On June 29th, “Antifascist” (Antifa) protesters took to the streets of Portland, Oregon, to oppose a scheduled Proud Boys rally. Police officers positioned themselves between the two groups to prohibit a violent clash. This did not, however, prevent several assaults from occurring.
By Mason Mohon | @mohonofficial
Just as sure as the existence of Yin and Yang, the existence of left and right goes on. And seemingly, it is only getting worse in modern politics. Both sides of Western politics have become increasingly reactionary. The far right is fueled with hatred of far left-wing culture, going after all things “degenerate.” The far left is merely the other side of the exact same coin, hating all things “traditional.” They are both reactionary groups, and the result of these two reactionary groups reacting to one another is obvious: increased political polarization. Yet, while the far right has many issues, the far left may be more responsible for the destruction of contemporary politics.
Nate Galt | United States
Many Americans of different backgrounds have been disillusioned by the current political system. There are only two major parties—the Democratic and Republican. All other parties have no means of competing with either and will not be able to break their congressional duopoly in the near future. A significant portion of American voters believes that there are fundamental differences between the two parties. Some view the Democrats as extreme leftists and the Republicans as ultra-capitalists. Others view Democrats as “left” while saying that Republicans are “right-leaning.”
The two parties do disagree on several key stances such as abortion rights and gun control. However, there is one common trend between all major parties’ and their elected officials’ stances: authoritarianism. Despite their mildly differing stances, Republicans and Democrats still agree on the very things that are ruining America’s economy, limiting freedom, and wasting taxpayer dollars. For almost two centuries, both parties have backed the United States’s intervention into foreign conflicts, revolutions, and affairs. Since the country’s founding, it has been at war almost 94 percent of the time that it has existed. Both sides have accepted the Monroe Doctrine as a justification for their involvement in scores of foreign conflicts, such as in the Philippines, the Russian Revolution, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and the Iranian Revolution. The US has also intervened in numerous Latin and South American wars.
Both sides almost unanimously backed the USA PATRIOT Act and unconstitutional spying by the National Security Agency. Several prominent figures in the Republican Party, namely President Donald J. Trump, have called for the criminalization of flag burning and for banning protests during the National Anthem. These figures claim to stand for “liberty,” yet wish to outlaw protest, contrary to the First Amendment. Those positions are not synonymous with supporting maximum personal freedom. Conservative Supreme Court justice Samuel Alito believed that police should have the right to search automobiles on private property without a warrant. According to some people, Justice Alito is a “constitutionalist.” A constitutionalist cannot support a clear and evident violation of your right against warrantless searches guaranteed in the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.
Many Republican voters believe that by voting for all the candidates with the letter “R” next to their name on the ballot, they are advancing personal freedom. They point to several Democrats’ anti-gun stances, saying that their positions are the reason that they vote Republican. The president who suggested that he “take the guns first and go through due process second” is not a Democrat. Wanting to strip citizens of their gun rights is approved by both parties.
The War on Drugs is still backed by both the Republicans and the Democrats. It has ruined hundreds of thousands of lives and has thrown many thousands more behind bars for decades-long sentences. The parties may seem to have their differences, but they are trivial. They all agree with policies that will line the pockets of the corrupt Washington elite and measures that will limit Americans’ personal freedom.
A party that supports gun control is not synonymous with liberty; neither is its rival party, which seeks to keep marijuana possession and use illegal and wants to prevent people from protesting a flag.
Neither party will advance individual freedom for the average American. The one thing that they will promote, however, is their own interest.
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Craig Axford | United States
The upcoming 2018 midterms may be about to prove that Donald Trump has been good for the left and the Democratic Party, at least in the short-term. However, he’s still a far cry from a cure for what ails it. His abusive style and bull in a china shop approach to governance have merely provided a shot of adrenaline to an institution that’s been increasingly showing signs of exhaustion for decades.
Trump has consistently given the appearance of an easy foil that, like the ancient Sirens, has the perpetual potential to lure America’s left onto the rocks. Adrenaline wears off quickly once we’re convinced the crisis has passed. Between the danger of Trump fatigue and the very real chance that the Democratic Party will once again decide to take a collective nap as soon as the current administration has been dealt with, midterm victories and success in 2020 could prove short-lived. While the left sleeps off the bad trip of the Trump era, we can be sure that other far more savvy demagogues will be busy working to seize upon America’s discontent to launch their own attempts to take power.
The essayist and Columbia University professor of Humanities, Mark Lilla, picked up his pen and wrote a short but powerful antidote to the American left’s malaise. Unfortunately, his obvious understanding of the problem and how we got here leaves Lilla at best only a very mildly reassuring read.
