I was inspired to write this after watching the Michael Cohen testimony. Me and a long-distance friend were watching together online and trading observations via a forum I used to post to. At the end, the conversation turned to the hyper-partisanship in America today. My friend is a very intelligent person but seemingly a believer in the “both sides are the same” fallacy ( at least, that was my impression at the time.) So, I wrote this as a rebuttal to that assessment. I thought it was relevant to share with a wider audience, so here you go.
In a perfect world I would absolutely 100% agree with you. But unfortunately that’s not the world we live in. I wish politics could be a civil, friendly discussion of different ideologies where we used facts and reason to determine the best way to move towards a sparkling utopia. However, the right-wing under Murdoch and radio figures like Rush Limbaugh have created a vicious spin machine which has whipped its followers into a perpetually angry, spiteful mob. Their ideology used to be conservatism and fiscal responsibility once upon a time but since Reagan it’s become all about sabotaging government programs to “prove” they don’t work and then privatizing everything. [AKA Neoliberalism.] Since the Obama years it’s been endless obstructionism and reactionary policies. For those who don’t know the term, that means moving backwards, as opposed to conserving the status quo.
I’m going to be accused of bias here, fairly or not, but there’s just no equivalent infrastructure on the left. I know blanket statements like “both sides are equal” look more fair and reasonable at a glance but when you take in the big picture it’s just not so. To demonstrate what I mean, let’s consider a few points here:
1) Mitch McConnell met with all the Congressional Republicans early in Obama’s term and stated very plainly that their goal was to make Obama a one-term President. To obstruct everything he tried to do, lest a Democrat get any credit for fixing the mess Bush created. (We had a surplus, good standing abroad and no surveillance state before Bush. I hate Clinton too, for other reasons, but the fact is Bush indisputably created a mess.) Then when they get both houses of Congress AND the Presidency they accomplish absolutely nothing of substance to improve the lives of their constituents. Trump promised infrastructure repairs–one of the things I agreed with him about–and I guarantee that would have gotten Democratic support (not that they’d need Dems to pass it) so why didn’t he?
2) McConnell stole a Supreme Court seat by refusing to even hold a hearing or vote on Garland, a nominee which Republicans themselves said they liked UNTIL OBAMA PICKED HIM. The same happened with a lot of lower level court appointments too. Similarly, Ted Cruz led a shutdown of the government out of spite over Obamacare, which the Republicans happily went along with. Remember that Obamacare was literally the Republican plan until Obama picked it up.
3) Trump proudly, openly boasted about shutting the government down on video. There was a budget that passed the Senate which Paul Ryan refused to hold a vote on. Republicans created the longest shutdown in history because Trump wanted to waste billions in taxpayer money to build a useless wall which won’t stop illegal immigrants (who mostly overstay their visas) or drugs from coming in. People were out of work for a month when most Americans live paycheck to paycheck. McConnell refused to hold a new vote to re-approve the same exact budget they’d previously agreed to in the Senate. The last shutdown, the longest in US history mind you, is 100% on the Republicans any way you slice it.
4) The Republicans elected and continue to support Trump. By now his many failings as an administrator, his crimes (even ignoring the Russian collusion) and repugnant character are well known so I won’t repeat them. That in and of itself is despicable at this point. But when Obama was president these people were happy to disparage him every day over the most asinine things–wearing a tan suit, using Dijon mustard, didn’t wear a tie/wife wore sleeveless dresses. Now they disparage Alexandria Ocasio Cortez over dancing in a video from college and whatever else they can think of. Now, I have my misgivings with some of Obama’s actions as president, certainly. And I’ll admit AOC has fudged the numbers in some statements. But this isn’t me lashing out because “my team” was attacked. This is me lashing out at these blatant double standards and bald faced hypocrisies consistently coming from one side alone. It was the same when Bush was president; I recall the phrase “respect the office”/”with us or against us” being thrown around a lot towards objectors to his war crimes and surveillance state.
5) As a certain poster here is evidence of, we cannot have rational discussions anymore because anything they find inconvenient to their narrative is “fake news.” They’ll gladly believe baseless conspiracies from Alex Jones like Planned Parenthood selling baby organs, Pizzagate, colleges brainwashing students to be socialist and Obama born in Kenya. But somehow the time-honored and reputable outlets such as the Washington Post and New York Times are fake news. Now at this hearing just today we got a new soundbite, “fake witness.” Trump has also continuously fostered an atmosphere of distrust and anger towards the free press since his candidacy began, calling them “enemies of the people.”
