The Democratic Conundrum
I have a favorite seat at a bar. It’s usually on the back side, farthest away from the door: I like to watch, not be watched. Last Tuesday, I was sitting on my favorite barstool and talking to a friend. As it so happens these days, our conversation eventually got into politics and my friend, who knows that I pay entirely to much attention to these things, asked me point blank:
“Why didn’t Hillary get it?”
This is a really insightful question, and I think we can use it as a starting point to discuss Democrats at large, and why there’s a disconnect between democrats (people who make up the voting coalition of the Democratic party) and Democrats (national elected officials and people in positions of leadership of the party at a national level).
The answer to this question, to save you some time, is tension. Tension, in this case, is a shorthand for intellectual friction, a sort of disconnect between two things. There is tension between Democrats and democrats, obviously, but I think we can go a little deeper.
Consider, for a moment, an onion; this may seem like a ridiculous synecdoche — because it is — but the reason behind why I choose it will make sense in a bit. Anyway, we have an onion: the entire summation of American society. If you ask any Democrat what they think of the onion, they’ll tell you it’s at least pretty good, if not great, and that we absolutely cannot get rid of this onion. If we get rid of it, they’ll say, we have to replace it with another onion, one that may be rotted, may not taste as good, etc.
Now, what is an onion? Weird question I know, but this goes back to my choice of simulacrum from the start: onions have layers (somewhere, a Donkey wakes up and groans and doesn’t know why). That is, an onion can best be thought of as a summation of these layers, in much the same way that we can consider American society as a summation of the output of various system.
Now, if you take that same Democrat you were talking to earlier and show them a single layer of the onion, they can easily see that the layer isn’t all that great. On a layer by layer basis, any other onion would likely be just as good as the one we have, really. But as you add layer on top of layer, the Democrat’s opinion will shift, and by the time you’ve reassembled that onion they will tell you about how it’s amazing, it’s incredible, and that we could never hope to finda better one: we can only improve slightly on the onion we already have.
Democrats, then, are paralyzed by tension: they will acknowledge that separate layers of the onion are bad and need to be changed, but they also love the onion and don’t want anything to do with changing it. Of course, if you change one layer of an onion, you’ve changed the onion: the onion doesn’t exist apart from the layers that it’s made of, just like America doesn’t exist apart from the systems that create American society.
Taking this out of the pantry and back into politics, you can see this with Hillary Clinton’s campaign. It seems very odd to me that Hillary would have so many policy points on her website, but then talk about how America is already great. It’s an example of intellectual tension that manifests as the disconnect between Democrats and democrats.
What this means going forward is that Democrats must exist with the explicit acknowledgment that the onion might not be all that great. That maybe, we can find a better onion. Maybe even an Apple, because onions are disgusting.