What a day for the good guys, right? Watching the House Select Committee investigating the January 6 insurrection and seeing Gaetz and MTG running from the truth on the same day!
Hate to burst your bubble, but it’s a little like watching the horrible Pearl Harbor Movie “Tora Tora Tora” and cheering for the handful of American planes that were not destroyed on the ground finally take to the air. Actually did that, me and my friends – when we were 11.
Great that these things happened, cathartic to some degree and necessary from the perspective of justice as well. But neither changes the strategic balance of power between the insurrectionists and progressives. We are losing the war, because progressives are not working from a strategy, mobilizing effectively, leveraging our advantages, blunting the bad guys’ momentum, or attacking the right’s center of gravity.
You only need to look at the failure of the Black Lives Matter movement to gain any meaningful traction, the failure of police reform, the failure of the Voting Rights protection laws, the failure to hold Trump and his appointees to account for law-breaking, the reductions of voting protections in multiple (14 and counting) states -- to see that even while “owning” all houses of government, national structural issues and long-standing Democratic party failure to fix the broken system -- to conclude that things are getting progressively worse. Days like today will be few and far between absent a complete revamping of the progressive, liberal, Democratic party approach to the threat we face from the right.
We’ve addressed the left’s shortcomings at length in previous issues, and also laid out a near-term course of action designed to buy us time to regain the initiative. Much of that agenda remains unrealized, and we continue to recommend its complete enactment.
But let’s be hopeful and pre-suppose much of that agenda got enacted, and that we still have a functioning democracy, in 2024. We will not be out of the woods then, far from it. We predict we’re looking at a 75-year journey from our current state to one in which democracy is secured for the long haul. But we could then (in 2024) profitably and safely turn our attention to the body of laws, policies and governance approaches that will underpin long-term domestic tranquility. It’s worth discussing them now because it will take a long time and a great deal of mobilization to get these in place. With these in place, we could stabilize our democracy and ensure that, while we may not move forward as quickly as we would all like, at least progress made would be backstopped. It is the singular failure of the American people to prevent the erosion of the system that protects all rights, while pursuing the expansion of rights, that led us to our current state -- let us not make the same mistake again. Here are the key changes that collectively constitute a Democracy Preservation regime:
Universal National Service. Wow, why start with that one, right? Well, freedom isn’t free, to re-purpose that old trope. As long as there are nation states and the United States intends to be one of them, then the nation must be armed with mechanisms to inculcate national values such as the rule of law, universal and equal justice, freedom from want, fear and coercion, etc. Currently, we only deploy negative reinforcement mechanisms such as jail, and we wield that tool unfairly. Without mechanisms like national service, we leave the national culture to be defined, shaped and inculcated primarily by moneyed interests and propagandists, leavened only moderately by the almost-as-pernicious influence of the celebrity industry. For those who argue that culture, like all else in American life, should be free to evolve on its own, I offer these two counterpoints: 1. Values should not be allowed to evolve freely, if they do they do not meet the definition of the word; 2. American culture is not now, nor has it every been – evolving freely. It has ever been and is currently being steered, mythologized, propagandized and exploited by the powerful at the expense of the less so, behind a brilliant smokescreen buoyed by irrational hope and a steady stream of new dupes.
National Service has a bad name because of its association and correlation with military conscription – which is actually only one of many options for service. In this author’s opinion (disclosure: I am a Veteran), the draft did a lot more good than bad for the nation. It exposed insular Americans to the diversity that made the nation great; it enabled the disadvantaged to move up in society; it exposed millions to places and situations they otherwise would never have been. Most importantly, by reaching into all social demographics, it ensured that our leaders were more thoughtful and less profligate with the lives our young people. Its major shortcomings of course were that it was exclusive to males, and the system was full of loopholes enabling the well-connected to escape the draft.
We got rid of the draft because it was politically problematic and expedient. Nixon needed a win, presidential campaign leverage, and a distraction from the Vietnam War and Watergate, and in the unpopular draft, he found it. However, this decision almost broke the Army – the service most reliant on conscription -- it only recovered through the heroic long-term efforts of its commissioned and non-commissioner officers. From my perspective, while the American military is an effective fighting force, it has ceased to be the driver of forward social momentum it once was. The All Volunteer Force is the single biggest cause of this lost momentum.
