It’s All On Parade, But Where To? And What Can a Left Writer Usefully Contribute?
By Collective 20
People are scummy creatures, mired in greed, habituated to lying, prone to violence. Down, down, into the devil’s sewer. Nonsense. People are enlightened creatures, socially moved, honest, magnanimous, supportive. Up, up, to the heights of haloed glory.
You are both wrong. People are multifaceted creatures. In some settings we emerge saintly and good. In other settings we emerge greedy and despicable. Sometimes the same person becomes haloed and also scummy.
In case you doubt either extreme, look here, look there. You cannot help but see small and large acts of community-serving kindness, solidarity, and courage bursting forth all over every map. Do they need enumeration? We don’t think so. Consider the dangers so many people are daily braving out of love for family and, even more admirably, out of solidarity for folks they don’t know and seek nothing from. Who could miss so much goodness on parade?
Simultaneously, however, we cannot help but also see small and large acts of demonic cruelness and self-serving anti-sociality bursting forth all around. Again, we don’t see a need to enumerate. We are daily, hourly, perpetually, unceasingly buried in accounts of awfulness. Even we leftist writers seem to endlessly record and highlight multitudinous evils no matter how redundant the reports become and no matter how much their perpetual enumeration fuels despair.
In any event, assembling to the right, we see a pugnacious array which proclaims itself tough, steely, and even heroic. Assembling to the left, we see an amorous array which proclaims itself honest, committed, and even historic. But where do these two opposed arrays aim to go?
The pugnacious array broadly desires to go with Trump back to last year’s well known but also well suffered normal, or back even further to more authoritarian, fascistic horrors.
The amorous array wants to stop the nightmare of Trumpism both because it is such an overwhelming danger to humanity and because doing so is a necessary step to gain space to move forward. It broadly desires a social democratized better normal or even beyond social democracy a revolutionized and humanized new world.
And which actors compose the arrays diversely seeking these broad destinations?
Very roughly: The Republican Party; the old line Democratic Party and its supporters; Donald Trump’s more grassroots supporters; the newly dissident Democratic Party and its supporters; unaligned non voters; and finally the Green Party, DSA, and Bernie Sanders supporters plus the rest of the socialist and anarchist left and the many progressive and radical social movements and organizations that don’t define themselves ideologically or electorally.
What are possible steps for each of these groups, and what might left writers like ourselves do to foster humane and hinder suicidal outcomes?
The Republican Party follows and elevates Trump. It sings “hooray for our side.” It risks massive dislocation and death for much of humanity. It follows Trump’s ever fluctuating whims to hell and back. Some Republicans may dissent a bit, shaken out of comatose, corporate, semi religious habits by the horrors they see unfolding, but none, we suspect, will dissent due to entreaties by leftists. The Republican mainstream hasn’t read, doesn’t read, and won’t read left entreaties. There is therefore little point in leftists writing for them. Regarding the Republican Party the left can usefully only build activist movements large enough to force them to alter their choices. No convincing, only compelling.
Next up, the Old Line Democratic Party elite will vigorously back Biden unless sexual violations – though of course not his militarism, racism, etc. – lead the Democratic Party to jettison him, but they will rarely if ever attempt to redirect post-election agendas away from old normal business as usual. We doubt there will soon be many old line defectors toward more progressive much less radical agendas. There is therefore barely more point for leftists to direct their writing to old line Democratic Party elites than to Republicans. The Democratic Party’s mainstream elites do not read the left. Their leadership would rather lose the election than accommodate demands that would threaten their hold on their party. After the election – as at all times – like Republicans, they too should face movements large enough to sufficiently threaten their interests to force them to alter their choices. Very little convincing, overwhelmingly only compelling.
What about Trump’s more grassroots supporters? At the top, their exalted, elevated, self-enthroned leader seems only to seek gains for himself and his peers. He cares only to preserve and enlarge the gilded perch that he and his peers occupy. His seemingly limitless hate alights even on his allies at the slightest sign that firing them can bring him personal gain. But at antagonism’s rank and file levels, particularly in opioid ravaged and economically impoverished rural counties, motives appear more than a bit murky, or perhaps more accurately, more than a bit conflicted.
