The temptation to gloat is immense. After four years of living in the land of the cognitively dissonant, we have managed to displace a major symptom of national dysfunction.
Gloating would be a huge mistake.
The senate is still in the hands of the Party of Enablers who have for 12 years stood in the way of national amity. Mitch McConnell is for the moment still the majority leader there and he has already made it clear he intends to do the same to Biden that he did to Obama. I don’t care what your opinion may be of a specific policy, this is petty, vindictive, and destructive obstructionism and a palsy on our democracy.
That Biden/Harris seemed not to have sufficient coattails to turn over the Senate (and even lost a few seats in the House) does not surprise me so much as depress me.
Look: whatever side you’re on, we cannot solve problems by refusing to consider solutions, and the place for consideration nationally is in Congress. That can’t happen if someone keeps preventing bills and people from even being considered on the floor. The question is, what are they so afraid of? Because the only reason to keep ideas and proposals from being aired is because you are afraid your own ideas are weak or useless.
I cannot tell you how many times in the last four years encounters with self-professed conservatives (mainly on social media) have come down to name-calling and superior-sounding dismissals when all that was asked was for sources for factually dubious claims. I cannot tell you how many times insult came forth when all that was asked was an explanation and the chance for engagement. I also cannot tell you how many times it felt as if two alien languages were being spoken, even though the words and sentences were in English.
But we cannot begin to heal until some basic understanding happens. Whether we who have opposed Trump and his enablers like it or not, the fact of this election shows that we have a massive ideological divide that will not magically go away because a new president will be in the White House. We will war over this until we figure out how to resolve it or end it.
First suggestion: we must stop confusing tolerance and mollification. We have to find ways to tolerate the spreaders of nonsense without appeasement to the nonsense. People have the freedom to believe anything they wish, but that does not mean nonsense must be accepted as part of legitimate discourse or forms some kind of valid argument. I am speaking now to those who style themselves as liberals or on the Left. We do this. A lot. In the name of getting along, of “finding common ground,” of civility even, we have let things pass that ought never to have gained traction. Saying out loud that something is bullshit is not a bad thing. But we can’t dismiss the people themselves. Trust me, those on the Right clearly have no problem expelling those with whom they disagree or dismissing arguments they either do not understand and refuse to accept.
Secondly, I believe we must deal with the underlying disconnects where they live, namely in the narratives that inform our apposite perceptions. One of those, I’ve come to think, has to do with the nature of property. This nation has been built on an idea of property that runs through our history, elevating the very substance of it to the level of holy writ. But I don’t believe we have a very good grasp of what property is. Or, more relevantly, what it is not.
In 50 years of discussions, casual conversations, articles, op-eds, business, political, and cultural tracts, I’ve come to the conclusion that people on opposite sides of the so-called conservative/liberal divide have fundamentally different apprehensions of property. For liberals, loosely put, property is a by-product of living. For conservatives, it seems, property is the whole point of living. The real problem is what gets defined as property. For a conservative, again loosely put, everything is property, including rights. This is basic capitalism, which seeks to commodify everything. And as capitalism has been practiced for two plus centuries, commodities are always limited. Capitalism is founded on scarcity. Sometimes the scarcity is real—there’s only so much nickel, titanium, and aluminum is expensive to make, and arable land is finite. But today, recently, those scarcities have become manufactured, Even so, some things cannot be so except by law—like human rights.
The conservative/capitalist playbook tells us that in order for someone to have something they haven’t got, someone else has to give something up. The zero sum game. What we have to come to terms with is that to some people, when you talk about expanding rights or services, they automatically hear that they will have to give something up. It is counter-intuitive to them to state that such is not the case.
Even in operant capitalism.
We must also begin to grapple with the fact that problems are never of a single facet. And when we get down to the individual level, the complexities multiply.
So relegating groups to single-diagnoses categories will always backfire. They are not all stupid, ignorant, venal, or obsessed. Seventy million of us voted to keep in play the guerrilla war for the culture. Effectively, we might be able to deal with broad issues, but ultimately that means there are seventy million unique perspectives that do not match up with the seventy-five million who have rejected their choice for president.
There are basic moral issues at stake. But mingled with those are people who think they will lose something in this outcome.
The one thing we cannot afford to do this time is think we have won and can now go home. This is only the latest battle.
So breathe, enjoy a bit of relief. Then do not fail to show up. You can’t win if you’re not on the court. Nothing is over.