6) We literally have had neo-nazi rallies in the last few years, spurred on by the rhetoric of the President. They killed someone in Charlottesville. David Duke and other figures of these white supremacist organizations have openly supported and praised Trump. He has NEVER disavowed any of them, never distances himself, never condemned white supremacy or nazism. Our government is also literally separating children from their legally asylum seeking parents and putting them in concentration camps. (And even if the parents did come illegally, NOTHING justifies that horror.) We are a hairs width away from becoming an honest to god nazi regime in America even as we speak. I don’t care how inflammatory that may sound, it’s the truth when you consider the actual tenets of fascism and nazism compared to what we’re doing now. (And if any of you think I’m wrong by saying this, then you tell me where the line is exactly. Because if it’s not concentration camps and needlessly traumatizing children for life I sure don’t know what is. I mean, do we need to wait until they’re literally being gassed in the camps before we’re allowed to point out the similarities?)
7) We have one party that has made it their mission to continuously attack the weakest members of society. If it’s not racial dogwhistles and policies which disproportionately affect racial minorities then it’s outright gay bashing until the Supreme Court finally dragged us into the 21st century. Now that they lost their old punching bag, we in the transgender community have to endure endless slanderous attacks and being used as political pawns. If we’re not being called bathroom predators and denied the right to urinate safely in public, we’re losing our right to serve our own country. In over half of the states, LGBT people don’t have federally recognized civil rights and can be fired or evicted on a whim with no protections. Obama tried to smooth over this problem with executive orders…which Trump has since rolled back.
8) At this very hearing today, we had one side that was at least seeking answers and trying to learn from the man before them, however flawed he may be as a person. And we had one side spend the entire time pointlessly showboating, yelling, fishing for soundbites to look badass back home. AOC, a freshman people accuse on grandstanding asked pointed relevant questions. The other Dems did too even if some of their questions weren’t always the best.
9) Just as one example of someone on the left trying to have a reasonable conversation while getting completely misrepresented and defamed…Sandra Fluke. She testified before a congressional panel about the absurdity of banning birth control on religious grounds (by the way, guess which side pushes THAT sexist nonsense) about how some women need birth control for other reasons, like ovarian cysts. She didn’t blame-game or speak in an inflammatory or partisan manner, merely stated that fact for consideration. And what happens? The right-wing media, specifically Rush Limbaugh in this case, go off on an insane, long, hateful rant about how she’s a slut that just wants birth control so she can have crazy unprotected sex. That is a complete disgrace. And it’s not an isolated incident either, just the first example that comes to mind for me.
10) Watching all the old debates and speeches I noticed something. Republicans are far more disingenuous and openly disparaging to the Democrats. If you think I’m wrong, I challenge you to look at anything from the HW Bush era (including when he was VP.) At a Republican primary debate from ’88 he called having a gay son a humiliation. He called the DNC a “temple of doom.” He used the inaugural address (meant to unify the country) as an excuse to grandstand about partisan, contentious issues like the drug war and abortion. I can tell you with confidence that NO other president has ever stooped that low. He gave a speech slot to Pat Buchanan in ’92 who proceeded to call Democrats “cross-dressers” among other insults and declared a “cultural war” against them. The VP, Dan Quayle, called out every Democratic Presidential candidate from McGovern as well as Ted Kennedy to be booed by the audience one by one. They chanted “Ted Must Go” and this is over 20 years before “lock her up.” It’s been like that at the RNC for a long time. In recent years the Dems openly criticize the Republican candidate too, but republicans opened the seal and Democrats are never even close to getting as nasty with it.
11) A Republican congressman, Jason Smith, yelled “go back to puerto rico” to a sitting US congressman of Hispanic decent. This happened as the latter had the floor and was speaking. When the Democrats in attendance demanded to know who shouted the insult, the Republicans played dumb to shield their comrade. Even ten years earlier, another Republican congressman yelled “you lie!” at Obama at his first State of the Union address. For as much as Democrats hate Trump, nobody has ever done anything like that to him from the left.
12) Both Nixon and Reagan illegally met with Vietnam and Iran respectively to make secret deals that would help them win the elections. Nixon promised the Viet cong a better deal if they waited until he was President. Reagan convinced Iran to hold the hostages until he could win so he’d get the “win” of their release in his term. Obama wanted to tell voters about the Russian collusion going on during the 2016 election but Mitch McConnell refused to make a bipartisan statement and threatened to call it baseless propaganda if Obama did so alone. A North Carolina election recently had to redone due to vote tampering. (This next claim is speculative and should be taken with a massive grain of salt, but for whatever it’s worth Anonymous claimed that Republicans had tried to rig the 2012 election for Romney, and would have succeeded if Anonymous themselves hadn’t also hacked voting machines in favor of Obama. I’m not saying I believe that last claim, but even without it there’s a clear trend of Republicans not respecting the democratic process.)
