My faith in our political system is on life support, and it’s all I can do not to pull the plug.
There is so little integrity in the world of politics today, and when given the chance to choose one of the most inspiring politicians on our national stage (I’d argue that Sen. Elizabeth Warren is the other), the American people…choose not to.
That’s disappointing, and yet, not surprising. Politicians are supposed to be crooks; the electorate is supposed to be easily swayed. Right?
But it’s more than that. We live in a country where the ingrained political climate is such that even those who want to make a difference are quickly sucked into the world of trading “discretion” and “political sensitivity” for truth and real reform. What’s the lyric from Hamilton? Something about not being able to put a fire out from inside the house? Well, newsflash. You can’t put out a fire when you’re soaking yourself in oil, either.
Internal politics have long been the bane of progressive activism groups. That same independent spirit that draws activists to try and effect change in their community also leads to strong opinions and non-negotiable lines in the sand. Unlike the far right, the American left is (or seems, at least to me) unwilling to goosestep to the drum of a single drummer. And so we fragment.
One of my favorite recurring themes in postmodernism and feminism is the idea of “speaking the language of the oppressor.” When the only language you have is that of a corrupt political system, how do you deconstruct that language and find a way forward that eschews corruption? When you’re trying to change a broken system by taking it over from within, how do you avoid falling into the same ruts and trails as the people who’ve come before you? People are more like water than stone; even the strongest character must work hard to resist trickling through the toxic riverbeds and gullies of political expediency. In case you weren’t aware, most people do not have the strongest character imaginable.
We seem unable to resist the attraction of the shortcut. We take morally questionable positions in the interest of “effecting change,” as if change built on a corrupted foundation could ever be sustained. They start — intentionally or not — to emulate the very system they’re trying to reform. And in the end, all they’re doing is dipping themselves in oil and trying to put out a fire.
My faith in the American political system is on life support, and I feel like every day we get nearer to the Doomsday that is likely to be November 8th is another doctor coming in and recommending I pull the plug. But where does that leave me? Picking between two politicians I can’t stomach or casting a “spoiler” vote for one of two candidates I genuinely respect; trying desperately to find a toehold as I climb a wall of impossible choices.
There’s a lyric from an old Ani DiFranco song that just popped into my head (and yes, I know she’s done some very problematic things, but she earwormed me at thirteen): “I have earned my disillusionment // I have been fighting for all of my life.” That’s how I feel right now. Like I have a right to be disillusioned. I feel entitled to my disillusionment. Because I threw down for a thing I thought would be truly different, for a movement that harnessed the passion of literally millions of people, and when the going got tough we were all so close to the brink that not even purged voter rolls and arrests of peaceful protesters on the steps of the White House could captivate the attention of the nation long enough to help fix things. And then I went back to a corner of the progressive movement where I thought I was safe, where I thought I was surrounded with people of integrity and commitment to getting rid of corruption in politics, and was slapped in the face with reality: that the language of the oppressors had corrupted the professed ideals that drew me there in the first place.
I don’t know where this leaves me. The occasional chiming bleep of my faith in American politics, an institution on its respirator and IV-drip. The ghosts of palliative care, whispering: “Give up, move on. It’s okay to let go.” The antiseptic scents of a dying place. Earlier tonight I read a thinkpiece discouraging the far left from going Green Party, or #BernieorBust. “This is how empires fall,” the author cautioned. As if rot hadn’t already spread through the American Empire.
I want to have faith in progressives. I want to have faith in the American people and our ability not to abuse the political system that was given to us. I used to look for that faith through art: short stories, plays, the occasional painting. Now I’m not sure where to look.
Except for the hospital bed, where my faith in American politics lies, waiting for me to decide: leave it there, hope it heals, and come back one day to find it waking up again? Or simply pull the plug?
In the end, each demands its own kind of energy, and each carries with it its own burdens. Neither offers any easy answers.