This piece was published on Daily Kos and Blue Virginia in the first half of July, 2019.
For a long time, I’ve maintained that the Democrats – as the political arm of Liberal America – have failed to understand the nature of the battle they’re engaged in. I.e., that they’ve failed to recognize the nature, the depth, the magnitude of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST (to use the title of my 2015 book).
And I’ve maintained that this failure of understanding on the liberal side is a major reason that the destructive force has been able not only to take over the American right, but also to gain so much power over the United States that it has been able to inflict so much damage on America, on the world, and even on the prospects of humankind.
Let me try to sketch the larger context in which the current political battle must be seen.
It is right to focus at this moment on the current epicenter of the battle — i.e. on the current (criminal, reckless, somewhat crazy, consistently destructive, lawless, malignantly narcissistic, lying, bullying, norm-trampling) President of the United States, Donald Trump.
But from there our vision should move outward to see the concentric circles in which the Trump crisis is embedded.
Not much more needs to be said here about Trump, other than that it would be difficult to imagine a President whose impeachment was more mandatory. His contempt for the law and the Constitution — such a dangerous thing in someone wielding the powers of the Presidency — seems almost complete. Certainly beyond anything ever seen before in an American President.
(And yet, the Democratic leadership seems committed to avoiding the necessary course — impeachment as the necessary means to “protect and defend the Constitution” — regardless of the oath of office they’ve taken.)
Beyond Trump, there is the Republican Party of this era:
- a Party that poisoned the minds of enough of their followers that they chose this blatantly wrong person to invest with the powers of the American presidency, and
- a Party that has chosen to tie themselves closely to Trump even though they (reportedly) recognize what a threat he is to the nation and our constitutional order.
We should recognize that Trump is but the more flagrant form of what the Republican Party, over the course of a generation, had already become. Even before Trump’s rise, this Republican Party had become a political force
- consistently communicating by lies,
- exploiting their followers,
- taking power from the weaker to give to the already mighty, and wealth from the poorer to enrich further the wealthiest,
- trampling on the constitutional order and the norms of our democracy whenever that will increase their dominance,
- sowing racial and other group hatreds among the people,
- fomenting partisan conflicts that divide the American people against themselves, etc.
Trump is but the Republican wolf who, after a generation of the poisoning of American politics, no longer needed the sheep’s clothing with which the Republicans had previously cloaked themselves in order to obscure the ugliness of their purposes and methods.
And so the battle with Trump is the present focus of a larger battle against a Republican Party that had already itself become a wrecking ball inflicting pervasive damage on the American nation.
Accordingly, the effort to protect the nation against the lawless Trump presidency should be made as much as possible into a means of bringing down that unprecedentedly atrocious political party as well.
Pull back a little further, however, and we can see how today’s Republican Party must be understood in the still larger context of the American civilization as it has unfolded through its centuries of history. We should see today’s Republican Party — uniquely dark and destructive for a major American political party — as an unprecedentedly integrated coalition of all the currents of brokenness that have long flowed through American civilization but have never, until now, come together so fully as a coherent force of brokenness. It is a coalition that brings together:
- The greed of the corporate system, which has not been so politically potent since the age of the Robber Barons;
- The dark and broken passions of White Supremacy, which have played such an ugly role in our history – including how the Slave Power treated a whole race of people as domesticated livestock and then, to preserve that cruel system, plunged the nation into a brutal Civil War;
NOTE: I’ve written previously that part of the increasing power of evil in America is the result of the combination in one political party of two destructive forces that were previously on opposite sides: i.e. the Slave (and Jim Crow) Power that was previously aligned with the Democratic Party with the power of Corporate Greed whose home has long been in the Republican Party.
- The bigotry and ignorance of “Know-Nothingism.”
- The part of America given to violence and bullying and the extension of its dominance (the part that, for example, stole a continent from the Native Americans, and that made gringos hated among the peoples of the “banana republics the U.S. fashioned in Central America).
- The dishonesty and manipulations of the Confidence Man.
- The part of America that historically has willingly raped and despoiled the land.
- The strain of religion that is at once dogmatic, intolerant, and plagued with hypocrisy.
- That current in American civilization driven solely by the lust for power.
All these things have been woven through American history– battling against the best aspects of American civilization — creating brokenness in many forms along many dimensions, in countless episodes that are dark spots in our history.
What’s new in our times is now they’ve all come together to form the coherent spirit of destructiveness that animates today’s Republican Party.
Which means that the battle against Trump represents an opportunity not only to bring down a criminal President, and to bring down the monstrosity that the Republican Party has become over the past generation, but more widely to strike a major blow to help the Good of America prevail of America’s (lately ascendant) “evil” side.
But of course, all those currents of historical American brokenness (that have converged into one river of destructive power operating through today’s Republican Party) are not just part of American civilization. They are currents of destructiveness (injustice, cruelty, hate, greed, exploitation, deceit etc.) that have been at work over the millennia – in one way or another, depending upon the cultural context – in human civilizations generally.
Indeed, the battle in America today can be seen as one historically important instance of a battle that’s been playing out over the history of civilized humankind—a battle between a force of wholeness, which works to create justice, and beauty, and love, and peace, and human flourishing, and a force of brokenness, which works to create the opposite of all these things.
(On the ideas of “Wholeness and Brokenness,” see Chapter 4 of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST, pp. 79-85, available here. And on why that dynamic — the battle between forces of wholeness and brokenness arose with civilization– see there pages 88-98, or my book-length presentation in The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution.)
As human powers have grown the possible scenarios for our species have been narrowing toward being a choice between one of two options, depending on which of those forces prevails in the battle.
With humankind wielding powers with the potential to wreak destruction on a planetary scale — with thermonuclear weapons and with catastrophic environmental disruption – the question of the future of our exceptional species boils down to this: will humankind manage to weave together something so whole that it safely holds in check the destructive powers we command? Or will the force of brokenness triumph, bringing about the breakdown or outright destruction of human civilization (through some combination of degradation of the biosphere and nuclear annihilation)?
(For the argument that the future must move toward the extreme options — wholeness or brokenness triumphant — with the middle path of “muddling through” as humankind has so long done getting more and more attenuated, see “Prepare for the Best,” here.)
The battle over Trump’s presidency may or may not prove determinative of the answer to that huge question regarding human destiny. But it is manifestly of great relevance.
On the destabilization of the earth’s climate, for example, the Republican Party has not only made climate-change-denial party dogma, but it has also supported a President who has systematically done everything within his power to unleash our climate-destroying potential.
On the challenge of preventing nuclear war, that same President has been dismantling the alliance that has done the most to establish a peaceful international order, and has been undoing important efforts to prevent nuclear preservation.
This visible degrading of the prospects for the survival of human civilization is surely part of the stakes in the current American battle over the future of this lawless presidency.
House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler highlighted how this battle represents “a time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government…”
That question – whether the American democracy will survive this lawless, authoritarian President—is plenty big enough. But, as I’ve just suggested, it is not the biggest question that’s up for grabs, and on which the current political battle in America has a non-trivial bearing.
Here’s one way of articulating the biggest question that, at an accelerating rate throughout modern history, has come into focus:
Will the experiment that life embarked upon ten thousand years ago – in producing a species that escaped from biologically evolved limits to invent its own way of life, with the growing powers that come from its open-ended possibilities for cultural innovation – ultimately succeed or prove a disaster.
(On the dangers inevitably inherent to such an experiment conducted by life on earth over the past 10,000 millennia, see Chapter 5 “How the Rise of Civilization Makes Inevitable a ‘Battle Between Good and Evil,’” available on pp. 88-98 here.)