A Consummation Devoutly to be Wished

This nightmare that we’ve been experiencing for the past four years may finally be coming to its end.  Like many nightmares, it looks like it may culminate in a last, intensely frightening burst of violence.  And then we’ll wake up, bathed in sweat, but breathing freely again, feeling relieved that we’re not dead or mangled or crushed by the monsters that were pursuing us in the dreamscape.  This nightmare has not just been afflicting those of us who feel as if social justice and sane, reasoned public policy are the means and the ends to which society should attain.  Those among us who see ourselves as rightful inheritors of a legacy of cultural dominance over the “other,” be they of a different skin color or sexual orientation or religion, have also been plunged into a darker night of fear than that in which they had previously been trapped.

I wrote after the 2016 election that we were seeing the ascendancy of “The New, Improved American Right.”  I invoked a paper I wrote years ago that highlighted the “carefully cultivated derangement” of so many of our brothers and sisters caught in the grip of the American reactionary spell, a “regressed large group” in the words of the conflict theorist Vamik Volkan.  I quoted Volkan:  “The group’s shared morality or belief system becomes increasingly absolutist and punitive toward those perceived to be in conflict with it.”  The fear and anxiety of these people has been stoked by Trump and his enablers in his administration and by the reactionary politicians of the Republican Party.  (I don’t debase the idea of “conservatism” by equating today’s GOP with that term.  Conservatives have honor, and principles that support democracy and productive policies.  John McCain and George H.W. Bush, for instance, were conservatives.  Mitch McConnell, Lindsay Graham, and pretty much the entirety of the GOP in Congress are manifestly not.  [See my letter to the NY Times here.])

If, as so many of the tea leaves indicate, the American polity is restored by a “Blue Wave” next week, then we can all hope for healing and a renaissance of good feeling, “with malice toward none, with charity for all.”  Maybe this election season is more akin to the end of the American Civil War that Lincoln saw in his vision for us in his Second Inaugural Address.  If the stars align next week, it will be a Herculean job but an unavoidable one for us to “strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”

I wrote of the catastrophe of the election four years ago.  I scoffed at the idea that Trump and his collaborators would moderate their actions.  On the environmental front, it’s been a litany of monstrous decisions.  I wrote before the inauguration of the apocalyptic choices to head the key agencies with responsibility for energy and the environment.  Their program of destruction proceeded from before the administration was even in place to this day:  The Tongass National Forest will be thrown open this week.  Thankfully, many of these depredations have been thwarted by the work of our extremely effective environmental movement, seasoned in many battles, the “rainbow warriors” of the environmental NGOs like the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, the Natural Resources Defense Council, Earthjustice, not to mention Greenpeace, and scores of others.

Even as the nightmare continued, the forces of decency and democracy were organizing (and organizing and organizing) and thus we saw a stunning result in 2018:  the wholesale restoration of a Democratic majority in the US House of Representatives.  The message had been to “Grab Him by the Midterms,” and we did.  That energy has strengthened, and we may be on the verge of what many believe could well be the breakthrough that this young democracy has needed since the New Deal.

I was a big supporter of Elizabeth Warren this past year.  She didn’t grab the brass ring, of course, but she has been an important influence on not only the Biden-Harris campaign but on the entire course of what we hope is a renewal of American moral and economic health and well being.  It will require a great deal of unity from those of us committed to a new way of seeing and relating to ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and “Our Sister, Mother Earth.”  Joe Biden knows that we’ve been in a “battle for the soul of the nation.”  If Team Blue wins next week, then we will really have to roll up our sleeves.

Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt are political scientists and the authors of How Democracies Die.  Their recent call for a “truly multiracial democracy” is compelling.  They say that “the crisis generated by the Trump presidency could also be a prelude to a democratic breakthrough.”  And they identify the critical first tasks of what could be a truly brave new world:

We must double down on democracy.  This means above all defending and expanding the right to vote. HR-1 and HR-4, a package of reforms approved by the House of Representatives in 2019 but blocked by the Senate, is a good start. HR-1 would establish nationwide automatic and same-day registration, expand early and absentee voting, prohibit flawed purges that remove eligible voters from the rolls, require independent redistricting commissions to draw congressional maps, and restore voting rights to convicted felons who have served their time. HR-4 would fully restore the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which was gutted by the Supreme Court’s Shelby County vs. Holder ruling in 2013.

A renewal of democracy will bring benefit to all of us.  The reactionary right fears change.  More democracy will bring more change and we are in desperate need of change on this old sweet blue earth.  And then we can truly “crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!”  That’s the idea anyway.

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