Surrealist vs Realist Progressives
Perhaps as recently as 10 years ago I would have been included in the surrealist faction of the Democratic Party, a place where a vivid imagination meets the bold and visionary determinism to “do good for all” and right all the wrongs in America as quickly as possible. End all racism, sexism, homophobia, and the ugly specter of divisive hate that has poisoned the USA since its inception. Bridge the massive—and growing—income inequality. Provide government-financed health care for all citizens. Protect and uplift all children by providing excellent public schools and government programs to shield them from hunger, extreme poverty, and abuse. Reduce crime by reducing the reasons to engage in criminality in the first place (such as more well-paying jobs). Provide government-financed drug treatment for the millions of addicts across the country. Clean up the environment to provide safe and clean water and air, moreover reduce greatly the pollutants and behaviors that have led the world down the perilous path of increasing global warming and catastrophic climate change. Reduce the massive number of incarcerated citizens, many of whom are charged with drug crimes of simple possession and use, where treatment would have been a better option rather than prison terms. Decrease the Defense budget and stop the USA from engaging in unnecessary military engagements that have nothing to do with national security. Banking and business reform for a business community where superbanks, too big to fail, poison our financial system and commerce, and massive mega-monopolies control our markets. Ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, and restrict the sale of guns through better background checks.
All bold, noble, lofty, and yet cogent ideals. All shared by a vast majority Democrats I am sure. All provable to work too, as quite a few of our Social Democratic European allies have implemented many of these progressive ideals for decades. Once can visit Sweden, Norway, Denmark, France, Germany, and Spain, for instance, and witness the success of so many of these ideals in practice. It can be costly and these folks pay more taxes than citizens of the USA, but the quality of life in these countries is far better for all citizens than in the USA.
Some would call it Socialism; I call it Social Democracy since Socialism was originally devised to be foisted on the proletariat by revolution against the ruling class and run by a hierarchical ruling “dictatorship of the proletariat.” Meanwhile citizens freely choose Social Democracy and the government that manages it. It’s huge distinction, one which, of course, the dopes on FOX News and other far-right media outlets fail to make in all their irrational, logical-fallacy-laden blathering.
So why do I call this a “surrealist” viewpoint? Simply because, while I agree with the eventual implementation of all these great ideas and programs—unlike the surrealists who want everything now–I believe, as a realist, that most Social Democratic change can only be truly enacted slowly and incrementally in a country greatly divided not only over political ideology, but also religiously and philosophically. Most importantly, it must be done with the will and assent of a majority of the citizenry with respect to our Constitutional process for passing laws, not through revolutions, coups, or any other shortcut to usurping power from the people.
Nearly half the country doesn’t want most of these things, or at least it doesn’t think it does. It isn’t much of a democracy if we try to force the other side to submit to ideas for which it holds no purchase. Which, in a way, is quite funny, since the country right now is ruled at all levels—national, state, local—by determined, mostly shamefully gerrymandered, minority political factions who do believe it’s perfectly fine to force their ideology on those who oppose it, and who will assume power by any ruthless means necessary, the Constitution and people be damned. That is the fundamental difference between right-wing ideology and the progressive, Social Democratic left. Democracy matters to the left.
The realists want the same things as the surrealists, at least philosophically. The problem has become that the surrealists have wrapped themselves in an arrogant and self-righteous stance fueled by their so-called belief they are “woke,” and hence more enlightened and certain than the rest of humanity on issues of race, social justice, economics, environmentalism, and public policy. Being “woke” is some sort of divine enlightenment that implies a higher state of consciousness about “what is going on and what needs to be done,” which is, of course, a ridiculously puerile kind of arrogant and often destructive certainty also held by religious fanatics and a vast array of political radicals in the past—fascists, communists, socialists, and anarchists—who did great harm to societies all over the world by trying to shape them into narrow and restrictive, often repressive confines poisoned by their radical certainty and arrogant belief that their way was the only way. It is a destructive mindset regardless of the ideology or belief system guiding it. It is also highly anti-Democratic.
This divide is growing in the Democratic Party and was partially responsible for Hillary losing the 2016 election. A great many of the surrealist followers of Bernie Sanders just couldn’t seem to hold their noses and vote for the realist Hillary Clinton. Moreover, Hillary’s campaign did a poor job convincing the surrealists—and many independent voters alike—that she was on their side. Of course, it didn’t help that she lacked the charisma and mass appeal that should have sold her to her own party and created enough unity within it to carry her to victory as Obama had done in 2008 and 2012. Sadly, Hillary was not Obama, who would have crushed Trump in 2016 as he had done to McCain and Romney in the two previous elections.
It will be interesting to see if one of the current candidates can unify these two biggest factions of Democrats. I think, honestly, Elizabeth Warren has the greatest chance and is a solid, smart, and masterful political leader, but so far she’s polling behind Joe Biden, a centrist and realist, and to me, honestly, an utterly ridiculous choice merely because of his advanced age and the fact he’s always been a bit of a boob and bumbler, not a bad second banana as he proved working as Obama’s Vice President, but being the top leader, the POTUS? No. Biden hardly inspires the surrealist or realist, but he is still a better choice than bumblefuck Trump and most of the other Democratic candidates. That’s not saying enough in my mind. Warren is clearly more capable than Joe on most intellectual levels, but even I acknowledge Uncle Joe has a warmth and inspirational side that makes Trump look like the fat, ignorant child that he is.