I could keep going, but you get the point. If that’s not enough I can find more examples, and if anyone questions the truth of any point raised, I can provide additional sources. These are just the first instances off the top of my head about why a civil discussion with modern, Post-Reagan, Post-Gingrich, Post-Rove, Post-Trump Republicans is impossible these days. Maybe individual Republican laypeople might be reasonable. And to be fair, I did make progress with [redacted] back in the old days of [obsolete forum]. I recall having even-tempered disagreements with them and that was great. But as a whole, the Republican party has shifted so far to the right and made it a literal mission never to work with Democrats. They created a spin network which keeps their followers living in a different reality from the rest of the world, one where Trump is a blameless saint and Alexandria Cortez is a devil-spawn (as opposed to being a flawed but well-meaning young woman learning the swing of things in Congress.) Democrats may not be perfect–far from it–but there’s nothing like that going on with the left. I challenge anyone to prove me otherwise; show me anything “the left” has done in modern America which comes anywhere near the scope and magnitude of these misdeeds, or the effectiveness of the Murdoch propaganda network.
So the point is, just rolling over and playing nice with people like that isn’t noble or even smart. It’s just letting yourself be bullied without defending your own honor. (And speaking from experience, ignoring a bully doesn’t stop them, it only eggs them on to escalate the abuse.) It’s letting the overton window slide even further to the right in an age where nazis are normal while reforms based on successful European countries is “disturbing” and “communism.” Being nice with these people isn’t going to lead to some kind of perfect utopia because they’re not interested in progress much less compromise or decency. They want to win. They want “librul tears” and disparaging minorities in perpetuity. For some of us, our very right to exist and human dignity are at stake. For all of us, our livelihoods are at stake as people can’t make ends meet, wealth disparity has never been worse, our infrastructure is crumbling and we don’t have healthcare. One party, flawed as they may be, are at least trying to fix these issues. (Or, at least, there’s a wing within them which wants to do so.) The other uses hatred of women/minorities and religious pandering as a smokescreen while they rob the treasury and rescind labor/consumer protections to make the 1% even richer. If you don’t believe me look up the Southern Strategy and Moral Majority strategies of Nixon and Reagan, the electoral coalition upon which the modern right-wing is built.
We are well beyond making nice. We passed that goal about ten years ago. It’s time to fight back NOW before it’s too late. The planet can’t wait another 50 years for us to try reasoning with bigots and the willfully ignorant. (What party is it that’s denying climate change and rolling back environmental protections again?)
Just hoping and praying isn’t going to get anywhere, and frankly when most people talk about compromise it seems like the onus is ALWAYS on Democrats to do so. Based on the list provided above, as well as the fact that FDR and McGovern would be defamed as commie radicals today (while our contemporary Democrats look like the Republicans of the Pre-Reagan era) I hold firm that if anyone needs to cross the aisle and start the change it has to be Republicans this time. Can you honestly see that happening? Do you really think the same Republicans who worship Trump and hang “liar liar pants on fire” signs during a congressional hearing are really gonna meet us halfway if we tried? (Remember the Obama years?) Exactly. So why should we? Why must we always surrender to the willfully hateful and pridefully uninformed? What can society gain by pandering to the lowest common denominator? How have we improved since the last 40 years of doing exactly that? You tell me.
In order to get politics back to a place of civility we’re going to need a few reforms to pass:
1) So, first of all, we need new viable parties. When you only have two options it’s inevitably going to devolve into an “us vs them” mentality. Even just a third party would upset the balance of power enough that it’d force compromise. Why? Because if you’re obstructionist and shit all over the others, you get left out in the cold while the other two compromise to get their reforms passed. It changes up that one-way-binary status quo. This prevents tenuously allied factions of society (fiscal conservatives / religious fundies / racists on one side, Centrists / Feminists / Democratic Socialists on the other) from being forced into these abnormal coalitions. This means no longer having to swallow your values to vote for someone you hate just so someone you hate MORE doesn’t win. This way, each faction can be more honest, active and influential without getting shouted down or shamed into falling in line within their own party.
2) But for this to even have a chance of happening, we need to get rid of First Past the Post voting. FPTP insures there can only ever be two parties, because risking a vote for the underdog up-and-comer means injuring your second favorite party’s chance to win. If a new Progressive Party came up the pike in our current system, promising green infrastructure and healthcare and Universal Basic Income I’d want to vote for them. But if I risk it, everyone else even remotely close to me on the spectrum has to hop on board too or else all we’ve done is sabotage the Democrats. Then the party most diametrically opposed to me wins, the new third party dies out due to lack of power in government and demoralized followers. It has happened hundreds of times and will again in the future until we change the way we vote. I strongly recommend Range Voting based on my research into the topic, but literally anything would be an improvement.