The problems with the All Volunteer Force are mainly the opposites of the advantages of conscription noted above. But there is another, and it is huge: military enlisted recruits are increasingly drawn from a very narrow slice of Americans that is more often than not poor, southern, insular, poorly educated, and children of military families. Not only is this demographic clearly not diverse, it is mono-cultural as well, in turn driving and adding to a pronounced illiberal, non-representative sub-culture. Is it any wonder that misogyny and racism are so prevalent when recruits are drawn from pools in which these proclivities abound? Follow this link for more detail: (https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/10/us/military-enlistment.html)
What would a democracy supporting National Service look like? Everybody serves; the only exceptions are for disabilities; and those with disabilities can choose to serve should they so desire. The options would include military service, teaching for those so qualified, environmental service, public works, social services -- the service space is large and massively underserved -- the only boundaries are really those of imagination. If you don’t have your High School diploma when you go in, you’ll have your GED by the time you finish. If you don’t have your college degree when you go in, we’ll pay for two years of college. If you’re not a U.S. citizen when you go in, you will be when you complete your service.
Don’t even go there with your “but how do we afford it” shit. Denmark pays for everything its citizens want and its economy is a small fraction of ours. (“The United States with a GDP of $20.5T ranked the 1st largest economy in the world, while Denmark ranked 38th with $355.7B; Georank.)
The real reason National Service is so critical to long term preservation of Democracy is that it serves as a cultural touchtone and rally point powerful enough to help young people break free of the cultural and educational limitations they inherit. Only these types of big national programs are powerful enough to break the bonds of power and influence that are driving our current vicious cycles of ignorance and intolerance. Tinkering won’t get it done. To re-phrase something I said earlier, you can’t have a nation without “national” things.
Mandatory Voting – Australia, Luxembourg and Belgium have it, and it results in higher levels of political legitimacy. Small price to pay for enjoying the benefits of a democracy. Will result in massive changes to the U.S. political system, including the death of the Republican Party. Will be fought tooth and nail. Tough shit -- has to happen or we’ll be fighting the bad guys forever as we rapidly devolve. It will be mandatory at the national, state and local levels. Here’s more information on the subject: https://news.stanford.edu/2018/11/30/case-mandatory-voting/
Participative Democracy – Our current governance model is representative democracy. It’s failing us badly. One only has to look at the energy being invested by Congress to pass the infrastructure bill and compare that with their abandonment of the Voting Rights Advancement Act. One matters greatly to all of us and the future of democracy, the other matters little because most of the money will be wasted, and all of it will get steered to the already rich and powerful. For Congress to champion the meaningless and corrupt instead of focusing on the existential threats tells you all you need to know about the state of representative democracy.
Functionally, we still require some sort of representative governance, but it needs to increasingly share power with participative democracy (“a model of democracy in which citizens are provided power to make political decisions. Etymological roots of democracy imply that the people are in power, making all democracies participatory to some degree;” Wikipedia.) Participative democracy enrolls and empowers a proportion of the citizenry in setting the appropriate legislative and policy agenda; while simultaneously diluting the power of political parties, think tanks, lobbyists and oligarchs. This aspect of the regime does not require legislation or money – it can be done now – but it must be a more muscular and coordinated effort than is being exerted now by progressive organizations. Read more about it here: https://www.institutmontaigne.org/en/blog/participatory-democracy-importance-having-say-when-times-are-hard.
Democratic Socialism – I've come to the conclusion that capitalism is not sufficiently compatible with democracy for the combination to enable a just society …... there, I said it. The ill-suited pairing must be replaced with democratic socialism else capitalism will swallow up democracy whole – as it is rapidly doing in the United States. “Democratic socialism is a political philosophy supporting political democracy within a socially owned economy, with a particular emphasis on economic democracy, workplace democracy, and workers' self-management within a market socialist economy or some form of a decentralized planned socialist economy. Democratic socialists argue that capitalism is inherently incompatible with the values of freedom, equality, and solidarity—and that these ideals can only be achieved through the realization of a socialist society. Although most democratic socialists seek a gradual transition to socialism, democratic socialism can support either revolutionary or reformist politics as means to establish socialism;” Wikipedia.
Participative democracy as vector can facilitate and accelerate movement towards this end. But the road we must travel is more difficult than just creating new mechanisms – we must totally reevaluate what we value as a society, how we value what we value it in terms of priorities, who matters, and how we define the common good. This is a fundamentally social-political endeavor that must take place first “outside” the frame of capitalism and the current political system – in a process we term “unconstrained decision-making" in management consulting. Once we have determined what we want, and what we’re willing to do to get it, then we develop a strategy, the institutional mechanisms we require, and the plan for reengaging with the status quo entities that currently hold sway. We negotiate transition rates and sequence from current to state to desired future state through our new mechanisms of participative democracy.
This is going to be tough, because it’s very simple for the right, and frankly anyone in power, to denigrate this work by associating it with older concepts of socialism and even with communism. Those movements – both pure socialism and communism, failed for numerous historical reasons, but probably the biggest factor was their near singular focus on distribution of wealth – which turned out to be the wrong systemic lever for socio-political change. For a terrific in-depth capture of the modern ideas animating democratic socialism, please read “This Life” by Martin Hagglund.
