“Nobody Could Have Imagined”

This piece appeared on Daily Kos (in two installments) in June, 2020.


PART I: Why Liberal America Repeatedly Underestimates the Darkness on the Right

Recently I posted a piece titled “A Possible Urgent New Reason Why AG Barr Must Be Impeached.”  In it, I pointed to what I see as danger signs that Barr and Trump may be working together to develop the tools to overturn the election if it goes against Trump. (Signs that Barr is being groomed to function as an American “Interior Minister.”)

One commenter reinforced the warning I’d sounded, calling attention to the pit of “Nobody could have imagined” into which the Democratic world has repeatedly fallen as things on the right have become darker and darker.

And I, in turn, appreciated his calling attention to that pattern: i.e. the pattern of Liberals being repeatedly surprised over these many years as a dark force has gained ever-greater power on the American right.

You Can’t Hit What You Can’t See

This failure of American Liberals to “imagine,” I have maintained since 2005, is the result of shortcomings in the dominant worldview – the main way the world is perceived — in the liberal universe of thought in our times. That worldview provides no space for the reality of WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST. (That’s the title of my 2015 book—available here as a pdf free of charge).

Over the past 16 years – but especially in that book — I have tried to show that WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST (in today’s Republican Party) is best understood

  • as a coherent force that consistently spreads a pattern of brokenness (a force which arises naturally out of the web of cause and effect operating in the human world, and that displays certain identifiable properties and ways of operating).

Or, if we look at this “force” not in social scientific terms, but in terms that capture the place and meaning of this drama in the moral and spiritual dimension of human reality,

  • as something that acts in the human world very much like what has traditionally been called Evil. (Something, that is, that has the consistent effect of making things worse, that consistently promotes injustice over justice, conflict over peace, lies over truthfulness, hatred over love, etc.)

But over the years, Liberal America, failing to see the nature of the force that’s taken over the right, has repeatedly been surprised. “Nobody could have imagined” – because the contemporary liberal worldview has shown itself

  • neither comprehensive and integrative enough in its search for understanding to enable the construction of the mental maps necessary for perceiving something so Big Picture as “forces” spreading “patterns” of “brokenness” through cultural systems over time.
  • nor tuned in deeply enough, at the spiritual level, to believe that anything like “the Battle Between Good and Evil” could correspond in any meaningful way to how the human world operates.

Not understanding the nature – the utter destructiveness — of the force that’s been taking over the right for the past generation, Liberal America has continually underestimated just how deep into ugliness and corruption and lies and betrayal the extraordinary Republican Party of our times might go.

Caught By Surprise

“Nobody could have imagined” that

  • the Party of Eisenhower and Gerald Ford could become the party of Newt Gingrich, Rush Limbaugh, and Karl Rove— sociopathic rogues all.
  • a Republican Party in Congress would decide to make their top priority the failure of the newly-elected President — even at a time when the whole world economy teetered on the edge of an abyss.
  • the Republican Party would nominate —  and choose to be the servants of — probably the least well-put-together person we’ve seen on the national stage, or on the world stage in our lifetimes, broken in almost every way.
  • That a Republican Senate (with but one Republican dissenting) would all rally to protect an extraordinarily lawless and destructive President in violation of their oath of office, and to the serious endangerment of the American constitutional system.

All of that is unimaginable, so long as one is deluded – as the Democrats seem to have been for years – into imagining they were dealing with a Republican Party practicing “politics as usual,” imagining that they needed to maintain – with their “friends on the other side of the aisle” – relations friendly enough that it remains possible to work together for “the good of the nation.”

But this is not politics as usual, and has not been for a generation. In this Republican Party, the Democrats have been dealing with something far darker, something not often seen in the world in such a pure form. (Never, to my knowledge, in a major party in this or any other established democratic polity.) Hence that phrase from earlier: “the extraordinary Republican Party of our time.”

So the Democrats failed to recognize that the far darker thing that had arisen on the right doesn’t give a damn about “the good of the nation,” so possessed is it by an uncannily consistent impulse to make things worse. Extraordinarily consistent in making our world more broken:

On not a single issue of conflict between today’s Republican and Democratic parties does the Republican position make America better, more whole. This very consistency is evidence of the coherent nature of the “spirit” that drives this broken Republican party.

Consider the implications of this extraordinary consistency. Nothing — not Barr’s and Trump’s imaginable coup d’etat, or any other destructive course from today’s GOP — should be beyond our imagining.

PART II: Why It’s Important that Liberal America Understand What We’re Up Against

It’s not just to stop being surprised that it’s valuable to understand WHAT WE’RE UP AGAINST.

We are also more likely to prevail in the dangerous political battle of our times if we recognize that we’re up against that “coherent force” that will keep pushing the nation — without inherent limit — in the direction of brokenness until it is driven from power. (Driven from power via either the destruction or the deep transformation of this Republican Party.)

Perceiving well and understanding one’s foe is always key to fighting effectively. And we will be more effective in this battle if we perceive it — not just in terms of “a force of brokenness” but also in the ancient terms of “the Battle Between Good and Evil.”

