No, we cannot all just get along: The dangerous delusions of the status quo

Even to the extent they agree with Bernie Sanders’ policies, many Democratic Party politicians agree that he can’t win a general election.[1] I agree with that assessment as well.[2]

The trouble is that at least some Democrats draw from this that they should support Hillary Clinton, whose candidacy is now so pathetic I refuse to take it seriously. (At least some conservatives think Joe Biden, despite his expressed misgivings, will step in,[3] and I think there may well be some significant pressure on him to do so.) But that’s the wrong lesson and not just because I think that any Republican, no matter how far off the rails—and the crop this year is indeed awful—can beat her.[4]

There is a need to look beyond the 2016 election, to look at what actually happens even if—and to me, this looks increasingly unlikely—a Democrat gets elected. I comment on this in my forthcoming dissertation, but the polarization between the far right and the less far right in this country is not only about Barack Obama’s race. Looking back at the Whitewater fishing expedition that produced nothing but Bill Clinton’s failed impeachment trial and a giant sucking noise where a lot of money used to be,[5] we in fact see some of the same rhetoric. That polarization does not disappear even if Democrats regain control of the presidency and Congress (and virtually no one thinks they’ll regain the House of Representatives) and what the election really amounts to is a bitter contest over who will gain an ability to impose their will on their opponents. This polarization is nothing new. Bruce Fleming claims that the contest between government authority and individual freedom dates to the Norman Conquest.[6] It also underlies capitalism.[7]

It’s simply idiotic to imagine that an election can settle a millennium-old polarization. But there’s a madness and a grasping for power that led Abraham Lincoln not to let the Confederacy go, not to have the United States divide into four separate countries,[8] but instead to insist that power should be consolidated, even as the U.S. fields military forces in the vast majority of nominally-independent countries on the planet.[9] And accordingly, I have repeatedly argued for a national divorce.[10] Because the arrangements in the status quo are nothing less than dangerously delusional—as the 9/11 attacks and the mess that Israel makes of U.S. policy toward the Middle East and North Africa should have shown us.

There are, broadly speaking, several views on the kind of authority that should prevail. Functionalist conservatives and neoconservatives would preserve both strong political and economic centralized authority. Social conservatives would impose theocracy and probably allow only for, at most, a limited range of dissent: evangelical Protestants might well refuse to tolerate Muslims, for example. Traditionalist conservatives agree that government exists to impose their (monotheistic) deity’s will, but argue for strong political authority at the local level. Capitalist libertarians and anarcho-capitalists would diminish or abolish political authority but leave economic power untouched. In theory, there might be some who favor political authority but would severely constrain or abolish economic authority; in practice, I see few like this—more often, I see political power viewed as necessary to balance economic authority. True anarchists, meanwhile, resist any coercive authority (“power over” relationships). These are fundamental, even foundational, differences that cannot be reconciled with each other. Ultimately, this may be one factor underlying the ongoing tension between the various tendencies of conservatism.

Ideally, we would make space on the planet for people to govern themselves separately under the types of authoritarian (or anti-authoritarian) relationships they prefer. In practice, this is extremely unlikely to happen. We see, for example, what happened to indigenous peoples,[11] which is to simply to acknowledge that authoritarians not only cannot conceive of relinquishing power over others but insist on bringing more people under their control. And the planet can no longer afford authoritarianism.[12]

But forgetting that we’re all going to die and that until we do, we’re going to be at each others’ throats, the mainstream Democratic Party reaction to Bernie Sanders also raises questions about whether the Democratic Party can be a vehicle for change. This is a party, after all, that attracts support from the left largely for a brief moment in time in the 1960s and early 1970s when it veered toward the left, nominating George McGovern for president, for example, and for its ability since to claim that Republicans are even worse. That isn’t sane either, as the Obama administration’s relish in hippie-punching should show us.[13] The mainstream’s false dichotomy between ‘feeling sanctimonious’ and ‘get[ting] things done’[14] only illustrates the larger problem that we can’t have a world or even a United States under a single authority in which we can, as Rodney King memorably pleaded, “all get along.”[15]

