The Unbearable Privilege of Being Able To Be Friendly With Your Political Opponents
It’s November 7th, 2018. Which means the U.S mid-term elections happened last night. I’m not here to provide a forensic breakdown or a clinical postmortem of the results. Dustin has that covered. I just want to offer some comment on two things: Hope, and privilege.
Suffice it to say that while there was some disappointment in last night’s results, there was also a lot to be joyful about. In politics, everything is about context, and direction. So while the tightening Republican control of the Senate and the losses of Gillum in Florida and Beto in Texas may well feel like defeats, they need not do. Especially the latter two. Because the very fact that candidates as progressive as Andrew Gillum and Beto O’Rourke are not only running, but achieving as much as they are, on such high voter turnouts as we have seen, should be a source of great hope.
And ‘hope’ should really be the main take away from last night.
Hope that can be found in the cases of people like Lauren Underwood, a 31-year old African American Democrat who unseated Republican Randy Hultgren in Illinois’s 14th district.
It can be found in 42-year old Democrat Kendra Horn, a lawyer and activist who just flipped Oklahoma’s 5th district for the first time in four decades.
It can be seen in Sharice Davids, 39-year old Democrat who just won in Kansas’s 3rd district, in the process becoming the first LGBTQ+ member of the Kansas congressional delegation in history, as well as one of the very first indigenous women to get elected to Congress.
It can be found in Deb Haaland, who won New Mexico’s 1st congressional district, and who, alongside Sharice Davids, has just become the other first indigenous woman to get elected to Congress.
It can be seen in Minnesota’s Ilhan Omar, 37-year old Somali-born American Democrat, and ‘proud democratic socialist’ who isn’t afraid to be critical of Israel’s criminal occupation, and who, alongside, Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib has just become the first Muslim woman to be elected to Congress.
And hope can also of course be found in New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who saw off a Democratic establishment stalwart supported by huge corporate donors. She did this by running a grassroots, radically progressive, unashamedly socialist campaign, in the process becoming the first woman in her twenties to gain a place in the United States Congress. The significance of Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign and victory must not be understated. Not only did she run on a platform that offered a genuine break from the ideological slate of the centrist Democratic establishment which has been so complicit in the corporate corruption and capture of mainstream politics, but her youth and her Puerto Rican heritage also offer a decisive splintering from the overwhelming demographic monotony of the political class of the United States. Identity by itself does not guarantee progressive politics of course (though it can be a reliable predictor simply because of the way hierarchical power is structured along lines of identity) but what Ocasio-Cortez and the many other victorious candidates from last night have shown, is that there is a generation of women politicians, LGBTQ+ politicians, and politicians of color coming of age, carrying with them real, progressive policy platforms, rising through the ranks of a corrupt Democratic machine. They might be members of a party that some would see as beyond redemption, but against all odds they are offering some signs of hope of reform from within.
That reform will not come easy. In a country which is ostensibly a democracy but which, according a Princeton study, carries many hallmarks of an oligarchy where ‘economic elites and organised groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on US government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence’, radical change is not really permitted. The United States is a neo-imperial white supremacist capitalist patriarchy. The powers that be, Democrat and Republican and the various actors and institutions outside of direct politics, have a burning desire to see it stay that way.
But there is hope.
Progressive candidates are rising. Poor voters and voters of color, despite immense amounts of establishment efforts to keep them from doing so, are turning up in huge numbers to vote for those candidates. The lesson here, as in the British General Election of 2017, is simple: Offer a genuine alternative, and people will vote. But the alternative has to be there. There has to be something to fight for.
Because this is a fight.
A desperate, existential fight. This is something that is conveniently forgotten in many mainstream media narratives, and it’s something that was there way before Trump arrived but which has been undoubtedly exacerbated by his administration. Politics isn’t a sport. In the comfortable, privileged, overwhelmingly white bubbles of the corporate media, so far removed from the reality of the lives of the majority of the population, it can sure feel like a spectator sport. That’s how you get detached drivel like this:
Yes, because depriving millions of healthcare, handing out ludicrous tax cuts for the obscenely wealthy, or accelerating the onset of catastrophic climate change by gutting regulation are things that happen in a vacuum and have minimal effect on people.
It’s how you get unfortunately blinkered stuff like this:
There’s a lot going in that statement, bubbling just underneath the surface. Chief among it the abstract weightlessness given to the word ‘politics’, and its contrasting against the relative power given there to ‘friendship’. Friendship is indeed a beautiful, life-affirming thing. But rhetorically diminishing the power of politics is something that only a member of the class privileged enough to be unaffected by it could think of doing. You can only proclaim, ‘I don’t really think about politics!’ when you don’t need to think about politics. ‘Money doesn’t buy happiness!’ is a similar statement. No, it sure doesn’t, not in the abstract, theoretical sense anyway. But in the real, dog-eat-dog, capitalist world it sure as hell makes it easier to be able to attain happiness through other means. Money becomes abstract once you have so much that you don’t need to think about it. Likewise, politics is not an abstract entity, unless you don’t need to worry about it because it already serves you well.
I find it’s helpful sometimes to substitute the word ‘politics’ with the word ‘power’. Politics is a term that has been intentionally made hazy and removed from reality. A political class that is itself detached from those they govern welcomes that kind of disengagement. ‘Power’ on the other hand is a term that everyone understands, and it is remarkably clear that power is not just a theoretical exercise. It has real, life-changing consequences. And here is the kicker: When those in power seek to do you harm, you are under no obligation to be friendly with them. When those in power cage children, threaten the rights of entire communities, and are on the verge of bringing fascism into the mainstream of the world’s largest military power, you need not extend to them a friendly hand. When those in power base their ideology on the erasure of minorities, on the eradication of entire ethnicities, on the silencing of dissent, and on the purging of those they deem unworthy, then we have stepped away from friendly disagreement and we have entered into a struggle for survival. You do not make friends with these people. You see them for what they are. The sentiment might be coming from an admirable place, but after a certain point, friendliness becomes privileged foolishness. As Stokely Carmichael said: ‘In order for nonviolence to work, your opponent must have a conscience.’ You cannot be friends with someone whose ideology is based on hatred and violence. You do not reach across the aisle with fascists. You resist, and you give no quarter, because none will be given.
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