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Why We Lose: Field Notes from Leftist America

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One of the most important questions of our times, as America has been coming under the control of fascist powers arising from the right, concerns why it is that the left side of our polarized society has been so impotent in the face of such dark forces.

To this question, a number of good answers can be given.

It is true, for example, as many on the left complain, that the mainstream media have woefully failed in their job to be a watchdog over power for the American people. The corporate media have indeed been the dog that did not bark, even as -under the present regime lies and propaganda have become the staple of government communications.

And it is true that the Democratic opposition has been mealy-mouthed, timid, and disorganized. The frustration of millions of Americans on the left at the failure of leadership in the presumed opposition party is quite justified.

But there are other factors as well including some that pertain not to the failures of our institutions and our leadership, but to the mind-set with which the left in America is imbued, from the grassroots on up. If we are to turn back the advance of fascism, it is important that we look at these factors as well.

Here are two important problems with the liberal/leftist mindset that I have encountered through recent speaking engagements before such audiences.

All Shades of Gray are Black

At a politically progressive college in the American Northwest, I spoke about the ongoing dismantling of our constitutional system by the Bushite regime. And I praised the American Constitution, saying that it is because of the Constitution that America has been, by the (admittedly dismal) standards of civilized history, a relatively free and decent society.

Soon I came under attack from several people in this left-leaning audience for "romanticizing the American past." My remarks, said they, failed to recognize the many injustices that have marred American history the racial oppression, the exploitation of workers, etc.

In reply, I said, "I don't know where your people came from, but if my grandparents had not come here from the Old World at the beginning of the last century, my parents would have had to survive famines and civil war, purge trials and Gulags, and would quite likely have been machine-gunned to death into that ravine in Babi Yar. Because they were here in America, they were able -despite their growing up in great poverty-- to live free of terror, to get themselves an education through considerable struggle, and to live a life that was, in many ways, of their own choosing."

That did not satisfy my critics. My drawing this contrast between the life my parents would have lived in the Old Country and the one they actually lived here, the accusation was repeated, was merely a romanticization of the American past. They argued that, because there were injustices in the America in which they grew up, it's not legitimate to claim that America was less unjust than some other societies. Because of what has been wrong with America, apparently, it is impossible to praise America for what has been right about it.

I know from my parents' stories that they were themselves the victims of some injustice here in America. But the unwillingness to make a distinction between the injustices from which they suffered, and those of Stalin's Gulags and Hitler's machinery of mass annihilation, seems dangerously perverse.

This particular exchange connects with another recurrent theme in my exchange with political progressives: the idea that what's wrong with the Bushite regime really should be understood not as some departure from the usual American way but as a continuation of long-established defects in the American power system.

According to this argument, for example, the Bushites' imperial thrust into the world is just the latest chapter of the continuous history of American imperialism thie history that travels through the time of manifest destiny, of meddling in Central America, and of cold-war empire-building. Likewise, the Bushite catering to corporate interests and to the rich is just more of the same, merely continuous with all that's unfolded since the Constitutional Convention created a document to protect property and privilege.

There is, of course, truth in this argument: the Bushites did not invent the American imperial impulse, nor is the skewing of public policy to serve the haves at the expense of the have-nots a new form of corruption in the United States. There's always been plenty amiss in the United States.

But to see only the continuity is to miss the truly important story of our moment in American history. Something unprecedentedly dark and dangerous has been happening in America with this Bushite regime.

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Andy Schmookler, an award-winning author, political commentator, radio talk-show host, and teacher, was the Democratic nominee for Congress from Virginia's 6th District. His new book -- written to have an impact on the central political battle of our time -- is (more...)
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