Democracy Preservation Laws: We may need more than one. But let’s start with an American analog of the German “Volksverhetzung, in English "incitement to hatred" (used also in the official English translation of the German Criminal Code), "incitement of popular hatred", "incitement of the masses", or "instigation of the people", is a concept in German criminal law that refers to incitement to hatred against segments of the population and refers to calls for violent or arbitrary measures against them, including assaults against the human dignity of others by insulting, maliciously maligning, or defaming segments of the population;” Wikipedia. Change a couple words to suit and get going. There’s no need to ponder and deliberate – we need this so let’s do it, now. Getting this law in place should be the focus of the early participative democracy efforts.
Fact-based, Best Practices Education System – First, no more state and local decision making re schools. Most locals who get involved with education are yokels with axes to grind, people to hate and exploit, and rights to suppress. We can’t let them have that power over us, our children and our posterity. You know this is true, don’t give me any shit about our history, Founding Fathers’ desires, states’ rights or precedent. Second, establish a national commission that establishes optimal educational methodology and content. Enroll a plurality of citizens into the process through participative democracy mechanisms – and abolish those God-awful school boards.
Federated System - This one is pretty simple – no more “States” rights;” states and localities administer, they don’t decide or legislate -- and they certainly don’t “rule.” People have rights, not states. States have responsibilities. Elections are administered nationally following national laws. Every state follows the same laws across the board. We can’t disenfranchise citizens and doom them to inequality simply because of where they were born. We can’t allow parts of our country to “do their own (wrong) thing.” Too many people sacrificed too much and worked too hard in defense of national values and rights to allow them to be abrogated by selfish, hateful and ignorant people.
I’m currently reading “To Start A War,” How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq, by Robert Draper. It’s the usual political potboiler, and actually well-researched with balanced analysis. But what I was struck by as the narrative unfolds and we inevitably get sucked into the catastrophe that was the Iraq War, is the fact that the author misses the main point of the story. It is apparent above all that we have invested an inordinate amount of power in the Presidency – power that extends unquestionably to his/her appointees – and that absolutely none of the players ever faced any meaningful accountability for the mistakes and failures that resulted in the deaths of at least 200,00 Iraqis and Americans.
“To Start a War” tells the exact same story – albeit the events and players are new – as did Barbara Tuchman in “The March of Folly” and “The Guns of August” (must reads). How does the greatest nation on earth allow its citizens to be led by the nose into folly by cretinous human beings such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz? Why does it elect as leaders such clearly unqualified people like George W. Bush and Donald Trump? Regardless of the explanations one might offer, they will miss the main point – that we the people have let this happen, and only we can fix it. Presidents won’t walk back their own power. Congress won’t do anything meaningful without being pushed. The Supreme Court is leading us as rapidly as they can to authoritarianism and oligarchy – while enjoying esteem, tenure, great salaries and benefits, and zero external accountability.
The recommendations in this piece admittedly all fall in the very hard to do category. If we can’t even make small changes, if Congress is hopelessly gridlocked, how in the world could we deem it worthwhile to take such moonshots? Paradoxically, gridlock is an outcome of small ideas. Who gives a shit about the little shit except the bad guys who seek to exploit every minute power advantage? It is the really big stuff that captures the imagination, mobilizes energy, and drives societal change. We started our downhill national slide when we stopped shooting for the moon and equality for all -- let’s dream big again.
I AGREE WITH THE PROFOUNDNESS OF YOUR ARTICLE. AS IT STANDS TODAY ANY ENGRATIATED NERO-TRUMP RICH-ARSE CAN GET ELECTED AS PRESIDENT. THERE MUST BE A "QUALIFICATION EVALUATION" PERFORMED BY AT LEAST 2 INDEPENDENT DOCTORS IN EACH FIELD), AND PERHAPS EVEN LOGISTICS TESTING, FOR ACUMEN, PSYCHOLOGICAL AND PHYSIOLOGICAL ABERRATION, AND/OR DISORDERS THAT WOULD DISQUALIFY ANY CANDIDATE RUNNING FOR THE PRESIDENCY OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA! YES, WE MUST SEEK FEDERAL STANDARDS FOR EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS, VACCINATIONS, AND STANDARDIZE SOCIAL PROGRAMS. THE THE POWER THAT IS PRESENTLY MADE AVAILABLE TO THE SELF-SERVING, LOCAL POLITICOS BREEDS NOTHING MORE THAN AN AMBIANCE OF PROFITEERING, LOBBYING-PAYOFFS AND ENABLES THE CORRUPT TO SEEK PERSONAL POWER AKIN TO "CONDO" COMMANDOS "DO NOTHINGS" OF THE INDIVIDUAL STATES. AMEN
Linda great insights, thank you for sharing them! Keep in touch - it's a long fight!