New Republic: A Tough-Love Letter to the Left

We have arrived at a strange moment for the left. In the most basic sense, the world we want—a social order built on racial and gender equality, in which the needs of human beings are privileged over profit (or something like that)—is further off than ever. The Trump administration and the Republican majority will seek to defang the labor movement, destroy the welfare state, accelerate deportation and mass incarceration, empower police and prosecutors, undermine environmental protections, rollback civil rights, start wars, and criminalize our means of fighting back. Much of this is already underway.

At the same time, there have perhaps never been more people banging on the walls of our clubhouses, demanding to be let in. It is the left’s first responsibility to fling open the doors. And when we do, we’ll need to avoid the traps of insularity, purism, and fragmentation that have undermined our efforts in the past. We’ll have to meet these new allies, as Smucker says, “where they are, with the language they use, in the spaces they frequent.”

From: A Tough-Love Letter to the Left | New Republic

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29 thoughts on “New Republic: A Tough-Love Letter to the Left

  1. In the most basic sense, the world we want—a social order built on racial and gender equality, in which the needs of human beings are privileged over profit (or something like that)—is further off than ever.

    The Left’s problem isn’t that the world they want is “further off than ever”. The Left’s problem is that, to a first approximation, it’s already here and they need new dragons to slay.

    Rights are enshrined by law, outcomes are not. Most of what the Left is unhappy about is outcomes, most of those outcomes come down to people make choices based on what they want and not what the Left thinks they should.

    Articles like this try to make the claim that we’re worse off than decades ago when it comes to rights, in reality most of these issues are settled. It’s illegal to pay women less, every now and then we have someone makes national news because it *is* news to cross that line. In the 1950’s the number of Southern blacks who could vote was absurdly small. Just a few decades ago the number of gays who could get married was zero.

    The world most certainly is not perfect, but if perfection is your goal then we lack the tools.

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      • DM:“…most of those outcomes come down to people make choices based on what they want and not what the Left thinks they should.”

        Kazzy: I would be convinced if you could, ya know, prove any of this.

        The gender pay gap (79 cents in the us) is a worldwide issue, including in these European utopias where the governments have long done what the US’s women’s movements claim will reduce the gap. Women, as a whole, make different lifestyle choices than men (as a whole) do.

        After we have what? Cultural differences in various groups resulting in different outcomes?

        I look at what’s happened in the last 50 years and I don’t see things getting worse, I see them getting better. The Left just lost a big election and… no death camps, no attempt to take the US back to the 1950’s or 60’s as far as political repression goes.

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  2. An acquaintance once told me the best organizers in her Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter were the Arab frat boys. Active members of Greek life and committed activists, the frat boys were not only extremely good at getting a rowdy action started; they were capable of mobilizing large numbers of their previously unengaged, white frat brothers to participate in SJP rallies and events.

    If it’s hard for us to imagine a crowd of pro-BDS fraternity brothers, or middle-aged white suburbanites taking to the streets for black lives, that’s because this sort of organizing “beyond the choir” is uncommon. Instead, what often happens, Smucker says, is that “we build a scrappy little alternative clubhouse near the perimeter of the ever-advancing logics of capitalism and bureaucracy” filled with the usual suspects. In exchange for our clubhouse, we “give away the farm,” forfeiting the contest to organize society around our values.

    This is the weirdest timeline.

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  3. “….start wars, and criminalize our means of fighting back. Much of this is already underway.”

    And yet, who was it that “droned” the most people of all the admins? There’s a big side of BSDI missing here.

    ” It is the left’s first responsibility to fling open the doors.” But who’s going to save the cushy union jobs if you let in all the great unwashed, hmm?

    The cries of the right undermining EVERYTHING the left ever did, or will do, is a constant refrain when the election cycle doesn’t go their way. The same can be said for the left….and yet, the movement is generally towards the left’s goals. And they still bitch…because all must be made to comply with their positions/views.

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  4. “At the same time, there have perhaps never been more people banging on the walls of our clubhouses, demanding to be let in.”

    The big problem here is a binary thinking that says, “If you don’t love everything the Right is doing, you must be a Liberal!” Sorry Lefties, this isn’t the time for you to recruit more folks for the DNC. It just means that you might find issue-specific allies if you can behave yourself long enough for us to deal with the problem.

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    • I am seeing more of the opposite problem lately. The ideological bundling I referred to in a previous post. Your opposition to Trump doesn’t count unless you fit these other criteria*. Supporting the environment means supporting BLM because it’s all part of the same thing. You say you agree with us? Well, we’ll see about this…

      This isn’t new, but it’s on the uptick. And BSDI, but not symmetrically as of late.

      * I have twice recently been accused of being actually sympathetic to Trump, once by someone who was rooting for Trump to win the GOP nomination last year and still doesn’t regret that.

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      • Coalition politics are hard and it is arguable that the left has a more diverse and broader coalition group to keep happy than the right.

        There are a lot of different things here which generally get ignored. Lee has pointed out numerous times that the Left in the United States has had a historic distrust of the Democratic Party for various reasons, real and imagined. The far right-wing decided to join and take over the Republican Party even though they viewed the GOP as being a bunch of squishy moderates. The farther Left was never able to do this.

        The left never really trusted outsiders either but the right-wing does make it easier to be a convert.

        In modern terms, the left seems to be made of a million different groups with their own primary concern. You have the environmentalists, you have various minority groups with different civil rights concerns and possibly distrust of each other to varying degrees, you have labor unions, and then you have the cosmopolitan professionals. The cosmopolitan professionals and some minority groups might united on immigration but that alienates the labor unions. The cosmopolitans and environmentalists align and that alienates some labor unions but it could help minorities (see Flint), etc.

