Summary: Why does that the line from Yeats apply to America in our times? "The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."
One important reason is that the battle playing out in our politics is fundamentally a moral and spiritual battle, and while the right is connected to their moral and spiritual passions (even though that connection has been made on the basis of lies) Liberal America is not.
Much of that disconnection in Liberal America is due misguided beliefs, including: 1) that "value" is not really real, and 2) that there is nothing in the dynamics of the human world that warrants being called "evil," an "evil force," or "the battle between good and evil."
These beliefs, I will argue, are not only a source of weakness, but also mistaken.
The crucial battle in America today is being fought in the political arena, but the heart of it goes deeper than politics. It is at the moral and spiritual level. The issue in America today is this: will constructive or destructive, life-serving or life-degrading forces prevail in shaping this nation's future?
The battle to decide this question has not been going well. The lamentable core dynamic of this battle is all too well captured by the line from Yeats: "the best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are filled with a passionate intensity."
In response to my piece, "Liberal America, You Don't See What We're Up Against," where it appeared on Huffington Post, one reader posted a comment suggesting that perhaps a reason people don't see it is that seeing it only compounds feelings of despair and hopelessness. He quoted from a new book by Bob Herbert, reporting that in his travels across America he'd discerned "a sense of powerlessness and resignation among ordinary people that I hadn't been used to seeing."
I thought it an excellent comment, and I followed up by raising the question, why is it that people feel this hopelessness. That our situation is quite difficult is part of it, of course, but it is not a sufficient explanation. In those heroic times discussed in "Not Our Finest Hour," there were dark times in which those American heroes might have given into despair, but did not.
So the question arises: why on some occasions do those facing great adversity give in to despair, while in others they maintain their resilience and a sense of possibility?
The following, published in the newspapers of my conservative area in Virginia offers what I believe is an important piece of an another.
But there's something about all the objections I don't get. My critique of Obama rests on a handful of points. Many of the criticisms directed my way seem to me irrelevant to these points, as if they are attacking an argument different from the one I'm making.
For example, some people seem to think I don't realize just how bad -- how determined to thwart Obama -- these Republicans have been.
On the contrary, my whole "Press the Battle" campaign is an attempt to convey that what's animating these Republicans is much worse than too many people in Liberal America recognize. If there is one point I want to convey in my whole enterprise, it is this: "That the Republican Party has become the instrument of a destructive -- I would say "evil" -- force.
What Obama has been up against is not just an "extreme" party, not just the unscrupulous plutocrats who bankroll their scandalous political strategies, not just some rogues who got elected to office. Obama -- and the rest of us -- are up against a rather pure case of the kind of thing that creates historical nightmares.
The the destructive force that has arisen on the right is only one side of America's present national crisis. The other side is the weakness of the response from Liberal America to this profound threat to our nation's well-being.
I've described President Obama's failure to wage the battle that must be waged. But the problem of liberal weakness - and of its blindness - is not confined to the president. These defects were evident among Democratic leaders before Mr. Obama assumed the presidency, and they are manifested, I would assert, by Liberal America taken as a whole.
It is important that we understand the sources of this weakness.
It's not that we don't know how to respond to an "evil force," for this is something our society's culture (popular and otherwise) has taught us well.
Consider how three of the most salient narratives of modern American popular culture put us through our paces-- evoking the pain and outrage of seeing injustice done and sacred things destroyed, and instilling in our hearts the will to fight the necessary battle to prevail over evil and set things right.
But regarding the piece Professor Krugman just published in Rolling Stone, arguing that "Obama has emerged as "one of the most ... successful presidents in American history," I must - regretfully, but strongly--disagree.
Our differences here are matters of how we weigh different parts of the picture. Krugman goes through a list of Obama's achievements - such as health care reform, financial reform, and others - and I largely agree about those.
At the same time, Krugman acknowledges that failure of Obama's that's salient for me, when he writes: "He faced scorched-earth Republican opposition from Day One, and it took him years to start dealing with that opposition realistically."
So which should be weighed more heavily, the achievements or that failure to deal rightly with this "scorched-earth Republican opposition"?
I say it's the latter, and here's my case.
I've undertaken to present this "Press the Battle" series because, believing it might make an important contribution, I feel a moral obligation to do so. At the age of 68, and after a whole decade of fighting against this ugly force that's taken over the right, I'm certainly not doing it for fun.
