I would like to pass along a few words of encouragement to my liberal friends and cohorts, to the extent any are willing and able to receive them.
Change IS coming. I know it doesn’t ‘feel’ like it now, but something seismic is occurring within the Republican Party. Some very smart people are writing that the president is swallowing the Party whole. He might be, he might even succeed in the near term, but it doesn’t change the fact that a hope-worthy schism is occurring and potentially heroic figures are beginning to distinguish themselves. What we have been seeing the last few weeks is how revolutions start. To the extent you can help it, I would advise us all not to look a gift revolution or revolutionaries in the mouth.
Among Winston Churchill’s famous sayings is the oft-repeated quote “You can always count on Americans to do the right thing — after they’ve tried everything else.” I am not sure I have heard a more accurate description of who we truly are as a people and how we truly function.
The Boston Massacre took place over six years before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The battles of Lexington and Concord and the “shot heard round the world” occurred over a year before the Declaration of Independence. The British were actively shooting colonists and dehumanizing them with intolerable policies, economic oppressions and farcical miscarriages of justice. It still took a long time to declare independence. The colonists didn’t even declare war. They just declared independence, with the understanding that declaring independence likely meant war. Revolution is a stew that takes a long time to simmer and is generally stirred carefully and more tentatively than any of us who see moral imperative would like.
At issue is the fact that revolution, REAL revolution comes at a very real price: pain and death. Sometimes, it is an economic pain and death, as in the Montgomery Bus Boycotts and the NFL blackballing of Colin Kaepernick. Sometimes, it is physical pain and death as in the American Revolution, the Civil Rights movement, the LGBTQ rights movement, and the fight for women’s suffrage, particularly in Britain. Often, the cost of revolution is a political pain and death, as in the congressional bloodbath sustained by the Democratic Party to pass “Obamacare” and right the U.S. economy.
I suspect we may now be seeing the first down payments on the next potential revolution in the early retirements of Republican Senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Jeff Flake of Arizona. Freedom is not free. Change comes at a cost. Patrick Henry’s quote “Give me liberty or give me death!” is rightly famous in American lore because it highlights both the cost of seeking liberty and the knowing willingness to pay the price for the opportunity to pursue it. Death and willingness to die do not even necessarily pay the cost to have Liberty. Death and willingness to die pay only for the chance to chase it. The price for revolution is and always will be some form of bloodshed. Revolution comes when people find their conditions so intolerable that they no longer care about the pain and the bloodshed. A life lived in an intolerable state of indignity is easier to part with than our natural human hope for better things and better, more worthy ideals, ideals bigger than ourselves, ideals that give our labors and sacrifices meaning.
U.S. Senator Bob Corker in Franklin, Tennessee - Feb 2009. (U.S. Senate)
I have often written about police brutality, and the great danger it poses regarding civil unrest. The issue of police brutality is a useful analogue for understanding revolution because American history shows unchecked police brutality eventually leads to civil unrest and destructive riots. If a community perceives they have no real path to justice and fair recourse, if they sense that continuous unrelieved oppression is to be their lot in life, it can only be a matter of time before the more desperate or more enraged within the community begin to act out on their righteous frustrations. It is only a matter of time before people decide making a point is more important than living another day under oppression. These days, I often sense that the racist popular news narrative has kept a great deal of black America from lashing out as other oppressed peoples have in the past and do in other parts of the world. The smart among us know that this country is so innately racist it would reflexively interpret any lashing out by one or a few of us as an indicator of a threat posed by all of us. Acting out on our frustrations unilaterally could seal the fate of our entire community nationwide, leading to more sweeping oppression or even waves of genocidal behavior, depending on how panicked the general population found itself.
But even the knowledge of sweeping and overwhelming consequences can only buy an unjust society a little extra time. As “Birth of a Nation” illustrated in the story of Nat Turner’s revolt, not even the spectre of hopelessly overpowering force can completely restrain a heart that yearns to breathe free, a heart that would rather stop beating than stop yearning. Just as the Declaration of Independence eventually became a unanimous matter, continued oppression at the hands of our criminal justice system will eventually force the oppressed to value the opportunity to take justice into their hands more than their own intolerable lives.
Going back to the birth of our ‘united’ nation, the Declaration of Independence was extremely difficult to make unanimous because a number of colonies, particularly the wealthier ones like South Carolina and New York, and the more peaceful ones like Pennsylvania did not really want any trouble with England. From where they sat, they had much more to lose economically, politically, militarily and existentially by angering the King and setting out on some risky venture of cobbled together independence, a venture to be tenuously shared between colonies with whom they had substantial, arguably irreconcilable differences. The differences didn’t magically go away just because the colonies joined to declare independence. The King just created an imperative for unity, through his continued abuses, abuses that called into question the very existence of their own human dignity as grounded by a shared understanding of inalienable rights. The differences between the colonies and factions within the colonies did not magically go away when the colonies won independence and joined together as a confederation of states, especially regarding the universality of inalienable rights. The differences did not magically go away when the states sat together and elected to form for themselves a new constitution, a constitution that did not presume to solve their differences but instead offered them a means to functionally work through their differences for the good of the nation as a whole.
