Dispirited Liberal America


    Summary: In Liberal America these days, one encounters a good deal of hopelessness about the future of our country. Why the hopelessness? The difficult circumstances certainly play a part. But they are not answer enough. Hopelessness is also a sign of disconnection from the realm of the spirit. In that realm, there is no sense of “impossible.” And this disconnection from the spirit is also at the root of Liberal America’s weakness. This points to a cure for our hopelessness that also can strengthen us to fight and win this battle, however challenging it may be.

    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.

    Dispirited Liberal America

    Some of my liberal friends say they have lost all hope for American democracy, and a great many others act as if they had.

    They see that Big Money is wresting power from the people and, with the help of the Supreme Court, making it ever harder for the people to retrieve what has been taken from them.

    They see that one of our two major political parties is systematically blocking Congress from implementing solutions to our nation’s problems.

    And they see that in our public discourse the truth no longer prevails over the lie.

    Game over, they conclude.

    These are indeed frightening times. But such hopelessness is not wisdom. It is a sign, rather, of disconnection from the power of the spirit. Spirit focuses not on probabilities but on best possibilities. And indeed, when the spirit enters in, nations can take dramatically unexpected turns.

    Experts in African affairs, for example, thought it almost impossible that the apartheid regime in South Africa could be ended without a bloodbath. But then came the spiritually inspiring leadership of Nelson Mandela, to whom the white regime eventually surrendered power. It was then “truth and reconciliation,” rather than any Reign of Terror that ushered in the new age.

    So also with the rise of the Solidarity movement in Poland, where a leader of shipyard workers, Lech Walesa, in combination with a Polish pope, set in motion forces that, within a decade, helped lead to the barely conceivable collapse of the Soviet Union and the freeing of satellite nations.

    When spiritual forces are at work, the apparently impossible can happen. But what if the people on whom a nation depends are cut off from the spirit? But what if, as Yeats wrote, “the best lack all conviction, while the worst / are filled with a passionate intensity”?

    Today in America, a force has arisen on the right whose destructiveness and dishonesty are virtually unprecedented in American history: It insists on making our politics all about conflict and never cooperation. It serves power and wealth without concern for the greater good. It divides groups of Americans against each other. It feeds the worst in its followers – their rage and hatred – and virtually never the best. It relies on lies and manipulation to exploit those whose trust it has won.

    Western civilization has had a name for a force that acts in these ways.

    But most of Liberal America has been blind to that intensely dark reality. Blind because, in the worldview of a major component of Liberal America, there is no place for a phenomenon like the dark force that has arisen on the political right.

    So while the once-respectable Republican Party has become the instrument of a relentlessly destructive force, Liberal America — because of its disconnection from the deep realities at the level of spirit — has been woefully weak in protecting the nation.

    Both sides of our fractured polity, then – right and left, Democrats and Republicans — manifest important errors of an essentially spiritual nature. On the right, our fellow citizens have mistaken the evil for the good. On the left, people have failed to recognize that we are caught in a dynamic that warrants being termed, “the battle between good and evil.”

    One side serves the dark spirit. The other side is impotent to rise to the defense of all that’s sacred against a force of destruction. America desperately needs this dynamic to change.

    If the needed change is to come, it will have to begin in Liberal America.

    The leaders on the right are too fully committed to power for its own sake to return to the better angels of the old Republican Party; and the followers on the right are too fully trapped by the world of the lie to hear the truth.

    Liberal America, by contrast, need not change its direction. What is needed, rather, is a kindling of the fires of its moral and spiritual passions. What is needed is for Liberal America to see the spiritual forces involved in our political battle, and the sacred values at stake.

    It will not be easy to light those fires. It may be improbable. But, in matters of the spirit, one does not say “impossible.”

    There’s a battle that must be fought. And while the battlefield lies in the “political” arena,” this battle — like the ones improbably won by Lech Walesa and Nelson Mandela – is ultimately at the level of the spirit.

    In such matters, nothing is hopeless. Only if we yield to hopelessness do we make it so.

    • continue to be push their fear-driven, fact-devoid narrative of their values supposedly being under assault in this country. Of course, they never provide any data to support their claims (and no, the plural of “anecdote” is not “data”), but the fear mongering and hysteria certainly help fire up their base. What’s the equivalent, if any, on the “left” (if there even IS a “left” in this country)? Got me.

      P.S. Anyone who has ever called Frank Wolf a “moderate” has got to be completely clueless – the guy’s hard right on basically everything, also a theocrat. I mean, what’s the major difference between Wolf and someone like Ken Cuccinelli? Got me.

    • Jim B

      Apparently we liberals don’t have a Mandela or Walesa. I may be wrong, but maybe Bill Clinton is our only lonely voice campaigning for all of our candidates and he is no Mandela. Obama seems to go where he can do no harm rather than take on all comers.

    • ir003436

      Back in the 1960’s and ’70’s, when “counterinsurgency” was all the rage in the Pentagon, we young Army officers were required to read a little volume titled “Why Men Rebel” by Ted R. Gurr.

      Common wisdom was the people rebelled because they were poor, or hungry, or generally pissed off.  Gurr concluded that none of these was sufficient to cause people to rebel — after all, there are poor folks everywhere but rebellion does not occur everywhere.

      Instead, Gurr introduced the idea of “perceived relative deprivation.”  PRD is the tension between your actual condition and what you feel you should be able to achieve. Gurr describes it as “perceived discrepancy between value expectations and value capabilities.”  

      Gurr then goes through a lot of history, sociology, psychology, and motivation as well as discussing the utility of violence.  

      Gurr says people act out their frustrations if “they believe that they stand a chance of relieving some of their discontent through violence.” He points out that angry and frustrated people are likely to be more receptive to arguments that violence would help.

      Basically, if you and everyone around you have always lived in shitholes, you don’t rebel against the guy who owns the place because, well, it is what it is.  However, if you once had a chance to escape your condition, or, if you climbed a few rungs up the ladder, and suddenly found yourself with no hope of things getting better, then you are a candidate for rebellion.

      At some point, a single match will start a prairie fire.

      Of course, the societies that Gurr examined didn’t have Fox, Limbaugh, the Koch Brothers . . .

    • Quizzical

      Maybe it is simply that there’s a shortage of inspirational, progressive leadership.  President Obama seemed like that kind of leader when he was campaigning the first time. As President, he has exercised excellent judgment in my opinion, but he hasn’t tapped into that “fired up, ready to go” capacity to inspire. Maybe he feels that it would be somehow illegitimate to govern with that sort of energy and appeal.

      Anyway, who do we have coming along who can fill that need?  

      Elizabeth Warren maybe?