Bernie Sanders. Ah, Bernie. On Bernie I am conflicted. He’s too old, he’s too irascible and petty at times, and far too radical for a vast majority of centrist voters. Yet of course—of course!—he has some amazing progressive ideas, and as the only admitted Socialist in the race, he does inspire the left with his promises of health care for all, bridging the income gap, taxing the rich more, attacking global warming with gusto and substantive legislation, providing free university education, and the like. Bravo, Bernie! The man has brass balls and never fears to speak his mind. We all love the bastard for this. Without a doubt all leftist progressives, especially the surrealists, love Bernie. He and Liz Warren are the only candidates capable of articulating a real path to change in this country. I just don’t feature Bernie as the leader of the free world. His job is to keep the Democratic Party inspired to push progressivism as far as is possible with a hostile conservative Congress, even if its the minority on both houses after 2020.
Beto O’Rourke has lots of energy and ebullience, but he often seems awkward at articulating intellectual subjects on the fly, which hardly inspires confidence that he’s got the depth to grasp the big picture. Kamala Harris has an impressive political résumé, but, like Beto, seems awkward at articulating on the fly on deeper subjects, and her policy proposals lack any sense of gravitas compared to Liz Warren, who literally has a good plan for everything. Cory Booker has always had a boatload of ambition, but to me he’s never really shown the moral courage and spine to handle leadership under fire. Mayor Pete seems nice and smart, but he’s also boring and uninspiring, plus, and I hate to say this, a lot of America will not vote for a gay man for President. Maybe in eight years, Mayor Pete. The rest of the field, who the fuck cares, they can’t win.
It’s Warren or Biden, I’m afraid. I hope that’s enough.
While I disagree with the surrealists because of their often myopic and ridiculously arrogant approach to public discourse, where they often shout down even those with whom they are mostly in agreement on what must be done to fix this country, I do agree heartily with what they believe on most issues. And while many issues do require a greater sense of urgency—the environment comes to mind—democracy isn’t about always getting your way, it is about two sides of an issue agreeing to compromise in the best interest of all citizens. Surrealists, much like far-right and religious fanatics, fail to grasp this. Yet I do not hold any malice or hatred toward surrealist progressives like I do the far right and religious fanatics in this country. I realize the surrealists are of course my brothers and sisters, and I love and cherish their deterministic values and passionate desire to change this country for the betterment of all people. I only dislike their tendency toward intellectual myopia, hysteria, and excessive certainty.
The surrealists’ destructive approach to public discourse often turns off the great mass of people in this country who just do not even begin to understand what they truly need. These largely indifferent and/or ignorant people need to be respected even in their indifference and/or ignorance, not berated or condescend upon, nor should they be talked over in the national discourse as if they are children or incapable of making rational choices. This great mass of indifferent and/or ignorant voters is the key to winning back our democracy if we progressives can state our case to them in a rational, respectful, and convincing manner. Shouting at ignorant and/or indifferent people, calling them pejoratives like “racist” or “redneck” or “moron” or “deplorables” won’t win their vote. Treating them, not as unenlightened enemies, but instead as potential allies who just need to hear our views without treating them as inconsequential—but instead extremely vital—is the key to trouncing Trump.
A great communicator can do this, as Obama proved so effectively. Obama, however, probably failed to implement as much progressive ideology as he could have, and that was why many surrealists came to embrace Bernie Sanders in 2016. They felt that Obama fell short of their lofty expectations, and to be honest, they were not wrong. Obama was too much a realist and centrist and not enough surrealist progressive. His ultimate failure was not doing enough when he had the chance, when he held the power to make significant changes. Had Obama done this, there never would have been the need for a Bernie Sanders to voice the frustration of so many progressives as we witnessed in the 2016 Democratic primaries.
A realist always understands the amazing power of reason, logic, and rational discourse. Passion is great, sure, but only if it’s wrapped in the above principles. Passion without reason, logic, and rational discourse is fanaticism. And it’s destructive. What we truly need is a leadership that embraces progressive idealism, but also can communicate a sane, rational, and realistic path by which we can implement these great ideals. Moreover, this leadership needs to convince the tens of millions out there who are, ideologically, on the fence, and win them back to where they will be championed by people who not only believe in what is right for them, but can convince them of this without insulting them.
I don’t see a Democratic Presidential candidate who is doing this very well. Trump is very successful at roiling up the ugly, mean, and divisive hate that so many people who follow him feel inside themselves; that they are mad is justifiable, but what’s wrong is Trump makes them mad at everything–Mexicans, Muslims, Chinese, etc. etc.—except why they should really be mad. We need someone who can reach these mad and frustrated people and help enlighten them on why they are being screwed, not make them angrier like Trump does over false boogiemen and phony red herrings. Let the facts convince the masses. Just present them better and with more clarity. It’s a tough task given the angry and divisive era in which we live, but it can be done.
Trump doesn’t give two shits about helping or uplifting these people at his rallies, he just wants their votes, and he says the things that appeal to their uglier irrational sides, not their reason. Demagoguery always wins in a vacuum. If it’s countered with a positive and rational set of progressive Democratic arguments that also appeals to the same masses who respond to the demagoguery, then Trump can be defeated. Hillary lost because she always sounded shrill and condescending to the very people she needed to convince to vote for her, while Trump stirred them up by appealing to their worst selves. Millions of people voted for Trump as a “fuck you” to the elites who so often talk down to them or treat them as inconsequential. So let’s start treating these fellow citizens as how they should be treated, as our allies who we need to convince about our cause, not ignorant children for whom we think we know better.
We need surrealists and we need realists in the Democratic Party. But what we need most is to win, not to always be right and just and “woke.” We need to focus on what we can do realistically, and meanwhile how we can convince millions of our fellow citizens that we are on their side and they are on ours, not how pure and righteous and just our cause is, to that they are stupid and wrong because they fall outside our lofty expectations. That never wins converts. That never wins elections. That never wins power in a democracy.
Let’s be smart and try to win this time.