The general agreement is not and has never really been a prerequisite for unity in the United States of America. In fact, the United States has codified into law both the right to disagree and the ability to leverage disagreements politically so that neither the majority nor the minority are completely at the mercy of each other. The only point of agreement required for meaningful unity in this country is specific agreements, usually in response to specific threats. If we want a revolution to blossom today, I would encourage all who are inclined to take heart knowing that, with the exception of our great National Calamity, disagreement is not and has not been sufficient cause for despair or disunion. Even when the disagreements are fundamental and profound. Even when the disagreements are moral in nature.
There is a credible danger to unifying in compliance behind bad and unjust ideas, but lately, it seems we think it is dangerous to unify during times of discord at all. It is frustrating to reflect on this pragmatic reality, but if the Americans’ past had let their level of agreement define their level of unity, none of us would have an America today. We would never have declared independence. If we had, we never would have held together long enough to actually win independence. And even if we had somehow managed to win as a fractured collective and gone our separate ways, we would still be in weakened and hopelessly divided state of continuous oscillating conflict, little different from the tribal animosities and atrocities that define the Middle East. We would be protected by none of the unified power we wield today, which would leave us just as vulnerable to foreign exploitation and manipulation as too many African and other Third World nations.
On Tuesday, Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee started his morning by returning fire to the White House and giving the president a taste of his own medicine, a full barrage of insults and truth-barbed criticisms that somehow seemed all the more cutting for their measured and sober delivery. Later that afternoon, Senator Jeff Flake followed suit by announcing his early retirement and signaling his intent to revolt by using his entire speech to highlight the ways the president’s conduct and rhetoric are infecting our nation and his party. To my ears, the words of Corker and Flake sound like the start of something, Republicans beginning to break ranks and turn against their standard bearer. But among many voices on the liberal end of the political commentariat and among my own esteemed friend circle, there has been a marked and often superseding degree of frustration that Corker and Flake ‘ever’ supported their standard bearer or any of the ideas represented by their party. To that sentiment, I must respectfully protest.
U.S. Senators Jeff Flake and John McCain in Phoenix, Arizona - 21 Oct 2016. (Flickr / Gage Skidmore)
To the extent we can help it, I would encourage all who seek revolution and a fulsome restoration of proper American values, norms and standards of decency to try and exercise caution in begrudging our neighbors across the aisle with intractable harshness and retroactive scorn. The reasons making a case for restraint, even in the face of righteous and wholly justified frustration, are several folds:
First, from a pragmatic political perspective, we who deride the defectors risk disincentivizing the very kind of rebellion from the very kind of people and political allies we need to save both our nation and many of our very lives as we know them. Republicans currently hold all the keys to power, at almost every level of government. If we are determined to wait for Democrats-only and liberals-only to help “save the day,” we may find ourselves waiting and stewing in harm’s way for a much longer time than was necessary. How many of us will be hurt and/or killed in that time who did not need to be? How many more of the norms and institutions of our nation will be undermined while we hold ours for an ideological aligning of the planets? If and when we finally wrest the nation back from the grip of the tyrannical, will it still be a nation worth having?
Second, from a psychological perspective, we may be casting acrimony on people for something they may genuinely not yet be able to help. Consider the matter of race and racism, a subject on which I have personally expended a good deal of time and energy exploring and debating. Empirical studies have determined and confirmed several times over that racial animus was the primary and most reliable animator of the vote for the president. The vote was about race. Many of us have been saying it over and over again for the better part of a year. But if we truly understand that we are dealing with people with racial issues and blind spots, then we must also know that we are dealing with people who are not necessarily in a position to respond meaningfully to conventional argument or any invocation of fact and logic. I have been trying all year, to little-to-no effect. People are, or appear to be, in an irrational state right now, much of it over race. We can tell because people voted for a candidate who promised to shore up their imbalanced racial position and restore it to be more similar to the 1950s, a time of even greater imbalance. They voted for a said candidate even though his economic and policy positions were repeatedly revealed to be fraudulent and likely to have extremely damaging consequences for the future of our nation. People voted against their interests over race. They voted against their interests even though they were told their vote was going to hurt their interests. People are in an irrational state, acting on emotional reflexes and impulses that defy all known rules of logic or any conventional morality. When dealing with someone in an irrational state, someone who may, in fact, be out of their mind or otherwise impaired, It is counterproductive and borderline abusive to keep trying to make them behave rationally or perform in a way that they clearly cannot. Without abandoning the urgent and constant need for rehabilitation, a degree of patience may not be out-of-line, especially considering the pragmatic stakes at hand.
