Wussy Democrats

April 13, 2020

Let’s start with two recent, on-point articles about the Democratic Party, one by journalist and Primary Colors author, Joe Klein, and the other by Bard professor and novelist, Joseph O’Neil. Both articles echo Steve Bannon’s foundational belief that in recent decades the national Democratic Party establishment – old, procedural, wonkish, and docile – has neutered itself, ceded ground, and been entirely outmaneuvered by the Republican Party at every level of government, and in every branch of government.

Democratic Party elites – seduced since the Clinton years by neoliberalism – have obtained sinecures, feathered their nests, and comfortably inhabited a top-down party organization that has for decades focused almost exclusively on national elections, particularly the presidency; ignored tectonic demographic shifts that structurally disadvantage the party; paid little attention to the grass-roots of its support; allowed state and local party infrastructures to wither; failed to recognize the political significance of appointments to the federal judiciary; trapped itself in policy foxholes; lost (by never engaging) the media wars; adopted a mile-wide, inch-deep inclusion strategy that encompassed everyone and excited no one; and retreated on matters of scale, vision, organization, methods, emotions, ideas, and ideology that claiming and wielding power require.

Let’s put it another way. We hear much talk these days about the “clash of civilizations,” which often means end-times conflict between Christianity and Islam, or Christianity and “godless liberalism,” or “nationalists” and “globalists.” In reality, the civilizational clash that appears (to me, at least) to be the most likely axis of conflict in the next century will be the struggle to hold on to and define conceptions of humanity in a rapidly approaching and unprecedented era of technological imperialism and environmental, ecosystem, and nation-state collapse.

In this contest, the Democratic Party currently has zero standing. Is absolutely irrelevant. Is invisible. And if one wants to appreciate why this might be the case, consider that the nature of this struggle to hold on to and define conceptions of humanity, at the most fundamental level, pits religion against science. Along with other insurgent right-wing movements across the globe, the Republican Party in the United States today represents a manifestation of revanchist-ethnic nationalism and resource-extraction capitalism aligned with the Abrahamic religions (all of them). Global technology, logistics, and finance organizations represent transnational manifestations of forward-looking, rapidly advancing systems of management and control aligned with post-Newtonian science.

What sequesters the Democratic Party in the United States, and its fossilized counterparts in other nations, from this contest between religion and science? The battle between religion and science is ultimately a contest between competing and colliding cosmologies, an attunement to non-linear narratives of origins, epistemologies, forces, transitions, and relationships in the universe, and on our planet, that frame and control specific perspectives on politics and power.

By contrast, Democratic Party elites (and to varying degrees, the liberal and progressive bases of the party) lack a cosmology, of any kind, and therefore act upon a more constrained and less exalted stage of possibility, one specifically geared down to short-term appeasement of interest groups, fractional change, limited audience engagement, and no narrative arc. Suspicious of power, fearful of bias, inhibited in their language, addicted to procedure and politesse, liberal and progressive avatars of the Democratic Party embrace everything, commit to nothing, and routinely, predictably, miss the forest for the trees. But the forest is ablaze, and in the absence of any anchoring cosmology to establish the meanings, stakes, significance, and path through this conflagration – which are really the only things that justify and legitimate the exercise of power – we relinquish the limited agency we may have to forces more directly inclined to carve irremediably destructive paths into the future.