As we think about the election—what went wrong, what’s been unleashed and what we should do about it—please, please, let us expand our vision beyond some technical fix or updated "message."
Even if we’re talking about the Democratic Party.
James Zogby, founder of the Arab American Institute and a longtime member of the Democratic National Committee, discussing the Bernie Sanders phenomenon and the future direction of the party, wrote recently: "Many rank and file Democrats had lost confidence in their establishment and were looking for an authentic message that spoke to their needs."
He was making the case for a progressive takeover of the party and the naming of Keith Ellison as DNC chair. As I read his commentary, however, even though I essentially agreed with him, I couldn’t get past the word “authentic”—especially linked as it was to the word “message,” which made it sound like the Democrat leadership needs to search its soul and come up with a better ad slogan.
And this is American politics—American democracy—as presented for our entertainment and distraction by the corporate media and the custodians of power. “The people” are acknowledged to be participants in the process of governing, which is to say, the process of creating the future, only to the extent that they have a set of limited, specific interests the powerful have to look out for. Jobs, for instance. Or protection from the enemy of the moment.
What the Democrats need to do is become a party of transcendence. That may be too much to ask of a political party, but I’m asking it anyway—asking the Dem leadership to open themselves to something bigger than mere change, something that one might call, instead, a shift in consciousness: beyond racism, beyond war, beyond exploitative capitalism . . . beyond militarism and a punishment-based justice system, beyond alienation from nature and the circle of life.
What if, for instance, the Democratic leadership joined former congressman and Democratic presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich in standing with Veterans for Peace and Iraq Veterans Against the War, as they stood with the protesters at Standing Rock, acting as human shields and rewriting history?
“On December 5 — the birthday of Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, who led the Battle of Little Bighorn against Lakota and Cheyenne warriors — (Wes Clark Jr.) and a dozen members of United States military branches got down on bended knee to beg forgiveness from the Lakota people,” according to a story posted at New American Media.
In the presence of hundreds of veterans and Lakota medicine people, elders and leaders, Clark donned the uniform of the Seventh Cavalry and spoke of the history of his unit. With tears in his eyes, Clark said:
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"Many of us, me particularly, are from the units that have hurt you over the many years. We came. We fought you. We took your land. We signed treaties that we broke. We stole minerals from your sacred hills. We blasted the faces of our presidents onto your sacred mountain. . . . We didn’t respect you, we polluted your Earth, we’ve hurt you in so many ways but we’ve come to say that we are sorry. We are at your service and we beg for your forgiveness."
In an open letter to the vets, Kucinich wrote: "Your presence holds the promise of bringing about a great healing as you join a movement which is prayerful, peaceful and nonviolent, the enduring strength of great moral suasion.
"I urge you to stand as defenders and not aggressors."
I realize I’m pushing the limits of cynicism, to suggest that the Democratic Party drop to its knee and seek atonement for American history: for genocide, slavery, endless war. But why ask less of our political system? Why ask less of democracy?
People looking for an "authentic message" may also resonate with a Democratic Party that stood for an end to global weapons sales and endless war. As Rebecca Gordon wrote recently for TomDispatch:
Along with a deeply divided country, the worst income inequality since at least the 1920s, and a crumbling infrastructure, Trump will inherit a 15-year-old, apparently never-ending worldwide war. While the named enemy may be a mere emotion (‘terror’) or an incendiary strategy (‘terrorism’), the victims couldn’t be more real, and as in all modern wars, the majority of them are civilians.
On how many countries is U.S. ordnance falling at the moment? Some put the total at six; others, seven. For the record, those seven would be Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Pakistan, Somalia, Syria, and, oh yes, Yemen.
We’re either waging or catering wars across the Middle East and Africa—wars against evil, according to that former president whose name is never mentioned these days. The Democrats were not the party in power at the time the current, post-Cold War phase of our endless wars started, but the Dems accepted these wars as their own in 2009 and proceeded to perpetuate them.
Politics as usual will not rescue Planet Earth. Angry idealists and visionaries will not rescue it either. The only hope is a merging of power and vision: transcendent politics, you might say. This is the "authentic message" people are looking for. Maybe it’s impossible—way too unacceptable to the financial interests that underwrite the American political system. But it could have beaten Donald Trump.