Third, even if we are one hundred percent correct about the moral failures currently defining our nation, tomorrow is another day. Tomorrow is another chance for improvement, for all us, including our oppressors and those whose views we find reprehensible. I can say that with some authority because I have personally needed every single day, every single friend, and every single opponent to find myself with the views and values I feel relatively grateful to hold now. I was not always endeavoring to be so diplomatic or open-minded towards different types of people. I have lived as an evangelical. I have been a bigot. I have been a misogynist. I have been a homophobe. I have been a transphobe. I have been an Islamophobe. I have been generally cruel. I have been shortsighted. I thought I knew what I was talking about when I didn’t. For every diminished shortcoming that I have the luxury of looking back on now with mortified shame, shortcomings that we rightly criticize in our brothers and sisters across the aisle today, I am humbled to realize it was always human contact and debate with others that encouraged me to grow beyond my own ignorance. Our friends, our neighbors and those who challenge us update our mental operating systems, and keep us from becoming obsolete social relics. I have posed the question before, what if my friends and acquaintances decided 20 years ago that I was a monster and left me at the social wayside? The wayside is probably where I would still be. Sometimes, I think about who I was 20 years ago, and I want to crawl under a rock and die. I think about who I was two years ago and feel depressed and out of my depth. We are all evolving, and we are all helping each other evolve, whether we intend to or not. To castigate and alienate those we find lacking in enlightenment, or moral fitness only ensures that they will remain lost in darkness for more nights than are necessary. If beacons consistently become a source of blinding pain rather than inviting light, a traveler may learn to embrace the darkness, for at least the darkness carries no threat of pain. We who believe we have found a better way need to shine as brightly as we can, as welcomingly as we can and as enduringly as we can, so that those in the darkness may see us and be drawn near. The thought of welcoming those who hate and more specifically hate ‘us’ seems counterintuitive, but I know it works. It has worked for me; for the better part of two decades. And counting.
Finally, the notion that Republicans or any committed partisans are going to abandon their ideological positions before they are ready, that people are going to become progressive simply because of a threat, a national emergency or because a bad actor is their standard bearer is among other things ahistorical. How long have we as a nation been having these discussions about race and myriad types of injustice? How long have we been fighting about race and fighting for justice for various types of people? How much progress has been made? And how much more progress is still waiting in the wings? How long have we waged similar battles over limited government as an agent of freedom versus robust government as an agent of social good and justice? How long have we waged similar battles over fiscal conservatism as a guardian of our children’s futures versus social welfare and economic stimulus as a means of priming the pumping and protecting our children’s present? Our battles over race, sexism, identity, equality and general governance did not start with this last election. Our battles will still be with us waiting to be fought long after this presidency has ended. We damn ourselves to a state of tyranny-enabling inaction and political limbo if we wait for people to completely stop harboring discriminatory tendencies or making ideological choices that displease and disappoint us. Not only will we find ourselves unable to take on the threat posed by the president, but we will be too paralyzed and divided a people to meaningfully unify for all but the most extreme and dire threats. Is that really how we want to exist? Is that the nation we want to pass on to the next generation? Is that the nation we inherited?
I like what I have been seeing recently from the Republican establishment. I appreciate the writers of the National Review, who have been regularly speaking out about the toxic double standards infecting their party. I appreciate John McCain’s voice, even though I disagree with him on almost every issue under the sun. I appreciate George W. Bush’s voice, even though I think most of his choices as President were wrong in a way that has significantly defined the 21st century. I appreciate Bob Corker’s voice, even though he once strongly supported the president and seemed oddly naive voting for one of the most bigoted and divisive candidates in history only to be surprised and disappointed when that candidate turns out to be one of the most bigoted and divisive presidents in history. And I appreciate Jeff Flake’s voice, even though he is a Republican politician with a 96 percent conservative voting record. You know who I ‘haven’t’ been appreciating lately? Ohio Governor John Kasich, who goes on “Meet the Press” nearly every other week to oppose the president’s agenda but refuses to forcefully denounce the president or his conduct. I am a fan of Kasich, but he is looking cowardly to my eyes. Late-night comedians have been pummeling Corker and Flake for only having the nerve to take on the president after making themselves lame-ducks, but Kasich proves why they had to step down. Kasich still wants to run for President. Kasich cannot politically afford to provoke a tweet-storm from the current president. Kasich is what happens when you have another election on your radar. Corker and Flake are what happens when you value your values more than your career. Ideological differences aside, I appreciate that. I hope more of us arrive at a place where we can appreciate just how significant the current wave of defections really is. It is too early to say yet whether the enemies of our big enemy will become our friends. But it is too early to say they won’t either.
One could make a case that all political eyes should be on tax reform right now. Tax reform is the Congressional Republicans’ last stand. If they pass something, the president may buy himself some time at least until the Mueller investigation presents its findings. But if they fail, there will be a good number of House and Senate members who suddenly have little-to-nothing to lose. Faced with an obnoxious corrupt president who can no longer help them or hurt them, they may finally find the nerve to follow the course charted for them by John McCain, Bob Corker and Jeff Flake. Faced with an executive whose conduct represents an existential threat to our nation and her citizens, nothing-to-lose Republicans may finally find the nerve to do what so many of us have asked of them all along: revolt.
I want as many able bodies as I can get for the fight ahead. I think we will need them, and all of their liberated lame-duck votes. We have three votes already in play that weren’t in play on Inauguration Day. Three votes that may come in handy should impeachment become a factor. Don’t we want those votes? Don’t we want more? A revolution is underway. Let’s stock up on allies and get to fighting.🔷