One large subset of Trump’s supporters sees itself imminently drowning under high water rising. It wants to preserve the collapsing but not yet totally collapsed rusted low level ledge it clings to. And who wouldn’t cling tight above the horror they fear awaits them below? Lack of information and curtailed options, more than advanced malevolence, drives this survivalist subset to suicidally support wrong leaders. Indeed, if information and options were to realign their focus a bit, their alienation, pain, and anger might come to serve positive aims. And for that reason, providing information and options to this set of folks ought to be a prime aim for leftist writers. Desperate Trump supporters won’t relish attacks on Trump or on their own past or current allegiances. Calling them names, disparaging them or people they relate to, is not going to win their attention. But desperate Trump supporters might closely assess graphic, sympathetic, and militant acknowledgments of their grim predicament, particularly given how Covid 19 has made ever more evident the ills of the existing systems they endure. They might be moved by clear enunciations of steps to escape that predicament. And, only then, they might hear clear indications of why Trump is an obstacle to their advance. Reaching this constituency, then, seems a promising and important agenda for left writers to try to address. Convincing, not compelling.
Another, we think significantly smaller subset of the grassroots part of the antagonistic array has had their generous caring sides seriously trumped. They rejoice, it seems, in the momentary mob high they get from self righteously hating immigrants, Blacks, Latinos, Asians, Muslims, LGBTQ, workers, and (for the males and even for some of the females in this subset) women, plus hating anyone challenging their side, their gang, their mob, or especially their leader, despite that he is really their tormentor in chief and literally one of history’s worst criminals. Very few left writers are capable of speaking in ways that can move this group. But for those who can, they certainly should try. Reaching out to opponents is a far more strategic pursuit than telling allies what they already agree with.
In sum, the aims of the antagonistic array can turn more quickly than a hummingbird whenever the head man himself tweets a new tune – or, perhaps, whenever new information and options become known. Bar the borders, load the guns, make America Great again, open the economy, take hydroxychloroquine, drink bleach, squelch Bernie. When we try to enumerate the right’s actual aims, we have to admit we are not sure what they seek other than to serve their master against whatever enemies his curdling mind targets. Which of course suggests again that for left writers to enumerate positive aims bearing on the well being of these sectors and addressed directly to them in ways that might actually reach them, would be a fruitful use of effort.
Next, unaligned non-voters are huge in number and polls tell us they have elements like all the above, but we suspect they are too alienated, too exhausted trying to survive, or too uninspired by candidates and prospects to attend much to politics. So the same calculation follows. If one has a place to write that non-voters, including a disproportionate number of young people, tend to read, and if one can non-rhetorically and sympathetically address their concerns showing causes and possibilities, that too, is well worth doing.
But what about the amorous, angelic array? Where is it headed? And what can we left writers who publish in periodicals and on sites which that array regularly sees usefully provide them?
Consider, first, the Newly Dissident Democratic Party, extending from less known but more radical local officials through AOC to Senator Warren. Here is another important potential audience for serious left commentary. There is likely little to be gained from telling them what they already know, which is actually a whole lot. They know there are massive life extinguishing problems. They know the institutional sources of the ubiquitous ills. To forestall calamities they will rightly oppose Trump winning again, and therefore rightly support Biden in swing states. The immediate issue for this group is will they do that in a way that enlarges their beachhead inside the party and that prepares groundwork for fighting not just electorally but also at the grassroots – or will they do it in ways that tend to melt them back into the party’s mainstream? Put differently, will Democratic Party dissidents accept that Biden is merely a far lesser evil and that the task is not only to elect him so as to remove Trump, but to then push him as hard as possible from the grassroots? Or will they get so caught up in supporting Biden that they start seeing him as objectively positive? And what can left writers do to help foster the better result?
