by emotions (passion, anger, disgust, scorn), forcefulness of expression implies that sincerity, even infallibility reigns. Here, neither shock nor awe hide under bushels.
- Satire, humor, and/or musings that employ irony, stories or metaphor to highlight what must be taken seriously -- disregarded no doubt by lesser, well, less amusing lights. Tone varies, though usually more nuanced and bemused than roughshod, impassioned rants.
That Other Audience Matters
Yet I return to the bottom-line: why do we write? To sound off, show our cleverness, or work to change the outside world, even -- miracle to behold -- modify an inside somewhere? Instead of adoration I'll take this: "thanks for widening what I now realize were narrow perspectives." Few here write for money or fame, but all work hard because we are convinced words matter. Our words, alongside legends. Can good writers not sustain principles without inciting howls from skeptical moderates? For me, overwrought intonation drives away the most valued, though rare audience: ordinary, non-ideologues who vote. Stridency in fact reinforces their latent prejudices, vulnerable to dismissal as "one of them," whether deranged liberal, rightwinger, fundamentalist or anarchist.
Thus, dishing out sweeping, misleading generalizations -- that the end is near, all rich capitalists are vile exploiters, the monolithic corporate reign is viciously fascist, or all rightwingers are dumb suckers, where do you go from there? If all in any one group are guilty, then none may be isolated or indicted. How many neighbors think being rich is a mortal sin or crime against humanity? If every politician gets button-holed as self-absorbed psychopath (with winning the confirmation), or serve as dumb puppets of a covert, nefarious elite, forget any positive impact on your next Congressional battleground.
Stereotypes, Tho Comforting, Distort
Thus, fiery name-calling, speculations on mental stability and shadowy intentions, drive "outsiders" away in droves. Without focusing on some common ground, we will not persuade the greater number we stand for their greater good. That's why I don't depict the most craven politicians as evil-doing, scum-sucking demons, especially since their careers are manifestly predictable, their ambitions routine. Why impugn a shark for being a predator, even if today's gang are especially low-class sharks?
Thus I rely (doggedly for some) on logic and evidence not because I think them magical, mind-changing levers (and research testifies how well we shield biases), but because they assert civilized values and common ground. Instead of skewering phantoms (inner motivation, neuroses, private allegiances), I propose we focus on what we can talk about: gross incompetence, stupidity, failure, contradiction, and moral corruptions between campaign pledges and gaps in delivery. Decisions and behavior are fair game; deep psychology must pass through a glass darkly.
No key American constituency will indict, let alone punish rich people for being rich, readily criminalize "private enterprise" that employs them, or reject our of hand favored belief systems (economic, democratic or religious) are beyond repair. If the cocky Kochs menace the world, what will best immunize us: overwrought hyperbole or the drumbeat that proves bad big businesses are bad for the majority? High time, for the painful generational shortfall is the failure of progressive politics to greatly impact the national debate, let along wretched legislation.
Want Change? Engage To Change Minds
Instead, should we not at times talk to those not in our camp, not already nodding, with relentless demonstrations that the great masses are abused, then penalized by a widely broken system? Let us consider focus on doable actions, like reinstating an estate tax potent enough to impede dynastic fixation by the richest. Let us ardently defend when government works, not cynically write it all off, especially alongside independent, progressive NGO's. The pragmatic among us even support progressive Democrats, not because we love the party, but there's no other national path to a critical, leftwing mass.
My decade of blogging has not dispelled a conviction in unity there is strength. The left is too much a tower of babble. Let us recall not just Ben Franklin's "We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately" but "our cause is the cause of all mankind, and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own." To win our liberty, we must widen the scope of our audience, work to show the non-committed how we all can and must pull together to keep this errant experiment from going off the tracks. It ain't over 'til it's over. Talking only to ourselves is another kind of bubble unless we assume the world outside us must factor in meaningful reforms and collective liberation.