Around the time of the Democratic Socialists of America convention (early August), I planned on writing something about how liberty was under threat from a socialist movement on the left. Being a liberal myself, or probably more accurately a “neoliberal,” I felt that a movement literally based around socialism was a threat to democracy, especially with the types of threats to democracy from socialist governments like Venezuela and throughout history. Then Charlottesville happened and my whole worldview got flipped upside-down. It was those same people, the DSA, who were out in full force resisting the Nazi march (one of whom, Heather Heyer, gave her life in this fight). You can see the entry I actually ended up writing here.
Well I should say, my worldview got flipped upside-down twice in the last year. Last November, I was convinced Hillary Clinton would win, like most of America I’m sure. I knew Trump had courted an enthusiastic base, and I knew his chances were better than most media outlets were giving him, but in my world there was no way enough of the “political middle” would come over to his side to actually win enough states.
Well, I was wrong. Turns out, I was wrong about a lot – more than just who would win the 2016 election. I was wrong about our liberal institutions working for the majority of Americans. In my world before that, I knew poverty existed. I knew people died due to lack of healthcare, went malnourished or in poor health due to lack of resources like clean water, nutritious food, and decent housing. I knew a large portion of our society was saddled with more debt they could afford. But I also believed in the slow march of progress, that if we trusted the democratic process, our voices would be heard and, little by little, these problems would be eased.
Well now our country is being led by white supremacist forces and reactionaries who unironically subscribe to 19th-century ideas of eugenics, ethnostates, and other long-debunked bullshit. The current government is pushing, with all of the king’s horses and all of the king’s men, for policies which a vast majority of the country rejects. So much for the slow march of progress. We’ve only circled back on ourselves as a society, and those issues of human suffering in our country I just described are only getting worse with direct threats to our well-being getting tossed around by the day in D.C.
I had underestimated just how badly liberal institutions had failed Americans. I had underestimated just how much Americans had lost faith in our institutions – in the government, the media, capitalist markets, the corporate structure – all of it. The preservation of those institutions means nothing to your average person if their basic needs aren’t being met, if they are constantly struggling just to survive, to get by to next week.
Americans’ willingness to turn to xenophobia in desperation, to try anything different, is not new. This has existed in human society forever. When things get bad for the average citizen, the first thing they want to do is exclude. “Why should we be letting new people into the country when there are people already living here who can’t get by?” Sound familiar? It’s instinctive. In a world of finite resources, where even your basic needs and having a reasonable standard of living are increasingly scarce, the last thing you want is more mouths to feed.
However, resources are not scarce. America is the richest country the world has ever known – by far. We have the means to ensure every resident has a decent standard of living, not one human being excluded, and it is piss-poor leadership to court this instinctive but monstrous sentiment for political points. The $80 billion military spending increase that was near-unanimously passed recently by congress would pay for tuition-free public college with room to spare. And yet we are told that ideas like this are too expensive. Not only that, but we are told can’t fund Medicare and Medicaid, that we can’t afford Social Security, that we can’t afford to expand healthcare and must make drastic cuts that hurt our most vulnerable neighbors. It’s nonsense.
I had been actively against changes in society that would be too disruptive – up until Charlottesville. I had been against them because they would be too disruptive. I had believed that the current system was doing a good enough job and it just needed small tweaks, but clearly I had been wrong. What is more disruptive – expanding the federal budget and reorganizing industries that aren’t working for enough people? Or a white supremacist government that courts literal Nazis for political gain, that is always trying to let more of our citizens die than already do, led by an actual buffoon, that is always two steps away from total collapse?
As I’ve said before, there is a battle of ideas in America right now. One side is going to win. Either we will build more walls and shoot more people, devaluing the human lives of those left behind by the failures of our institutions. Or we say no to all that and ensure that each human being has power over their own life – not one excluded. Either way, the “political middle” doesn’t exist any more. Not when the “political middle” voted for Trump in 2016. One side will win. If Democrats are not listening to and courting the left, then inevitably, the other side will win elections. And we can’t afford to let that go any further than it already has.