Ancient, but still valid. We are embattled against a force that

  • consistently assaults justice,
  • consistently deceives,
  • lacks compassion and
  • shows a cruel streak (kids in cages),
  • is insatiable both in its lust for power and its greed (putting greed ahead of the future of civilization and life on earth).

If all those pieces that doesn’t add up to “Evil,” what would?

And if the extraordinary consistency of destructiveness doesn’t prove that there is some kind of coherent force operating in driving its impact on the world — one that acts like the old notion of “Evil,” in that it always drives things toward greater brokenness. (But this coherent force is not something or someone supernatural, but rather arises naturally out of the web woven in the human world by the workings of cause and effect.

Plugging Into a Deeper Source of Power

It is not just the intellectual validity of perceiving the battle in such terms. It is also the motivational power we tap into when we recognize the moral and spiritual heart of what is being fought over.

We become more powerful from understanding our current battle in those moral and spiritual terms, because that level ignites in us the kind of passions that are conducive to victory against such a foe. Inspired — and therefore more powerful.

Our culture’s major narratives demonstrate that the terms of “the Battle Between Good and Evil” is deeply meaningful to us. Our major mythologies of generated in this era by our civilization’s storytelling are enactments of “the Battle Between Good and Evil.” It is such morally and spiritually freighted conflicts that form the essence of the Star Wars sagas, with their Death Star; of Avatar with the military-industrial instrument of planet-destroying greed; with the forces of Souron, epitomizing utter evil, in The Lord of the Rings.  The essence also of countless classic Westerns.

All that points to something: something deep within us seems to have been crafted — by biological selection and/or cultural molding — to experience as deeply meaningful the idea of going to battle against a force of evil. The expert storytellers kindle in us the passions to join — vicariously — our heroes like Luke in his attack on the death start, like Sully fighting the planet-destroyers, like Frodo saving the world with his Hobbit courage and devotion to the Good.

Our Sagas reveal where within us lie the deepest motivational springs that can be tapped to empower us for victory in this battle, fighting to wrest a sacred world out of the control of the corrupt, the tyrannical, and the cruel.

“Good vs. Evil” Is the Essential Choice in this 2020 Election

The drama being played out in our politics is essentially the same as in those Sagas, for a consistent pattern of brokenness can be demonstrated in what the Republican Party is doing to America. Which makes the Democrats of necessity the party that is fighting for Good— necessity because if the Republicans are consistently on the side of brokenness, the Democrats are compelled in any fight to push toward greater wholeness.

The task of the Democrats in this 2020 Election campaign is to bring as many Americans as possible to recognizing that reality. For that recognition will kindle in them the kind of passion that we feel as Luke attacks the Death Star, as Sully defeats the planet-destroyers, as Frodo saves the world with his Hobbit courage and devotion to the Good.

The dramatization of this battle between good and evil need not and ought not involve Democrats ever using the world “Evil.” That would be a needless mistake politically. The picture of “Good vs. Evil” dimension can come across as subtext, the cumulative effect of showing the contrast— on issue after issue, presenting the choice between the parties in this fraught time amounts is a choice between defending what we value or letting it get still more broken.

Our narratives give us reason to believe that we can count on (the majority of) the American people to side with the good guys in the story, if they can see who the good guys – and who the bad guys — are.

Helping as many Americans as possible to see just that – and to vote accordingly – should be the central goal of the Democratic campaign this year.

Biden’s Already Doing It, but a Coordinated Nationwide Democratic Effort is Called for

Biden is already doing a good job of dramatizing the choice between him and Trump in terms that implicitly amount to Good vs. Evil.  He is drawing the choice in terms — caring, decency, responsibility, healing, bringing together, serving (rather than self-serving) —  that map cleanly in those moral and spiritual terms. And rightly so.)

(By making those contrasts, Biden has played a role, I believe, in moving the polls so that he has a double-digit lead. Trump is certainly doing his part to turn people off, but Biden is putting together smart messages to highlight how the choice between Trump and Biden is one in which Biden clearly represents what the majority want America to be.)

Also mapping well onto “Good vs. Evil” are

  • the Black Lives Matter movement vs. Trumpian postures of White Supremacy;
  • and “meeting the challenge of climate change” vs. lying to people to keep them from taking the course we so urgently need for the good of all those to come after us, including our children and grandchildren;
  • tax cuts for the rich;
  • democracy and the rule of law vs. criminality at the top.;
  • keeping vs. violating one’s oath of office;
  • relate to their choice in the November election in those terms, because that’s really the fundamental choice: the wholeness of our decent values vs. consistently tearing at the fabric that helps make our civilization more just and decent.

This picture should be dramatized before the American people, in whatever way would be most effective in getting the people to see the essential nature of the upcoming choice.

We can count on (the majority of) the American people to side with the good guys in the story, if they can see who the good guys – and who the bad guys — are.

Helping as many Americans as possible to see just that – and to vote accordingly – should be the central goal of the Democratic campaign this year.

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