Most of us can’t do research for them, though maybe some of us can get important analysis into the hands of other movement activists who regularly engage with the electeds and their staffs. Maybe we can think outside the box of typical policy advocacy to recommend policy and campaign paths better aimed at seeking further gains. Maybe we could even bolster their confidence that dissidence is a far better path than trying to join the mainstream. What will only antagonize them, however, is to tell them beating Trump is a waste of time, he isn’t that much worse. Such messages will rightly undercut left writers’ credibility with Democratic Party dissidents, thereby undermining messages we might usefully provide. All in all, however, we doubt this group should be a main focus of the informed left’s messaging. Maybe after the election that will change, but until then, it isn’t clear how much Democratic Party dissidents will even have time to hear, much less act on leftist critiques while doing non-stop electioneering.
Who’s next? The Green Party, DSA, Bernie Sanders’ supporters, and the rest of the socialist, anarchist, and grassroots social movement left are each very far from homogenous, of course. But here, we think, is a natural and one hopes very interested and quite huge audience for left writers. This constituency well knows what is wrong with society. They well know activism is essential. They read what left writers publish. To offer them merely “hooray for our side” won’t add needed insights. So what would be most timely, most relevant, and not redundant writing for these audiences?
On the one hand, how to relate to the coming election is intensely controversial and unresolved. So continuing that debate, not full of vituperation and denigration, but full of close attention and respectful thought, may be eminently valuable. Whether Trump wins again is arguably the paramount issue of the next six months, bearing on the next ten years and longer. So making clear that one can vote and indeed encourage others to vote for Biden (or whoever winds up the Democratic candidate) to beat Trump in swing states without it meaning anything more than that one cares hugely about the immense evilness gap between Trump further empowered and a Democrat somewhat beholden to an ever more progressive electorate is a worthy task left writers can usefully address.
On the other hand, what institutions we want post-Coronavirus, post-capitalism, post-racism, and post-sexism as well as strategic insights about how to win those institutions is also controversial and unresolved. For a left audience who read left media that left writers mostly publish in, perhaps addressing these matters should be a high priority. For that same audience, perhaps exposing Trump’s daily lies and proclaiming the evils of evil is mostly pushing an open door, perhaps at least in part because doing so is relatively easy, garners applause, and won’t be questioned, whereas taking up controversial issues that actually matter to what progressive and radical audiences do is harder, often ignored or even ridiculed, and certainly questioned? Nonetheless, don’t we need to do more of the latter?
Finally, what does our little survey suggest about priorities for leftist writers who want to go through social democracy and on to another world?
When writing, keep our audience as well as left prospects in mind. Obvious, right? Maybe so. But then how does one explain that a great many left periodicals include article after article that tell already well informed people that Trump is the devil without a disguise, that war kills, that capitalism impoverishes and alienates, that racism subjugates and distorts, that sexism shatters and humiliates, that markets relegate and pollute, and that, well, pain hurts? How does one explain that we write article after article that does all that but write comparatively relatively few that offer vision and strategy thereby inadvertently making it appear as if endless horror is rock solid and forever? What’s the point of that? What will readers learn other than a detail here or there? Will readers change their choices due to such communications, or just become more cynical?
So what’s an insightful, energetic, well informed leftist writer to do? If we have access to the dissident sectors of the Democratic Party, if we can offer them support and some useful policy suggestions without dismissing their support for Biden, perhaps we should.
If we somehow have access to disaffected or alienated Trump voters or to abstainers, presumably via mainstream media, and if we can communicate in a way that doesn’t disparage them but instead seeks to side with them about their plight, though of course not about all their practices, perhaps we should.
If on the other hand, we write in left outlets rehashing that Trump is vile, or that the system is vile, and even offering utterly brilliant formulations of the same, no matter how well we do it, perhaps we should entertain the possibility that doing that that alone will rarely alter any of our reader’s thinking on such matters because they already agree. On the other hand, if we offer vision for a better future, and strategy and program for seeking it, either along with some commentary on Trump or society even just unto itself, perhaps we will provide controversial insights that are in under supply. And when debate ensues, we should of course offer evidence and reason but not assertion and vituperation. As obvious an advisory as that may sound, in our times it is also unusual, and even potentially exemplary, so perhaps we should give that our all.