When did despair ever drive activist war cries against injustice?
“We’re all screwed” (or worse) pours out from pundits, close friends, and nervous liberals. Resistant to the big historic picture (spanning far more violent, disrupted times), modern Jeremiahs are over-reacting to the latest insurrection of DAAD, Dumbstruck Authoritarians Against Democracy. Yes, were Trumpian blockheads more adept, they’d be a greater menace, but today’s democracy-slashers have peaked, squandered their “best shot” (that ludicrous insurrection), and have lost prior party leverage, within and without.
No one starts the next Progressive Era with either unrealistic expectations or such gloom and doom that fellow activists throw up their arms before the game is truly afoot. How curious that left and right alike sound such parallel, despairing cries: “our country is lost,” “democracy is doomed,” “we’re all screwed,” “the worst fiends reign,” and “the future is hopeless.” If all is lost, our collective fate is as fixed and fixated as Stop the Steal manias. Not for this camper.
While the theatrical “urgency of now” overplayed feel-good effervescence, the opposite turns otherwise informed, sensitive folks into self-wounded, disarmed victims. Certainly, variations on this bipartisan Armageddon Army perennially appeals to the dispirited, but that way lies political quicksand. Thus do evangelicals ignore climate change disasters: after all, God is poised to make earthshaking, permanent renovations.
Scan most left wing sites and forlorn Chicken Littles cry havoc, their scary crystal balls redolent of Milton’s hell as “darkness visible.” What doomsters see is, well, doom, notably bereft of good news. The message, whether detailed or overgeneralized, is most visible: our nearly unendurable hard times are bound to get worst—fraught with enmity, bloodshed and civil war. In short, doom looms like never before.
For such ominous voices, rightwing irrationality not only still earns far too much media focus, but sustains fervor that serves the Trumpist fascism push, however inept. If the sky doesn’t fall directly on our heads, like a cathedral shaken by earthquake, our equilibrium faces a deluge of fire and brimstone. In short, suffering a tense, polarized political culture, the only realistic evaluation for the gloomy is to wonder when, not if, democracy will evaporate—as if a feather in the wind. I think our institutions have outlasted worse.
What happened to “Never give up?”
What determines our personal reading of the handwriting on the wall – whether Armageddon or another century of of advances in science, minority rights and opportunity, plus fewer poor and hungry—is more about your personality and cherrypicking your truths. Is the glass half-full or half-empty? After all, how few resist what logicians loudly caution against: don’t trust predictions about an unknowable future? Since all predictions are notoriously infallible—and the more specific the less reliable, one’s outlook reflects more about attitude than the reality to come.
“Hope for the best but expect the worst” captures both sides – and that for this half-assed optimist isn’t terrible advice. We are, per the well-researched, persuasive book, “The Power of Bad,” inclined by evolution to be fearful and negative, overly attuned to menace. After all, only one negligent moment (missing that crouching, hungry tiger) can wipe out a lifetime of caution.
That pessimists find negatives everywhere is indisputable (violence, conspiracies, suppression, bad rhetoric, bullying, intolerance) but that things will get worse, without prospects of improvement, is projection born of despair, cousin to cynicism. Fearful, even terrifying predictions only shadow reality: what many think today, with whatever evidence they corral, does not cause the future (though it can deter positive activism). You don’t have to be a Pollyanna to question the firmest of absolute conclusions, like the facile “we are all already screwed.” The prudent don’t jump to emotion-driven conclusions, whether the threat is human, viral or from outer space.
On to specific analysis, where my current, measured optimism finds itself:
1) Trump and Trumpists have for well over a year overplayed their hand badly, reducing chances for winning a national election. The GOP has lost more voters since 2020 than the Dems and centrists are appalled at the Jan 6 insurrection, the endless spewing of nonsense, failed attempts to defend the indefensible, the shameless assault on voting, and addictions to bizarro conspiracies spawned by absurdist concoctions. What legitimate party traffics in explicit, hateful contempt (real and fabricated) for legitimate officials who dare oppose their “indisputable truths”? Trump is a gaffe-machine and his ardent yahoos follow suit.
2) There is no current electable, national GOP candidate for the White House. Trump IMO loses even more sharply to a competent, steadfast incumbent who knows far better how to leverage incumbency. Will anything Trumpists do in the next year or two win over centrists, nor expand the inflamed, over-the-edge base? What deliverables does the right offer other than rejecting federalism as a problem solver, thus sabotaging fair taxation? For how long will voters endure violent, irrational reactions solely to elections the right loses?
3) Even if the Dems lose the House and/or Senate (less likely with defective GOP candidates and more openings), positive, current legislation will help the multitudes and buoy up the Dems by 2024. If trends continue, and real-world benefits accrue from Democratic wins, I see the 2024 general election replaying 2020, inspiring more fed-up Democrats, more so if anti-government, anti-science, anti-law Trump is nominated.
4) Election suppression is real, with negative influences across a few states. But whether that’s enough to reverse decades-long GOP declines nationally is anything but a sure thing. The worst state suppression violations will not withstand court scrutiny—or simply fail to help the right. Fewer total voters does not guarantee outcomes, especially since many GOPers—older, less healthy, less educated, less mobile—may be shut out by complex, annoying or changed regulations.
5) Older, white, male Trumpers are dying much fast than young, progressive, liberals of both genders. Thus attrition over time is already negatively impacting Republican demographics—perhaps beyond what even nefarious gerrymandering delivers. No easy judgments here; no one can read the variables or outcomes.
6) Court action in NY and GA, plus certainly a devastating Congressional Jan 6 report, will dramatize the worst of the pre- and post-Jan 6 serial, Trumpian corruptions, illegality and downright anti-Americanism. Trump’s convictions will only widen the gap between estranged Trumpers—common folk and billionaires alike—many less enamored of backing a convicted criminal.
In short, much current evidence presages more bad news for Trump and the right before 2024. On point, the mediocre, muddling Democrats don’t have to be talented geniuses to come across as safer, more rational choices. A great many daunting ploys (successful, multiple-state voter suppression, corrupting state officials, expanding the base, or finding deliverables) have to happen to save the GOP from its further slide into an anti-democratic suicidal phase.
With the country skeptical of “radicals” on both sides, Dems must only hold the center, much easier than redeeming a discredited, lawless clan going off the rails. Expect the worst but hope for the best—and organize, organize, organize. Georgia senate wins provide the national blueprint. Virginia, an off-election in an off-year, is for me an outlier. In short, dispirited pessimists must make a much better case, all the while overcoming the tendency of despair to defeat itself— perhaps even discouraging full-out activism.
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