The Series

To Light a Fire in Liberal America

#1 Many Liberals Don’t Like the Idea of Battle, But the Alternative in America Today is Much Worse

In America right now there’s a battle that needs to be fought and won in our political arena. It’s a battle over what kind of country, and what kind of planet, our children and grandchildren will live in.

Although some people like waging battle — some even insist on it — most liberals I’ve known are capable of living richer, more balanced and fulfilling lives. Most of us liberals would rather lead those better lives than focus on political combat.

But over the past decade or two, while we’ve been living our fuller, more rounded lives, we with the more humane set of values have been out-organized, out-fought, out-messaged by a relentless force that has taken over the right, and that has

  • Turned our politics into a kind of war,
  • hollowed out the middle class,
  • debased our public discourse,
  • brought out the worst in our decent conservative neighbors,
  • undermined the rule of law,
  • placed our descendants in greater peril of ecological catastrophe,
  • embroiled us in needless wars,
  • besmirched America’s good name in the world,
  • driven our economy into a pit,
  • and magnified the ability of corporate power to steal our democracy.

The response from Liberal America to this ugly destructive force on the right has been woefully inadequate to protect the nation.

The combination of a destructive force and weak response has created one of the most profound crises in American history. If our nation is going to stop its descent, and to regain the ability to deal constructively with the challenges we face, this dangerous political dynamic must be turned around.

It is from Liberal America that necessary change will have to come. The other side will change only when compelled. Therefore, our side will need to bring more passion and determination than we have yet shown to fight and win the political battle.

Sure, we’d rather live our healthier, more fulfilling lives. But history does not always give people the choices they prefer.

Throughout history, peoples have been forced to confront others who were bent upon expanding their own power. The undesirable choice has been either to fall under the domination of aggressors, or to match their power in order to defend what is held dear. (This is a major theme of my book — The Parable of the Tribes: The Problem of Power in Social Evolution — explaining why the course of civilization has often been so tormented.)

We in America today do not have the option we’d prefer, of going on as before and have everything be all right.

In plain sight, those relentless forces that have taken over the Republican Party are working against pretty much everything we believe in: justice to protect the weak, respect for the truth in our democratic deliberations, compassion for our fellow citizens, and care for the integrity of the living systems on which we all depend for our survival.

That’s the nature of what we’re called to fight and defeat. The stakes could hardly be higher.

We’re not the first to be required by the luck of the historical draw to be called to a duty we’d not desired.

In the 1940s, my father’s generation had to set aside the lives they would have preferred to lead — lives richer and more humane than fighting their way across France or the islands of the Pacific – because it was necessary to defeat a destructive force that had arisen in Europe and Asia.

The present generation of Americans has a moral responsibility to sacrifice our ease and comfort to defend the same values by fighting here at home.

We should be thankful that ours is a different kind of battle from the one my father’s generation had to fight. They had to put their lives on the line, while we just need to set our preferred lives temporarily aside. They had to fight with the weapons of war, while we get to fight with the truth as our weapon.

It is our good fortune that we retain enough of our democracy that our battle will be decided not by seizing territory by force but by shaping the understanding of the American people.

I’ve got a plan for how we can strike a meaningful blow in that battle of words and ideas.

In the coming weeks, I’ll be presenting here a series of articles dealing with both sides of our political pathology. This series, with the name “Press the Battle,” will make the case — and make it stick — against the force that’s taken over the Republican Party, calling out its repugnant and destructive nature.

And, at the same time, this series will confront the sources of Liberal America’s weakness and try to light a fire in Liberal America, kindling the latent power of our moral and spiritual passions.

With this series, I will ask not just for your attention but also for your help. It is my hope that you will work with me to find ways of getting our national conversation to focus on the true nature of what’s gone wrong in America.

Changing our national conversation is necessary for setting things right. Is it not a kind of insanity for this nation to treat today’s Republican Party as if it were something almost normal, respectable, acceptable? That’s not how you treat something that’s trampling on all those values that made the nation great.

I, for one, am determined that my grandchildren will not ask me someday, “Why didn’t you trouble yourself to do something while America became a society that’s ruled by greed and the lust for power, that’s deceived by propaganda masquerading as news, that exploits rather than serves its people?”

I hope you share that determination.

Watch this space.

4 thoughts on “Many Liberals Don’t Like the Idea of Battle, But the Alternative in America Today is Much Worse

  1. Dave Pruett

    Andy, perhaps your most succinct and compelling argument yet. The litany of the effects of the destructiveness of the far right is powerful. The line about out-fought and out-messaged was repeated, so this still needs a little editing. It’s very important for our local Mennonite and Quaker audiences, to emphasize as you did, that the battle of which you speak is currently, at least, a battle of world views, of reason, of messaging, of morality. If this battle is won, then the physical battle will be unnecessary. If it’s not, God help us all because we seem to be staring into the abyss. If we slip further, the whole country could be Ferguson MO.


    1. Andrew Bard Schmookler Post author

      Thank you, Dave, for your vivid and eloquent image — “the whole country could be Ferguson MO” — and thank you for catching the redundancy. (It’s not a bad line, but once is enough! :))


  2. Richard H. Randall

    Well done, Andy, and Dave.

    As I just came inside, I learned that Putin’s Russia is attacking Ukraine. So much for the peace talks. As Carol King claimed, ‘You can’t talk with a man with a shotgun in his hand,’ especially if he is determined to use it, and that has been his intention all along.

    Elie Wiesel: “Neutrality helps the oppressor, not the oppressed.” I respect people who seek peace and justice. But not at the cost of appeasement to tyrants and murderers.


  3. Robin Pettit

    Here is a perfect example of the blindness in the eye of a Conservative: Here is the exchange. By the way Kevin Kenny is a right wing former high school school mate of mine who lives in Texas. You can see my initial post and then my response to what he wrote:

    This is something that I knew would happen and it has. Waterboarding is now being used by ISIS/ISL on American citizens and we have no moral standing because we waterboarded too. Now, if we arrest George W. Bush and Dick Cheney, at a minimum, perhaps we could regain our standing. I guess this is unlikely because we don’t look backward as our current President said. But if we are lucky one of those two will travel overseas to a country that takes its treaty requirements seriously and one of both George or Dick will see justice.

    Washington Post: ISIS Used Bush-Approved Torture Technique on Journalist James Foley And Others
    In late 2002 and early 2003, a group of top Bush administration officials…
    LikeLike · · Share

    Kevin Kenney Are you kidding me?? Moral standing? They just cut this guys head off on camera The Spanish Inquisition used waterboarding hundreds of years ago. Did ISIS come out and say we used this because Bush did?? I don’t see that in the article. It mentions other forms of torture. Wonder what that is?? Please explain the serious treaty requirements these terrorists have. I want to know your wishes for GW Bush overseas.
    3 hrs · Like

    Robin Pettit Kevin, George W. Bush authorized torture and used his legal team to provide cover so he violated the Geneva Conventions on torture. If you don’t believe it look up the history of torture and realize we prosecuted the Germans for torturing allied soldi…See More


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