  1. [1]Mike Lillis, “Democrats: Sanders unelectable,” Hill, September 19, 2015, http://thehill.com/homenews/campaign/254280-democrats-sanders-is-unelectable
  2. [2]David Benfell, “Bernie Sanders is doomed,” Not Housebroken, September 15, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8108
  3. [3]See, for example, Ramesh Ponnuru, “Draft Biden Official: ‘I Am 100 Percent That Joe Is In’,” National Review, September 17, 2015, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/424209/joe-biden-josh-alcorn
  4. [4]David Benfell, “Dear Hillary: What your husband can’t tell you,” Not Housebroken, July 27, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=7900
  5. [5]CBS News, “Whitewater: Case Closed,” September 20, 2000, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/whitewater-case-closed/
  6. [6]Bruce Fleming, “Why I Love Conservatives,” Antioch Review 62, no. 2 (2004): 210-244.
  7. [7]Mark Blyth, Austerity: The History of a Dangerous Idea (Oxford, UK: Oxford University, 2013).
  8. [8]Colin Woodard, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America (New York: Penguin, 2011).
  9. [9]Nick Turse, “The Golden Age of Black Ops: Special Ops Missions Already in 105 Countries in 2015,” TomDispatch, January 20, 2015, http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175945/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_a_shadow_war_in_150_countries/
  10. [10]David Benfell, “A national divorce,” Not Housebroken, September 8, 2015, https://disunitedstates.org/?p=8029
  11. [11]John H. Bodley, Victims of Progress, 5th ed. (Lanham, MD: AltaMira, 2008).
  12. [12]David Benfell, “‘We have found the enemy, and he is us’ — and our system of social organization,” March 6, 2013, https://parts-unknown.org/drupal7/journal/2013/03/06/we-have-found-enemy-and-he-us-and-our-system-social-organization
  13. [13]Blue Texan [pseud.], “Ed Rendell Tells Democratic Base to “Get Over It” on Rachel Maddow,” Firedoglake, September 23, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/23/early-morning-swim-ed-rendell-tells-democratic-base-to-get-over-it-on-rachel-maddow/; Blue Texan [pseud.], “Stop Whining, Liberals!” Firedoglake, September 27, 2010, http://firedoglake.com/2010/09/27/late-night-stop-whining-liberals/; Michael Falcone, “Opposite Day On The Campaign Trail?” ABC News, September 21, 2010, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/politics/2010/09/election-2010-opposite-day-on-the-campaign-trail/; Glenn Greenwald, “Obama’s view of liberal criticisms,” Salon, September 17, 2010, http://www.salon.com/2010/09/17/obama_139/; Heather Digby Parton, “‘It’s always the hippies’ fault’: Why the left treats its idealists all wrong,” Salon, February 5, 2015, http://www.salon.com/2015/02/05/its_always_the_hippies_fault_why_the_left_treats_its_idealists_all_wrong/; Greg Sargent, “Liberal blogger directly confronts David Axelrod, accuses White House of ‘hippie punching’,” Washington Post, September 23, 2010, http://voices.washingtonpost.com/plum-line/2010/09/liberal_blogger_directly_confr.html; Sam Youngman, “White House unloads anger over criticism from ‘professional left’,” Hill, August 10, 2010, http://thehill.com/homenews/administration/113431-white-house-unloads-on-professional-left
  14. [14]David Neiwert, “President Obama lashes out at his liberal critics: Choice is to ‘get things done’ or feel ‘sanctimonious’,” Crooks and Liars, December 7, 2010, http://crooksandliars.com/david-neiwert/president-obama-lashes-out-his-libe
  15. [15]Brainy Quote, “Rodney King Quotes,” n.d., http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/r/rodney_king.html

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