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Wednesday, September 04, 2019

Complicity and civility

I'm struggling with this question right now: where is the line between making change through relationship, and enabling abuse?

I think it's a mistake to hold onto surface civility at all costs. And, I think there's a real tendency in the left to recast our own exclusion of others, dehumanization of others, and political violence in self-righteous terms.

I also think we undervalue the norms of surface civility that the cruel and hateful do often stick to. I think we're often dealing with people on the right who have a significant amount of desire watch the world burn, and make others as miserable as they are themselves; in other words, they're much more in the market for incivility than we are. I think from their perspective, an incivility arms race is winnable, whereas from ours it is not.

Most of all, I think it's a bit dangerous for us to act as though there is an easy answer to the question of what to do about all the powerful people motivated by cruelty. Don't appease and enable them! Of course. But then, what? What's the plan? Does the racist gang calling itself a militia really cower in the face of the show of force? Or does that mostly give them license to do much worse?

I think one of the most significant casualties in the Trump era is the rigor of thinking on the left. We are so obviously, incredibly obviously on the right side of history, I don't think we're doing much entertaining tough questions about how to win and hold power and what to do with it. Why was the CFPB so vulnerable to an illegal takeover by a Republican administration, when other federal offices aren't? What are the most important structural changes we could win to peel back the legal entrenchment of disproportionate Republican and white voting power? Do we want to make DC and Puerto Rican statehood core parts of our agenda? How do we pursue entitlements so that they will receive the widespread support that Social Security does, instead of the widespread derision that AFDC and WIC do? How do we use wedge issues like gay rights to our advantage, now that most Americans agree generally with the left? How do we incubate the next few generations of democratic leaders, so we don't wind up with so many lost opportunities to run competitive congressional and Senate races? How do we take seriously the ways that regulatory complexity allows large, powerful players to navigate the system better than new entrants?

I just see a dozen self-congratulatory posts about how awful the Republicans are right now for everyone that is asking difficult questions of Democrats or progressives.

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