The State of America's Political-Public Sphere
One of my twitter threads from yesterday: I think it is fair to say that the already-broken American political public sphere has become significantly more broken since November 8, 2018.
On the center and to the left, those like me in what used to proudly call itself the Rubin Wing of the Democratic Party—so-called after former Treasury Secretary Bob Rubin, and consisting of those of us hoping to use market means to social democratic ends in bipartisan coalition with Republicans seeking technocratic win-wins—have passed the baton to our left. Over the past 25 years, we failed to attract Republican coalition partners, we failed to energize our own base, and we failed to produce enough large-scale obvious policy wins to cement the center into a durable governing coalition.
We blame cynical Republican politicians. We blame corrupt and craven media bosses and princelings. We are right to blame them, but shared responsibility is not diminished responsibility. And so the baton rightly passes to our colleagues on our left. We are still here, but it is not our time to lead.
On the right, however, things are much worse. Looking to the right of the Rubin Wing of the Democratic Party, we see rubble. Then we see more rubble. And more rubble. Beyond that, rubble. And then, at the far end of the political spectrum, what former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright can only call the American version of a twenty-first century neo-fascism, devoted to entrenching plutocracy and stoking ethnic and religious hatreds, with which a great many people who ought to know better are making accommodation.
Two recent straws in the wind in this space: former Republican CEA Chair Martin Feldstein egging the Trump administration on to an intellectual-property trade war with China without even a whisper of acknowledgement that the Trump administration cannot competently conduct this negotiation; former Republican CEA Chair Michael Boskin claiming tht Trump is reaching "for bipartisan compromise on important issues", plural.
Pitching their flags in the rubble and hoping to rebuild—in a stunning triumph of optimism of the will over rational pessimism of the intellect that I cannot view with anything other than awe—are The Bulwark and the Niskanen Center (on whose Advisory Board I sit).
What can those of us who sit to the left of the Niskanen Center and who do wish for a healthy public sphere—i.e., those of us who are not interested in concern trolling for the moment, as much fun as concern trolling is—do to be genuinely helpful?
We can only give advice.
I think that the first piece of advice to give is: restrict yourself to #nevertrump. Trumpists are either morons, grifters, or deluded. Those who have made accomodation with neo-fascism to any substantial degree are not people you want around—they will, for one reason or another, stab you in the back the first moment that it seems opportune. Failing to require a #nevertrump litmus test seems unwise. Admittedly, it is unlikely to lead to power and Fox News. But it is the right thing to do. And I urge you to Do the Right Thing.
Second, I at least regard your cultural-historical task as being to wean Republicans away from Trumpist neo-fascism as an orienting frame. Trumpist neo-fascism is, I think, a version of Kentucky-style American nationalism' cf. J. William Ward: Andrew Jackson: Symbol for an Age. Kentucky-style American nationalism is a species of standard blood-and-soil nationalism: People have moved to Kentucky because they want elbow room and do not like being forced by government and society to conform, and once people are in Kentucky they become the kinds of people who can build a log cabin with their bare hands in 48 hours, and bring down a squirrel for squirrel stew at 300 yards. Thus heredity and environment—blood and soil—produce a special kind of person.
In the Trumpets neo-fascist version, there is a codicil: those who come to the U.S. hoping to live in, say, a little Mogadishu or a little Kishinev or a little Cuzco simply can never fit.
This Trumpist version of blood-and-soil Kentucky-style nationalism is, I believe, highly destructive, pernicious, and positively un-American. It needs to be fought against.
In the center and on the left we fight it with the opposed "Massachusetts" picture of American nationalism—a community engaged in an Errand Unto the Wilderness to build a Utopia that will be a City Upon a Hill, and we are all in this together with no special authorities or leaders because of the Priesthood of All Believers. Never mind that John Winthrop would run screaming from us: we are his children.
The Massachusetts-style American nationalism of election—that America really consists of those of us who have come here to build a common Utopia—is very powerful, much more correct, sociologically healthy, and something we all can be proud of in a sense that is simply not possible for the neo-fascist Trumpist version of Kentucky-style blood-and-soil nationalism. The question is whether the Niskanen Center and the Bulwark can take this Errand-Unto-the-Wildnerness narrative and make it sing for the center-right in anything like the way it sings for the center-left.
So, second, your task is to build up your own version of the Errand-Unto-the-Wilderness narrative of American nationalism.
Third, the Niskanen Center and The Bulwark need to build up distinctive center-right policy positions on important issues—to stake out positions in the rubble that center-right #nevertrumpers can rally around. I see five issue areas as key:
- the public sphere.
- global warming.
- income and wealth distribution at the top.
- the social safety net.
- the economic growth agenda.
Far be it from me to say what those should be—I have enough on my plate figuring out what my position on these issue areas should be, let alone what the position of others should be. I will confine myself to saying that simple opposition to whatever actual policies wind up under the umbrella of GND is not sufficient—not if you want me and people like me to think you belong in the public sphere. And no, Elaine Kamarck, "shut up and adapt to global warming" is not sufficient either, and—if that is your position because you are too scared to endorse George Shultz's carbon-tax-plus-UBI proposal—you should be ashamed of yourself.
Go for the crash space program to build a giant sun umbrella and park it at Lagrange Point 1 if you wish. At the very least, it will make us a figure of fun to aliens everywhere:
You know the earthlings? They couldn't get their act together to stop burning coal before it started to cook their planet! So do you know what they did? You won't believe it! Rather than cheaply transitioning to green energy THEY TRIED TO BUILD A GIANT SUN UMBRELLA AND PARK IT AT L1!! HA HA HA HA HA!!!!!! Spent a fortune!...
But be for something. And be brave. I know you find it hard. But you are camped there in the rubble, and if you won't Do the Right Thing then go and become a Kentucky-nationalist blood-and-soil neo-fascist Trumpist and stop wasting our time....
#highlighted #publicsphere #politics #moralresponsibility