During the 2015–2016 primary season, a certain type of article began to appear everywhere. It was shared by many upset with the rhetoric and tone of the election season. It turns out it was a futile effort, but this same brand of article has been brought back to life in spectacular fashion! No, I’m not referring to New York Times op-eds by mercenaries selling us endless war or lazy reflections on the 2016 primary without a policy vision, but offering a splintered left based on lazy electoral math. Those are to be expected from elite media institutions. I’m talking about “the discourse”. The spectacular amount of energy devoted to writing about the degradation of “the discourse” is astonishing and reflective of a lack of awareness of what the most recent presidential election has revealed about our political institutions. If, in 2017, your reaction to the election of Donald Trump is to hope for a return to normalcy in the form of “logical, reasoned debate”, please take your hall monitor badge off, as you’re too old for it. You don’t want a debate, you want a debate on your terms. The idea that the discourse has the power to remedy the systemic ills that resulted in Trump is laughable and absurd. The discourse disintegrated because our weakest institutions could not cope with the symptoms of our corrupt economic system. It was inevitable that barely surviving on seventy-year-old New Deal reforms to protect the existence of working class people would cause those reforms to face perpetual assault from both conservatives and liberals.
To act like anger has no place in the discourse is naive when lives are at stake. To revert to a thinly-held notion that reasoned debate and democracy will save us is ignorant and self-serving. The Democrats are particularly guilty of this, and of course, the American right has shown no respect to our political institutions. Republicans will cheat when they can not win, stay quiet about the racism that pervades their party base, and do as told as long as it means a shot at imposing austerity upon the debt-laden working class while offering economic liberties and freedoms for the owners and managers through the guise of corporate tax cuts and dangerously lax business regulations. Republicans offer a bleak vision of the future for the working class, while Democrats offer nothing substantial. And as conservatives offer the destruction of labor rights through Right-to-Work legislation with no humane solution to the country’s healthcare crises, Democrats suggest further incrementalism, and even more compromise. Instead of offering further left reforms of our political and economic institutions that would appeal to large swaths of Americans, they depend on “the good republicans” to return to compromise and cry when Trump breaks from the norm by firing some inconsequential crony. Now is the worst time in our country’s history to be crying about the rules of debate. Almost one million young people face deportation to countries they have never known in an act of ethnic cleansing by a government already shown to be racist and hire racists. Our government sees white supremacists (people that literally say they’re white supremacists)amicably and those who oppose them as terrorists.
In the next four years we will likely see a degradation of the rights of workers and religious and ethnic minorities by a state that faces little opposition from the base that put them in power; however, they’re not the only ones who are responsible for this suffering, as the Obama administration continued to build upon Bush’s giant military security apparatus. They worked to ensure that it was a well oiled machine by drone-killing an uncountable number of civilians and deporting more people than any president before, and then handed it off to a senile sexual predator with no policy knowledge and no care for the people of the country that he was elected to govern. A candidate who promised pain to those who opposed him now has the power to do so and has already begun. If you honestly see what is happening to our most vulnerable populations and attempt to police their anger and fear, to quiet their shouts, then you have no appeal, and you should be ashamed of yourself. It is too late to whimper about civility in our politics when white supremacists emboldened by the election of Donald Trump and protected by police march in the streets and threaten the lives of Americans. And honestly, for anyone to be shocked when the President did not outright denounce them is ridiculous. You held up your Trump signs, waited for “the pivot”, and were quiet for two years of campaigning; the assaults on protesters at his rallies and the threats made against Latinos and Muslims weren’t enough? Now you want to tell people not to be angry? To calm down and come to the table to do debate? That is not how this works.
If you see politics as anything other than a battle of resources, a battle between factions over who can improve the material conditions of the lives of their constituencies, then you have a massive misunderstanding of politics. If you think this is all one episode of House of Cards, or think this is what The West Wing must be like(both are great shows but HoC is slowing down and getting boring), then you want to play a game of strategy, and politics is not a game. All of the lanyard collecting dorks who insist upon electing a class of managers to oversee the economy and our democracy will continue to lose as our institutions wither and more strongmen take office.
When a government refuses to regulate the growing power of our largest corporations over our democracy and our economy, makes healthcare inaccessible through an over-complicated market apparatus, and disintegrates the rights of people of color, that is class violence. Debate — this artificially constructed civil debate — is not a remedy for that violence. Debate moderated by those who seek to impose limits on the political imaginations of the electorate is illegitimate. This violence must be vehemently opposed with leftism and real economic reforms based upon returning the power of ownership of our economy to the working class.
Often, policing the discourse means cutting off ideas from the left and dismissing them as unfeasible or unrealistic. This leads to conversations that begin with liberals near the center compromising with the right, which inevitably leads to center-right governance. If you truly were interested in serious conversations about compromise, those conversations would include nationalization of powerfully wealthy industries, serious environmental reforms that seek to halt the destruction of the planet by those industries, and a universal healthcare system blind to the contents of a person’s bank account. If the empowerment of working class people is the key to saving our democracy, then we must also take power away from the oligarchs who profit from monopolies and the inaction of weak legislators who are too afraid to introduce broad, universal plans for Americans that don’t rely on means-testing, but instead apply to all Americans, so that when assaults are levied on them by those who oppose the freedom of working people, we can point to those institutions and defend them in solidarity.
But by offering nothing but debate on strict terms, you’re effectively “both-sidesing” the conflict in our country between the left and right. When someone offers a happier future with some kumbaya nonsense about the American experiment with no real consideration for how our government continues to humiliate and harm the poorest Americans and vilify minority groups, they are complicit in the violence that will follow, class and otherwise. If you honestly believe that we can return to a pre-Trump political atmosphere, please consider the atmosphere that gave way to his rise. There will be worse people running for president in the future. More right-wing and more authoritarian in their rhetoric, and there very may well be a day when the choice for our society to make to survive will be a complete renovation of our economic system or the continued infliction of pain upon scapegoated Americans through increased scrutiny under the eye of the US government security apparatus,including violence and imprisonment. The formation of that question did not begin with Trump, but his election has accelerated our need for an answer. You are either answering the question, or you are stalling, and we — the American people — do not have the time to wait on you.