On circular firing squads

While House and Senate Republicans voted on a millionaires tax cut called health care reform, many noticed that not a single Democrat in Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer’s respective caucuses broke rank — not Heidi Heitkamp, not Joe Manchin. With the Trump White House set to encourage coal mining on lands owned by the federal government and Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III prepared to unleash the Justice Department on defenseless, underappreciated whites, I need to remind myself that shopping for good congressional and presidential candidates in 2018 and 2020 shouldn’t blind me to the consequences of getting ensnared in internecine arguments, many of which take place on the internet between people who can drink water safely out of the tap and needn’t worry about bullying. A friend shared this Melissa McEwan essay that acted like smelling salts. Her piece rebukes liberals who still boast about cutting “red states” lose (accepting without question the jargon of our political elites, by the way) and forgetting the number of Democrats and liberals who dwell in those cities and towns. We don’t all have that luxury of thinking big, she writes. McEwan:

The Democratic Party, for all its perceived and actual flaws, means a lot to people in red states. Like in Indiana and Wisconsin and Texas, where Democratic state legislatures left the states and went into hiding to try to stop Republicans from running roughshod over voters’ rights and needs.

Many marginalized people in red states depend on the Democratic Party in ways that privileged people in true blue states don’t need to. We don’t have the luxury of being contemptuous of the Democratic Party for not being as progressive as we might like them to be, because our basic rights are constantly under assault.

There are certainly a number of people who voted for Clinton who appreciate and value Sanders’ critiques of corporate corruption, yet bristle at his disdain for establishment politics, because we depend on them. In many red states, the near-total lack of progressive infrastructure means that the Democratic Party — the establishment — is the only well-funded institution prepared to hold the line against conservative oppression.

A revolution that includes the decimation of establishment politics risks leaving many Democratic voters in red states without any functional defense at all.

That’s why when we see Bernie Sanders declare “the establishment wing of the Democratic Party” an enemy, or see “Sanders Democrats” launch attacks on Democrats like Kamala Harris, it can feel like an attack on the only institution that has had our backs while our rights are under assault.

And it’s no fucking surprise that people who believe choice is negotiable don’t understand why “establishment Democrats” who have stood the line for us, even if imperfectly, are important to us.

It’s never too early for me to decide, at last, whether Cory Booker or Kamala Harris deserves my ire. Parties are a congeries of ambitions, some of which have aligned with chambers of commerce and what we like to call “Wall Street” to force conservative legislatures into supporting trans rights, and some of which are murmuring about allowing potential candidates to moderate their commitment to reproductive freedom. Yet the official party platform in 2016, which may be meaningless as policy but resonates as a symbol, was the most radical of my lifetime. Similar contradictions existed in the party in 1972 and in 1936. For many people, access to health care is enough.

I have finally accepted that for millions of Americans, the election of Barack Hussein Obama was a radical act: a black man with that name served as president for eight years. Whether he blinked in front of John Boehner during debt ceiling negotiations in 2011 (remember that?) or lacked a coherent policy toward Libya and Syria mattered less than his election. In a development that leaves me uncomfortable, it turns out that Obama’s calculations were correct: he didn’t have to be so liberal because, to quote that awful campaign, his election represented for millions the change we’ve been waiting for.

I don’t like the cut of Booker’s jib, and I know next to nothing about Harris. Let us by all means scrutinize their deeds. But note to self: next time I fight with a college-educated man on social media I’ll remember the people who aren’t. It’s possible that the election of an Obama awakens voters into thinking more is possible, and that even Obama wasn’t enough.

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