Maybe now is a good time to explain why I think what I'm presenting here might just possibly help turn the tide of battle. A reader recently wrote me privately wondering when I was going to stop the preliminaries and explain what I'm proposing to do. The fellow evidently has missed the point: this -- getting the picture I'm painting in "Press the Battle" into the national conversation as far as possible -- is what I think is important to do.
How could it be important? What is it about this picture I'm painting that I think could have a meaningful impact on the battle over what kind of nation America will become?
The answer begins with the title here: "Liberal America, You Don't See What We're Up Against, and It Matters."
In the second entry of the series, after listing various components of The Republican Party's Extraordinary Pattern of Destructiveness, I asked: "What is it that would express itself in all these ways?" I described that question as "too long unasked." (Indeed, has it been asked anywhere?)
But that "It" is what we're up against.
This post just adds fuel to the fire of a shameful, hateful cycle of Us vs. Them. Don't focus on belittling people who don't agree with your views; seek common ground and understanding. Liberals cannot claim to be compassionate if they can't find compassion for their detractors. Be the change!And here's how I replied:
The first entry in my series had the title, "#1 Many Liberals Don't Like the Idea of Battle, But the Alternative in America Today is Much Worse." You, [reader's name], are an illustration.
Yes, it would be nice to be able to have a decent world while always being "nice," but not every situation allows for that choice. Unfortunately, history sometimes gives people "the undesirable choice ... either to fall under the domination of aggressors, or to match their power in order to defend what is held dear."
One tool does not fit all situations. So it is necessary to have a diversity of tools in one's toolbox: tools for building bridges, and tools for waging battle.
Seeking common ground is a good thing, and I've already told the story of my background in doing just that throughout the 80s and 90s. (See that history in the second part of this second entry.)
The first conclusion I drew was that there must be something amiss in their way of thinking, at least about political matters, that made them ineducable. Their arguments so often had no substance, but seemingly relied on slogans and bald assertions creating reality by magic. Paul Krugman talks about "zombie ideas" - ideas that have been killed, but somehow keep on coming - and that fits the way the right-wing trolls keep pushing their repertoire of arguments, no matter the logic or the evidence.
But I've learned that there's more to it than just bad thinking.
Many of us in Liberal America learned to regard ideas as a way to capture the truth. But ideas in the world of the right-wing troll don't seem to be about truth. Instead, they are tools to use in political combat. Any crazy statements will do, if they help gain advantage over the enemy, the "librels.''
These trolls do not argue in good faith because, in their code, good faith in dealing with the enemy is not required.
Why do right-wingers come to a liberal site? It's not an attempt to persuade, much less to learn. These men - almost all of them are men - only pretend to be involved in a discussion. They're really on a guerrilla mission behind enemy lines to disrupt communications.
It's not about ideas. It's about fighting to win.
The American electorate is probably about to give more power to a party of traitors.
This statement, though shocking, can be verified by these steps (many of which are substantiated here):
- The Republican Party ("the Party of No") has chosen to prevent anything from being accomplished.
- To choose across-the-board obstructionism is to knowingly hurt the nation.
- The Republicans' motivation for obstructionism is to regain power.
- To sacrifice the good of the country to gain greater power over it is to betray the nation.
- The dictionary definition of "traitor" is "a person who betrays a friend, country, principle...."
- Most pollsters say that, in the upcoming elections, this "Party of No" will gain seats in the House and the Senate.
What's wrong with America that a political party can act in such a disgraceful way and profit from it?
Something must be amiss with those who will vote for so demonstrably traitorous a party.
But something is also wrong with the part of the American body politic that opposes the Republicans -- i.e. Liberal America.
Compare how Liberal America is dealing with this destructive force with what Americans, through their greatest leaders, have done in their finest hours: the nation's founding, the Civil War, and the World War against fascism.
"I heartily agree that we have a dysfunctional government, but isn't it the people's fault for voting in the Republicans in the first place?"To which I gave a response I'd like to share here, because it says a lot about how I see the essence of what's going on in America today. I wrote:
The question of "fault" is a tricky one.
Yes, at the very least one can say that a serious defect is revealed by the vulnerability of so many millions of Americans to being conned in this ugly way. It is possible to perceive the defect in these people, and in the culture that shaped them.
I live among these people, and they are many of them wonderful people. And they've got no clue what it is that they're supporting.
So yes, there is a lot of brokenness that goes onto having these people get conned into lending their support to an evil force.
But the question of whether, or how much, we should look at this as their "fault" depends on how we understand the whole workings of brokenness in the world.