I suppose I’ll be writing a lot of these, because I have a lot of thoughts, and I don’t want to ramble on endlessly. But it occurs to me that the most important thing, in the moment, is to recognize the essential weakness of the recent progressive movement.
Now, it’s entirely possible that we’ll wake up tomorrow, and he will in fact have lost. Though the problem, and the weakness, will by no means have gone away. And it’s also possible that, if he has indeed won, we’ll find in the months and years to come that undoing the legal progress of the last eight years in particular will be harder than we fear. Even with someone like Trump at the helm, even with a very conservative legislature, and likely a conservative judiciary. It’s possible. But it’s also unlikely. One has to imagine that new legal challenges to progress we had thought finally enshrined in law will crop up immediately, anticipating a Scalia-like arch-conservative to be appointed to the Supreme Court. And one can’t help but imagine them succeeding.
And therein lies the weakness.
Rather than try to convince our fellow Americans of the righteousness of social progress, of acceptance, of tolerance, we’ve put a lot of eggs into a singular, authoritarian basket. We have put uncountable energy, and so very many hopes and fears, into the election of a single person that we hope will stand up for us, and we hope that person will push, shove, and bludgeon those that disagree with us into acquiescence, if not agreement.
But acquiescence is not something to build long-term change on. In fact, I think it’s growing more apparent all the time that this strategy–engaged on by both sides–has done nothing but to carve a hole in the middle, where we might meet and discuss things. You against me. Us against them. If we don’t defeat them, it will be the end of us. They don’t understand. They can’t understand. I think the reasons for this are legion, and are reinforced and encouraged in so many ways. I don’t think it’s anything like a conspiracy even, but more like a feedback loop. An echo chamber. We often talk of people as though they’re in particular echo chambers, learning only what they want to learn. And while I think that’s true, I think we’re all within another one, that increasingly amplifies the notion that the only way to progress is through electoral domination.
I think I’ve always disagreed with that notion, but tonight has crystallized the idea perfectly.
Let me be clear that I don’t think we shouldn’t fight for the right laws to protect people who need protecting. But I think we’re too focused on law, and using law as a shield against a hostile other, for the most part utterly abandoning that other and their needs and values in the name of promoting our own. If we can convince people who disagree with us, and maybe understand why they disagree with us, the matter of law and the question of electoral leadership could, in theory, become much less controversial, and much less divisive. Otherwise, we run the very serious risk of tearing this society apart, irreparably.
We have been on that trajectory for a while. Lots of blame for it can be laid here, and there. I personally think the more conservative elements of society are more to blame, but then, they’re the ones who have traditionally relied more on authoritarian solutions. As a defensive measure, for the most part, progressives have relied on it more and more themselves. And the despair I see in the words of my friends tonight makes me realize what a hopeless game that is. Any progress could be undone. Walls could go up, marriages made illegal, rights of all manner curtailed or destroyed.
But here’s the interesting thing. While all of this doom has been descending, one of the cornerstone strategies of old, racist authoritarians to keep African-Americans poor and disenfranchised, has quietly been crumbling. Tonight, nine states voted to in some way legalize or decriminalize marijuana use, many of them voting to do so even for recreational purposes. While we’ve been tussling over who controls the White House, we’ve been steadily working away on a lower level at one of the myriad tools of injustice.
What else could we do if we focused all of this election energy in that direction? And not even just to state or local referenda, but to the very basic job of finding common ground with the people who disagree, and changing their minds. One of the most pernicious lies I’ve seen tossed around is that you can’t change anyone’s mind, particularly in a Facebook discussion. I certainly have bought into it myself, and I believe it true still to some extent, but I think it’s more about how we craft those conversations than the conversation, or the medium of Facebook (or Twitter or whatever) itself.
Democracy isn’t just, or doesn’t have to be just about who gets the most votes, and the power they wield over the loser. Two champions whacking at each other with swords on a battlefield is recognized to be a fraught and bankrupt method of deciding who knows best how to serve a people as leader. But tonight in particular, it seems like that is what our democracy has come to. We have to stop putting our eggs all in that basket. We have to find new strategies for bringing America, all of it, everyone, forward. We have made progress on that score in a lot of ways, and it is incumbent on us who want to see change, and to see progress guaranteed, to double down on those strategies, particularly in the coming months and years.
And if I wake up in the morning, and somehow Clinton has pulled it out, and we’re spared the nightmare of a Trump presidency, this work will still be before us. The system is still wrong, even if our champion rallied at the last second and came out on top. We’ll still hold the advantage only by a knife’s edge, and she will still just be a shield against the other. It’s time to stop thinking of them as the other, and start working on making them us.