        I think the tactic the left tries to use as a least bad is “an injury to one is an injury to all.” But this isn’t perfect.

        I don’t think this letter was really addressed to Democratic Party supporters. I think it was addressed to people farther on the left who distrust the Democratic Party and electoral politics and all the compromises that such things contain.

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        • I imagine there is some ratio of reasonable political allies to unreasonable ideologists within a party that still attracts new allies.

          I.E. if a person is testing the waters of a party, and for every ranting, in your face purist, there are 50 reasonable people who tell you to ignore the nutjob, you? can still feel welcome. But the more nutjobs, or the more people who are unwilling? to offer some degree of support against nutjobs so the ratio is effectively skewed, the harder it is to bring people into the fold.

          The left doesn’t lack for reasonable people, but I don’t know that they have enough that are willing to shield against the nutjobs.

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          • I think the same could be said for the right.

            Here is a better example of what I was talking about, I’ve brought it up before.

            There is or was a group in Los Angeles called the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union. They were meant to advocate for Los Angelinos who were too poor to afford cars and needed public transit to get around. All fine and good. The Bus Riders Union got in controversy because they started handing out placards about Israel and Palestine on buses.

            Do you know what Los Angeles has a lot of? Middle-class and above Jewish people. Jews generally vote Democratic and are reliable allies in liberal causes but the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union ended up shooting themselves in the foot because there was something that compelled them to talk about international affairs when they are a local issue group. And this alienated a potentially powerful ally.

            But a lot of people use politics as a point of political purity over practical realization and I suspect that one reason the left generally dislikes liberals as squishes is that liberals will go for measures like the ACA which make it half way to the goal. Some people really dislike compromise and incrementalism.

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            • This is probably the failure mode of Intersectionality. Most of the members of the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union are people of color or see themselves as allies of the people of color. The people who ride the buses in LA are seen as people of color and so are the Palestinians and therefore it is natural that the two causes intersect and the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union must advocate for the Palestinian cause.

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            • I think the GOP has gotten better at making some of the center feel welcome, despite the ranting of the religious nutjobs (not enough to make me feel comfortable?, but I am violently allergic to religious moralizing when it couples to political power).

              ETA: For some reason I think it’s easier to dismiss a religious nutjob telling you you are a bad person for enjoying sex, drugs, & rock & roll, than it is an SJW telling you you are a horrible *-ist.

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            • I mostly agree with you about compromise and incrementalism, but I don’t think Israel is a good example there. To my mind that’s a place where there’s a legitimate difference of opinion on the merits between liberal activists and the party establishment, where on most other issues the divide is about tactics and emphasis.

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              • …legitimate difference of opinion on the merits between liberal activists and the party establishment, where on most other issues the divide is about tactics and emphasis.

                I’ve always had a problem with this idea. As far as I can tell the big tent of the Democratic party covers center-left folks who want marginal changes to banking regulations, a slightly more progressive tax code, and a more robust social safety net and it covers folks who want to break up the banks and nationalize parts of the financial system, undertake much higher levels of income distribution, and adopt a cradle to grave welfare state.

                Is there really some easily identifiable set of policy solutions that can keep both of those people happy and fully invested in the Democratic Party?

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        • I think there is something temperamental going on with it, too. I can’t entirely put my finger on it, but it’s not dissimilar from what I saw from the anti-Trump right (You oppose Trump, too? But do you do so for the *right* reasons?) that applied both when it was helpful and when it was not. And a similar reluctance about burying the hatchet going forward.

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          • Also meant to mention that there is an odd relationship here between confidence and defeatism. The left believes that they are ascendant, that they will win in the end, this election notwithstanding…

            and also believe that there is nothing they can do to convince anybody who disagrees with them of anything. Before the election it was latching onto the No Swing Voters theory, and since then seems to involve believing that anybody who voted for Trump (or maybe any other Republican) will ever vote for them ever ever again, even if they voted for Obama, McGinty, Feingold, etc.

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            • Which is the way you act when you believe that 51% of the country is on your side but apathetic.

              You use different moves when you’re trying to get people off their butts and into the voting booth than you do when you’re trying to get undecided independents to pick you.

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          • I think this is where political ideology gets very similar to religion. You have to believe in the right things for the right reasons. It is the universal problem of the true believer. You tend to find true believers in politics and religion and they can switch sides but they really diminish in fervor.

            I often make comments on how the far left and right-wing hate liberals for being squishes but have a secret respect for each other because of ideological commitment and fervor.

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        • On Slate Star Codex one of the Internet famous Far Righties, somewhat unfortunately truthfully, that the Democratic Party consists of people who simply can’t stand the Republicans and are in the Republicans out-group while the Republican Party members have a more coherent common identity. I don’t think the various component groups are that badly divided but there are some serious conflicts of interest.

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          • The coherent common identity of the Republicans sure hasn’t been in evidence for a while. I sure as heck thought it was splintered in 2000 (well, until 9/11 happened) and starting around 2008 I was pretty sure that it had evaporated entirely with Jesusland and The Somewhat Libertarian West and The David Brooks Northeast having no common ground with each other.

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            • I was pretty sure that it had evaporated entirely with Jesusland and The Somewhat Libertarian West and The David Brooks Northeast having no common ground with each other.

              Parties like this are how parties in a country the size of US *should* be. It’s the other way that’s actually unhealthy. #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinion

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