Democrats and The Crisis of Revolt

Richard the Third descanted his own deformity, determined to play the villain if he could not prove a lover.  Or at least, so goes the opening act of Shakespeare’s play which details the very end of the War of the Roses where Lannisters and Starks — or was it Lancasters and Yorkists? — decided to determine the destiny of perfidious Albion.

Of course, Albion isn’t doing too well these days.  Newly minted Prime Minister Boris Johnson is being panned as the “British Trump” for all the good it will do them, and though I doubt that few if any American presidents can rattle off Homer’s Iliad in the original Greek, there is something of a spectacle that has emerged in our politics as of late.

When did it start and with whom?  Who knows.  Who cares?

For starters, this capacity for showmanship certainly did not start with Delegate Ibraheem Samirah, whose tirade in front of President Trump as Virginia commemorated the 400th anniversary of the General Assembly.  Brian Schoeneman in these pages has already outlined much of the argument as to why such behavior is deplorable, and insofar as we can all lament the loss of decorum in the public square one can agree.

Not that Samirah minds the attention one iota.  In fact, he seems to be reveling in it, precisely as he intended the act would do.  Which of course separates Samirah’s five minutes of fame from that of Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives during the 2009 State of the Union Address.

Set aside for the moment that in parliamentary models, such outbursts are rather routine.  Set aside again that Wilson never intended his moment to be used as social media capital to take a no-name backbencher and turn them into a junior varsity member of The Squad.  There is a distinction here that is important to make, one that folks need to pick apart if we are to peel away from the current nonsense that seems to have captured American politics over the last decade.

To wit, my friend makes an excellent point vis a vis resistance to tyrannies perceived and otherwise:

Does anybody remember when Martin Luther King heckled President Eisenhower during a speech as part of his efforts on behalf of civil rights?  Neither do I.

Anybody remember when Ghandi started punching British occupiers in the face as he lead India’s freedom movement?  Neither do I.

Does anyone remember when we fought a bloody and costly Civil War to liberate 3 million souls from slavery?  I do.

Does anyone remember when 56 guys in Philadelphia signed a document pledging their lives, fortunes and sacred honor in a War of Independence against a British tyrant?  I do.

Fact of the matter is that violence works as a weapon for change.  Notice that the word is weapon, not tool — and it is one of the great worries that we are witnessing the collapse of an old two-party order in favor of something more domineering, totalitarian, and high stakes.

In short?  It’s not that we aren’t talking to one another anymore.  It’s that we don’t care. 

Albert Camus gave a short speech in 1946 entitled “The Human Crisis” the last time that one totalitarian vision chose to weaponize change against two alternative visions: one that championed democratic forms in the Atlantic West, the other a totalitarian vision of its own in the Soviet East.

In short, Camus diagnosed four problems:

  1. The rise of terrorism where human dignity is stripped bare in favor of outcomes; ends justifying the means.
  2. The impossibility of persuasion.
  3. The growth of a bureaucracy that dehumanized where human warmth disappeared.
  4. The replacement of “real men” with political men; passion for abstractions.

Camus put the point more directly:

“It no longer matters that we respect or prevent a mother’s suffering.  What counts is ensuring the triumph of a doctrine.”

Watching Samirah pull off his publicity stunt, does anyone really think that Samirah actually cares about whatever cause he was attempting to champion?  Of course not.  The objective was fame.  The goal was the triumph of a doctrine.

Not a single child will breathe easier because of Samirah’s actions; no one’s awareness was heightened.  The fact that the Trump administration is implementing Obama-era regulations in the deportation and detention of undocumented immigrants blithely whistles past the minds of committed leftists for this reason alone: they don’t care about the suffering, merely the triumph of an idea.

Camus identifies this as a world where one is either the victim or the executioner.  Most politicos will recognize the oft-quoted maxim in Washington circles: “Do unto others before they do unto you.”  Is it any small wonder why we cheer our current crop of politicians while lamenting the lack of statesmen in the public square?  What statesman would ever want to enter it?  We get political hucksters who push abstractions like “hope and change” or “build a wall” whose only sole commitment is to the will to power, to a campaign of fear by degrees, to an enduring fatalism without a future.

Communication and mutual recognition are the only true antidotes to such a condition.  Yet look around and ask whether our media — social, digital, print and television — are actually speaking to the Latin root of the term as a way or path?  More often than not, our media is merely propaganda trying to excite emotions that otherwise would not be there, teaching us to hate, objectify, or treat our neighbors as less than honorable souls.

One doesn’t seem to think that the problem is simply condensed to the Golden Rule.  We are past that now.

Neither Democrats nor Republicans really seem to want or expect measured conversation from folks in the arena anymore.  In fact, our media and entertainment industry (and dare I say, our education) simply do not teach us to reward such things.  We require action, scandal, drama and explosions.  What does our news consist of today?  Action… scandal… drama… and explosions.  After all, what’s a short and glorious war among friends nowadays?

Of course, regardless as to whether or not one believes that the problem is entirely Trump and the Republicans, entirely Pelosi and the Democrats, or as a question of politics writ large, one has to ask the question as to whether the politics of violence is the proper and only framework for resistance?

It doesn’t have to be.

Part of the problem today is that our disagreements aren’t even honest anymore.  Destroying a 17-year old’s reputation for “smirking” as a paid agitator was beating a drum within inches of his face?  Kavanaugh being hung in the public square without an iota of evidence?  Baltimore infested with rats?  The very fact that “America: Love It Or Leave It” is now the moral equivalent of putting a swastika on the back of one’s truck?

