Sunday, January 03, 2010

2010: hope or despair

David Swanson in a piece from last year at ConsortiumNews takes a lot at the potential for what I've been calling the poltiics of despair to emerge in the wake of what turned out to be in many ways a dismal year for labor, progressives and the Democratic base, The Danger of Defeatism 12/31/09.

He's noticed an unfortunate trend the last few weeks in appearing before progressive-oriented audiences:

If current trends continue, by 2011 the only people showing up at forums on peace and justice will all be old enough to tell my grandparents they're too young to understand how pointless it is to try. And my grandparents are dead.
As a Jacksonian Democrat, I'm kind of chronically inclined to believe that the wretched of the earth will win out in the long run. And inclined to want to hurry that result along. Shoot, right now in the US I'd be happy with the victory of the not-so-wretched-but-not-totally-in-the-pockets-of-antisocial-CEOs. But the problem with the long run, as John Maynard Keynes famously said, is that in the long run we all wind up like David Swanson's grandparents, i.e., dead. Since I hope to around for a few decades yet, I hope to see some progress before that particular "long run" arrives.

It's also worth remembering the advice I heard Molly Ivins give about 15 years ago: no matter how bad things seem, there's always the possibility that we'll look back on now as the "good old days".

For one reason, neglecting some problems can mean they will get much worse. Global warming isn't going to stop just because Republican witch doctors deny it exists. I can respect but to a point Obama's excuse for the meager results of the Copenhagen climate conference that what was achieved was just a first step. But, as the fictional Fox Mulder once said, we should always respect nature because nature has not respect for us. Coastal flooding and the intensification or hurricanes and the melting of the polar ice caps is not go to slow down because Nature has respect for politicians' promises that sometime we'll get around to doing what's needed, in the sweet by-and-by. Nature itself is indifferent to whether tens of millions of people have to evacuate coastal cities that will sink underwater in decades to come.

Anyone who has been around Democratic politics very long knows that there are some people who enjoy being Cassandras and just whining about how screwed up things are and that they're never going to get better. Admittedly, there's a certain comfort in doing that. Not to mention the advantage of moral superiority over the fools who might actually try to get something constructive done. But it's not a perspective I find particularly attractive, not least because it's often indistinguishable from Republican hostility to actually solving any problem that affects anyone but the super-rich.

Swanson mentions one of the worst problems of American democracy, the outsized role of the President in our political system and politics:

The corruptions of money, media, party, militarism, election rigging, etc., have worsened and are rapidly worsening. So it would make sense that at some point our population would either break and give up or be radicalized and push back.

But why in 2009 in particular? Why such a dramatic increase in defeatism from 2008?

Well, another trend that has advanced to an extreme maturity is the equation of civic involvement with participation in presidential elections. The President is a character in a television drama, and our job is to vote the lesser of the two presidential contenders off the fictional island.

And then our job is complete, and the good President will fix everything for us. So many people seem to believe.
The politics of despair, which manifests itself in apathy as well as in other ways like sectarian dead-endism (if that's a word!) is the perfect public attitude for the Predator State Republicans. An apathetic or cynical public may believe that reforms to benefit them are not possible. But the wealthiest part of the public and the lobbyists they employ on a massive scale will continue to push for policies that benefit them.

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"It is the logic of our times
No subject for immortal verse
That we who lived by honest dreams
Defend the bad against the worse."

-- Cecil Day-Lewis from Where Are The War Poets?


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