3) We need to reform the media. Break up the monopolies (six companies own all the mainstream media in the US) and reinstate the Fairness doctrine. Say that if you call yourself news you need to either present all sides or use verifiable sources (academic research, scholarly articles, peer-reviewed scientific studies, etc.) You’d have some people throwing a fit and using free speech as a defense but at some point we’re going to have to recognize that there are negatives of free speech and we’ll have to determine which is more important. I’ve seen the garbage they air on FOX or CNN these days–it’s all talking heads shouting over each other and regurgitating buzz-words, pushing the narrative of their side. Nobody can learn, much less analyze what’s going on with that kind of thinly veiled obfuscation. However, realistically I don’t think even this would solve the problem since a lot of misinformation and echo-chambering occurs online. Trying to regulate the “good” websites will be like playing wack a mole.
4) We need to fix living conditions for people. When times are bad–and make no mistake, they are for most Americans–people resort to rallying around their tribe and attacking the other. It’s what our primitive instincts demand of us. If wages were good, student debt didn’t cripple people’s futures out the gate, the planet weren’t dying and our infrastructure were something to be proud of, do you think we’d be lashing out at each other so harshly? Probably not, because if things are good there’s not as much to complain about. A fantastic documentary hosted by a former secretary of the interior goes into this–Inequality for All. Highly recommend it.
5) We need a public place where people can interact with others again. We spend so much time at these jobs we hate, then come home so exhausted we veg out on the couch watching TV until we fall asleep. We meet more and more people online and don’t get the emotional reinforcement that comes from face-to-face interaction. Online, people are more likely to be nasty for no reason, plus our genuine attempts at communication are more easily misunderstood. We need a new modern equivalent to what the Roman baths used to be–a communal area where people could go and hang out for awhile. Nowadays, in the Late Capitalism era, everything cost money; there’s nowhere you can really go to just chill in public for awhile if you’re not spending a bunch of money and/or already meeting someone you know there. Maybe shopping malls used to fill that niche to a limited extent, but now with online shopping those are gone too.
6) We need real education. Our schools should produce people who value critical thinking and the scientific method as opposed to dogma and blind allegiance to authority. We have to reform the curricula of our schools, and move away from Educational Essentialism. One alternative to the way we organize schools now is Democratic Education, but my preferred is Progressive Education. Then there’s Educational Perennialism which may be a good compromise. Like with FPTP, literally anything is better than the way we organize our schools now–it’s terrible for the students AND the teachers. When we raise people who are actually interested in searching for the objective truth, who question authority and know the actual goddamn definitions of political science terms like “socialism” we might get a decent discourse again.
7) Personally, I’d argue that we need Universal Basic Income as that would solve a lot of these issues all at once. Without having to work shitty dead end jobs just to stay alive, people would have the time and means to see loved ones more often. They’d have the leisure time to go outside more often (it’s boring being couped up forever). They’d have the freedom to pursue more education (even if it means just reading more articles or listening to more lectures online) and tackle their creative endeavors since they wouldn’t have to waste time working jobs they hate. Without work sucking out so much of our energy, people would be more likely to get involved with politics since, like the elderly, now they have the time to actually give a shit. I’ll admit upfront this last one is more of my personal solution as opposed an objective need I think we could all agree with. With the automation crisis looming it will be a necessity unless someone else thinks of a better solution besides “everyone will just magically get a new job.” And really, shouldn’t a world where robots do all the work nobody else wants to do be the long-term goal of society? Why have we become so entrapped by this one ideology, unrestrained Capitalism, or a puritanical work ethic, that we no longer have any imagination or drive to make a better world where man is truly free?
The thing is though, the party standing in the way of all these things is the Republicans. They’re the ones who cut the budget for education. They’re the ones pushing for Laissez Faire Capitalism where everything is privatized and the poor are denied aid, healthcare or even basic human dignity. They’re the ones who buy into these bullshit conspiracy theories wholesale because someone on a YouTube channel called “Verum Media” told them to. (I’ll admit bias and echo-chambers goes both ways, but I maintain no disinformation machine in America is as prevalent or successful as the Murdoch media empire.) The election reform though, I will grant is 100% on both parties, and luckily getting that one thing passed will make other reforms exponentially easier.
So as a result, we’re right back where we were in the first place–we need to fight the hardcore right-wing on these issues and get reforms passed in as many of these categories as possible. You do that, and given enough time a more balanced, respectful discourse will follow. But caving in, meeting in the middle every time they push harder, that’s not a long term solution, it’s a short-term placation. That was the Clinton Third Way, this triangulation/meet in the middle bullshit. Again, Obama sincerely tried to do that his whole two terms and they spit in his face–now we have Trump and the Republicans are more inflammatory than they’ve ever been. We have to fight back now because we’re dealing with people who will never be decent to anyone who’s not ordained by FOX news with an “R” next to their name.