While the efforts at organizing by those that commonly refer to themselves as “the resistance” have potential, Lilla warns us that these efforts need to lead us somewhere other than simply removing Trump from office and winning the elections of 2018 and 2020. “So it’s encouraging to see how quickly liberals have organized to resist Trump,” Lilla writes. “But resistance is by nature reactive, it is not forward-looking.”
Lilla does not dismiss or treat lightly the post-1960s habit by the left to ignore down-ballot races. Its increasingly presidential focus all but ceded school boards, city councils, state legislatures, and even governorships to the Republican Party. By 2016 Democrats were in worse shape than at any time since the 1920s. Indeed, the Obama years were particularly bad ones for the Democratic Party, with losses far exceeding those experienced under any previous Democratic president.
Lilla isn’t the first to chastise Democrats for putting most of their eggs in the presidential basket and, unfortunately, he probably won’t be the last. We still occasionally hear commentators feel the need to remind Democrats to pay attention more often than just once every four years, but oddly the party that supposedly believes most in government continues to generally find local and state races pretty unimportant.
With regard to the vision question, there’s some movement around issues like universal health care. Senator Sanders has demonstrated that ideas like Medicare for all and a tuition-free education can generate a high enough turnout in at least some districts to win elections and enough energy to fill large arenas virtually anywhere.
But there’s still an elephant in the room by the name of identity politics and the left simply doesn’t know how to navigate around it without upsetting its fragile ego. Indeed, the left has spent decades nurturing that ego by fostering an environment in which debates are increasingly seen as synonymous with confrontation and more attention is paid to policing speech than to regulating corporations or reporting campaign donations.
Identity politics, according to Lilla, represents the brand of individualism the left adopted to counter the Reagan revolution’s own distinct identification with rugged ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps’ libertarian individualism. America doesn’t have citizens so much as it has individuals, interests, and groups that identify themselves this way or that.
“The most important lesson is this,” Lilla tells us on the opening page of the third and final chapter of his short treatise, “that for two generations America has been without a political vision of its destiny. There is no conservative one, there is no liberal one. There are just two tired individualistic ideologies intrinsically incapable of discerning the common good and drawing the country together to secure it under present circumstances.”
Lilla isn’t wrong. The problem, as I see it, is that this describes America throughout most of its history. It has never shown much interest in abandoning this character flaw. It has always been a nation that preferred to see its people’s isolated dreams as a substitute for an overarching philosophy that saw the whole as greater than the sum of its parts.
The periods when it has enjoyed a “vision of its destiny” have been the exception rather than the rule. The only reason to think that America might be ready to enter one of these exceptional periods now is that it again finds itself in a crisis. It’s always been an emergency of fairly significant proportions that’s precipitated the emergence of such a shared vision in the past. This vision lingers for a while after the crisis has passed but it inevitably fades within a generation or so.
On the opening page of his book’s first chapter, Lilla himself recognizes this very American tendency by providing two quotes from two very different men separated by nearly two centuries:
I see an immense crowd of similar and equal men who spin restlessly around themselves, seeking vulgar little pleasures to fill their souls. Living apart, each is like a foreigner to the fate of others. His children and friends are for him the entire human race. As for his fellow citizens, his is next to them but does not see them, he touches them but does not feel them. He exists only in and for himself, alone. And though he may still have a family, he no longer has a country. ~ Alexis de Tocqueville
My ideal citizen is the self-employed, homeschooling, IRA-owning guy with a concealed-carry permit. Because that person doesn’t need the goddamn government for anything. ~ Grover Norquist
While Bill Clinton’s rhetoric is certainly imbued with greater empathy than Grover Norquist’s, his 1992 campaign was nonetheless intended to prove de Tocqueville’s point regarding America’s true character. Lincoln’s emancipatory vision or FDR’s commitment to fairness and economic justice were the sorts of things the country would only swallow after two years of civil war or 20 plus percent unemployment. Even then, Bill Clinton and his centrist fellow travelers warned Democrats that articulating grand ideas was risky at best in the post-Reagan era and they would be wise to steer clear of them if they wanted to win elections.
Clinton won in 1992, but in 1994 the GOP took the House for the first time in four decades and the rest, as they say, is history. Democrats have been out of power in the House and Senate more often than not ever since. In spite of these mounting losses, however, they’ve generally just kept doubling down on Bill Clinton’s insistence on moderation. In lieu of a grand vision for the country, the “first black president” together with his fellow baby boomers ardently embraced identity politics and small initiatives that could be fairly quickly undone by the next Republican president.