Come on, guys.  Really?

This is part of the Trump mystique.  The left has long played on conservative willingness to treat them as honest actors.  Trump tore that curtain right in half and exposed the kabuki theater for what it is.  Not only this, Trump fights them on their own terms — something that horrifies conservatives such as George Will, but is openly cheered by those who have felt left on the fringes by the Obama-era “coalition of the ascendant” and the like (most legitimate, some not so much).

What is at core is a growing concern among many on the right that the political left in this country really does hate us.

Hyperbole, one might say?  Not so fast.

A decade ago, “drag queen story hour” would have landed someone in prison.  Today?  You’re a hater and bigot if you oppose this.  Question the entire regimentation of “gender ideology” being imposed on our children and grandchildren and one is a hater and a bigot.  Ask questions from a place of honesty about whether one can ontologically remove your gender from anything other than what you actually are?  Gender is a social construct, bigot.  Then comes the Twitter mob… and employers know precisely what to do next.

It’s not that we aren’t talking to one another anymore.  It’s that we don’t care. 

One feels almost obligated to join in the celebration of Pride (TM) — or else.  The last time I saw this much care and concern might have been with yellow ribbons during the Persian Gulf War, or American flags in the aftermath of 9/11.  Yet even the refusal to at least doff one’s cap towards the new toleration makes one an immediate bigot to be drummed out of the public square.

It’s not that we aren’t talking to one another anymore.  It’s that we don’t care. 

Antifa is a noble enterprise, and all those who oppose them are fascists and fascist-enablers.  In fact, speech is violence.  Words can indeed impact, and if the pen is mightier than the sword and speech violence?  Then the difference between argumentation and the guillotine isn’t terribly far off for those branded as pathogens to the new social ordering.

It’s not that we aren’t talking to one another anymore.  It’s that we don’t care. 

Our Second Amendment rights are jeopardized at every turn, not because the left actually gives a damn for victims in places such as Baltimore or Chicago, but because they are more concerned a “triumph of a doctrine” that Camus warned against.

It’s not that we aren’t talking to one another anymore.  It’s that we don’t care. 

Thus Delegate Samirah can wave a plackard and be ushered out of a 400 year commemoration of representative government on the North American continent to “own the Rethugs” just as surely as Trump loves to “own the libz” — and not a single child will be reunited with their mother in a detention facility as a result.  Nor will Trump cease his efforts to build a wall were after three years not a single inch has been raised.

Nor will social conditions improve in our inner cities.  Nor will the bureaucracy treat people as anything better than a number.  Public education will continue to be the worst in the industrialized world.  Crumbling infrastructure projects remain languished.  Our national debt continues to skyrocket.  Entitlements are still slated to go underfunded by 2036.  College students are racking up debt for degrees no one wants.  Real wages have stagnated.  The American economy continues to shrink, missing the 3.4% GDP growth rate required to compensate for population growth plus inflation.

We aren’t talking about any of these things anymore.  We simply don’t care.

What is worse?  The “honorable middle” that doesn’t want to take a side in such questions is being forced to by two opposing camps, both of whom have embraced the ethics of the totalitarian spirit in the pursuit of abstract principles.  Sure they seem real, real enough to impose on one’s neighbors… but is it worth what we lose in the exchange?

* * *

Camus’ solution to the question of resistance wasn’t to simply lay down and watch the world self immolate.  After all, Camus was a member of the French Resistance during the Second World War.  Rather, Camus knew that resistance required more than just disruption.  Rather, his definition of revolt required the act of dissent against the totalitarian impulses of his day — both left and right.  In short, it was a revolt of conscience — not arms.

Resistance worthy of the name required a rejection of fatalism and terror.  Politics and history were to be made subordinate to moral action.  Positive solutions to negative actions remained the committed for everyone of goodwill.  More than this, Camus required certain universalism that recognized good faith and prized it in the public square.  In short, it was the freedom not to lie.

That’s the problem with politics today, is it not?  We are lying to ourselves and rewarding those who do so.  We don’t care about ending suffering anymore, only in the sense that the suffering of others helps us advance a political principle — a mere abstraction at best.

What Delegate Samirah did?  Was self-serving and not heroic.  But we keep falling for it… and until we stop falling for it.  Critics might say that they really do give a damn, but that’s all emotive.  If they truly gave a damn?  They’d find the good in their opposition, get a cup of coffee and talk to one another, and recognize that both camps have legitimate — even honorable — concerns that come from a place of good faith.

Is it that hard?  Yes it is…

…and what I worry about intensely is that our sharpening opinions will only make what happened in Charlottesville in 2017 a harbinger of what is to come, as violence drives people to extremes and politics becomes a byword for temporary advantage.

Or we can choose to care.  That is going to be hard work, but it means that we all get to surrender our shibboleths and hear out the other uncritically.  Given that the political left in this country holds most of the cards, the real question is whether they want to do so… because at the moment, they certainly don’t have to do so.

If we are past talking, then we are on the short path for something quite dangerous.  Given that Delegate Samirah is now reveling in his act of protest, one has to wonder aloud whether we are approaching a point of no return in our political ordering by surrendering to the sham that has become our postmodern political web, where the stakes are ridiculous and nothing gets done.

Is that who we are?  Is this what we have become?  Let’s hope not… because it only gets worse.