In an essay Are We Doomed? from The Atlantic in January of 2022, George Packer warned of the dangers to our democracy from Republican extremism, in particular with regards to elections. His prescription for stopping Republican extremism is that a coalition of Democrats, Independents, and moderate Republicans should overlook minor areas of disagreement. He says that moderate coalition members need to stop “going to the mat” over their pet issues. But those issues — including women’s rights, LGBT rights, racism, guns, militarism, the environment, taxation, education, and religious rights — are extremely important to many people.
I agree that the progressive left has overdone woke identity politics and should compromise on certain issues, including policing, education, and even abortion. (The Dems should have compromised on abortion years ago.) When I tried to push for such compromises I was shamed and accused, e.g., by people in Indivisible, of being a sellout, etc. Specifically, I had said that the slogan “Defund the police” was unwise, and I said that to win votes, Democrats need to stay on message about economic inequality instead of antagonizing white voters with woke identity politics. For that sin, I was basically accused of being a racist. Yes, Dems should work to end racism in all forms, but the best way to do that is by staying on message about winnable issues. Bernie got that right.
This substack article The Vibes They Are A-Shiftin’ by conservative Andrew Sullivan attacks social justice leftists. It quotes some disturbing polling saying that African Americans and Latinos are more interested in crime and economics than racial and LGBT issues. I share it because of the poll results and because Rep. Adam Smith suggested I look at it to see who’s to blame for the Democrats’ predicament. I pushed back and said blame is spread among many sides.
I admit that I myself have gone to the mat over one issue. I was angry as hell at some Democratic state legislators who voted to fund charter schools. See These Dems voted to undermine public schools, contravene the Constitution, and aid Republicans.
It is difficult to be optimistic about our future, because of divisions in society and because of divisions within the Left in the U.S. For example, I’m not a socialist, but I well understand why many progressives refuse to work with the Democratic Party. Mostly I think the Dems are far better than the Repubs, but at times I feel tempted by those leftists — for example, Robert Sheer — who say: the Dems aren’t the lesser of two evils, they’re the more effective evil because on some issues they play good cop to the GOP bad cop. Blame the influence of money on politics, I suppose.
Packer’s prescription that the Democrats should prioritize voting rights and get rid of the filibuster is spot on. But the Dems haven’t been able to pass such legislation, and now they seem to be prioritizing their proxy war with Russia. This is an example of why it’s hard to unite the Left.
And this is an example of an issue that I am almost willing to go to the mat over. The U.S. not only actively provoked a proxy war with Russia but is now actively planning for war with China. See How the U.S. provoked Russia in Ukraine: A Compendium and On the stupidity of preparing to wage war with China. In fact, about the only thing the Dems and Repubs can agree on is to spend more for the Pentagon. The direct and indirect costs of militarism are enormous and are largely hidden from view. Brown University’s Costs of Wars project says we spent $8 trillion on wars since 9/11, killing over 900,000 people and displacing 38 million from their homes. The effects of U.S. militarized foreign policy on geopolitics is destructive: migration to Europe and from Latin America is directly a result of U.S. meddling, wars, proxy wars, and government overthrows.
I participate in some email lists with anti-war groups. That’s their pet issue but even they have disagreements. Most people on the lists seem to be socialist and to detest the Democratic Party. I got into a disagreement with some of them over whether Russiagate was real. A large contingent of leftist writers think that Russiagate is a fabrication meant to absolve Democrats for running a bad candidate in 2016 and meant to blame Russia for Donald Trump’s win. Yes, the case for Russiagate was exaggerated — see Matt Taibbi’s Master List Of Official Russia Claims That Proved To Be Bogus. But the evidence still indicates that Russia interfered in the election and suggests that the Trump campaign had many connections with Russia.
A huge problem is that tens of millions of Republicans are passionate about politics and are willing to vote for almost any Republican candidate. Trumpism is like a cult. In contrast, Democrats are much pickier. Many progressives are uninspired by run-of-the-mill moderate Democrats. That makes me worried about Dems holding onto the House in 2022. But inspiring, populist candidates such as Bernie Sanders, or even Elizabeth Warren, are opposed by the Democratic Party establishment.
Furthermore, the pool of national candidates who can inspire followings is shallow. Barack Obama inspired tens of millions of people, and he had a mandate, but his presidency ended up being moderate — he saved the economy but didn’t implement significant progressive changes — and he allowed the movement that supported his candidacy to fizzle out.
Bernie Sanders is too old now to lead a national movement. So is Joe Biden, who has been unable to deliver on major legislative initiatives. Besides, Biden is burdened by a history of uninspiring moderation and mistakes.
Though I love most of Bernie Sanders’ policies, his candidacy was divisive. He shouldn’t have called himself a socialist. If he had won the Democratic primary in 2016 or 2020 — something the Democratic establishment did all in its power to prevent — the opposition from moneyed interests against his candidacy would have been phenomenal. A more moderate candidate such as Elizabeth Warren seems more electable. Warren will be 74 in 2024. She was unable to generate a passionate following the way Bernie did.
In short, the Left has trouble forming a winning coalition and trouble finding inspiring candidates. The coalition on the Right is more united in their views and in their willingness to compromise for the sake of their movement.
So, what’s my answer to the question that is the title of this essay? I find it hard to believe that there will be a strong, united coalition that will stop Republican extremism. Unless an inspiring candidate emerges, the only positive outcome I can envision is that in 2024 a Democratic will win the presidency for much the same reason that Joe Biden won in 2020: enough voters are so scared by the Republican alternative that they vote for the lesser-of-two evils. The danger with that approach, as Packer said, is that the Republicans have been setting the stage to corrupt and overturn the 2024 election. Republicans are passing restrictive voting laws and appointing extremists to positions of authority over elections. Moreover, if some Republican other than Donald Trump wins the 2024 primary — e.g., Ron DeSantis — such a candidate is likely to be both smarter and less extreme than Trump, so more electable.
Another wildcard is the effect the hearings by the Select Committee on the Jan 6 Attack on the United States Capitol. The first day of hearings was riveting and persuasive. You’d think that some Republicans would be swayed by the hearings. I think that nothing will sway hard-core Republicans, but I do think many Independents and moderate Republicans will be influenced. That may be enough to prevent disaster in 2024. I am less optimistic about the Democrats holding onto control of Congress later this year, especially if the economy tanks and inflation doesn’t moderate.