Lilla’s suggestion for revitalizing the left is a radical departure from identity politics, though it is by no means a new or radical idea: bring back the concept of citizenship. Citizens are part of a community, whereas individuals are merely unbonded social atoms that keep bumping into one another, sometimes with great force.
The only adversary left is ourselves. And we have mastered the art of self-sabotage. At a time when we liberals need to speak in a way that convinces people from very different walks of life, in every part of the country, that they share a common destiny and need to stand together, our rhetoric encourages self-righteous narcissism. At a moment when political consciousness and strategizing need to be developed, we are expending our energies on symbolic dramas over identity. ~ Mark Lilla
Lilla doesn’t argue that the left should abandon the minorities that have struggled or are still struggling to gain access to everything from voting rights to the use of the bathroom but he does believe the left needs to reframe the way we discuss these problems. Equal treatment under the law is a human rights issue first and foremost. The word human is all-inclusive. Identity politics, on the other hand, demands equality by drawing attention to what we are that others are not, inviting potential allies to make some other concern their top priority on the grounds that they cannot possibly understand our own. No wonder Steve Bannon openly hopes the left will be stupid enough to continue meandering drunkenly down this divisive road.
Lilla is part of a small but (hopefully) growing group of liberal thinkers arguing that all anyone ultimately needs to understand is that the dignity and worth we all possess entitle each of us to equality under the law. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. It does not require a degree in gender studies or regular staff meetings to address our unconscious biases.
Neither the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. nor the abolitionists 100 years before him described the problem in the narrow language of minority rights or the angry hopelessness of those who claim that people outside their cherished tribe simply can’t get it. King, as well as the suffragettes and abolitionists before him, were simply demanding everyone be given an equal opportunity to sit at humanity’s table.
Lilla calls upon liberalism to return to a larger more inclusive rhetoric that excludes no one; a liberalism that embraces diversity not because it has a list of interests and identity groups that need to be checked off but because it recognizes everyone’s humanity. True liberalism doesn’t care about the color of your skin, your gender, or your sexual orientation. Humanity and character are the only things that matter. Liberalism embraces Martin Luther King’s dream. Identity politics rejects it.
It remains to be seen whether Lilla and others like him will be heard. A small but vocal segment of the Democratic Party seems to enjoy spending their time getting mad at professors who don’t share their particular worldview or typing angry tweets about Google employees who wrote a memo most of them never bothered to read. None of this fosters dialogue and compassion let alone brings America any closer to providing health care to all its citizens, eliminating the growing burden of student debt, reforming the justice system, or providing an income to a working class facing increasing pressures from automation. Such debates are as divisive in their own way as Trumpism is.
Mark Lilla’s book is worthy of the few hours it takes to read. His argument needs thoughtful consideration and debate within liberal circles everywhere. Unfortunately, it’s hard for this Democrat to ignore his personal experience of the past four decades. The signs that America’s left — a movement that is already centrist by contemporary Western democratic standards — will respond to the need to abandon identity politics in favor of the more inclusive and shared commitment that citizenship demands are tentative at best.
Follow Craig on Twitter or read him on Medium.com
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By Atilla Sulker | United States
Like many contemporary issues, the debacle regarding immigration and the separation of immigrant families has become a polarizing and divisive issue in America. Ideologues on the left and the right both spew propaganda to try to discredit the other side, and as a result, the political scene has become nastier and further fractured. Those on the left and the establishment leaning right have become demagogues and have made this an emotional issue, while those on the populist right blindly support the protocols set by the Attorney General and others. The issue is far from over, but there is a more fundamental lesson that must be learned from this fiasco.
It is interesting that both sides have decided to focus so carefully on the separation of immigrant children from their parents, yet they have not bothered to pay attention to what I see as the domestic equivalent to this. And this is the gradual alienation of children here in America from their parents, which has taken multiple forms. The current issue with immigration can be very disheartening, but what good is it to set any moral standards in regards to immigrants, when we don’t apply this same thinking to our own children. This whole debate has ultimately distracted people from what domestic institutions have been doing both explicitly and implicitly. Humane treatment from any administration or government can not be expected if we can’t even set these standards for ourselves.
Let us look at the Child Protection Services and examine its assumption of children from parents. In a paper written by Professor Paul Chill titled “Burden of Proof Begone”, Chill finds that of the over 100,000 children removed from their families in 2001, over one-third of them were later found to never have been mistreated or abused. Chill also recognizes that this is coupled with the fact that the definition for mistreatment is very broad. “Reasonable cause” is enough to bring the CPS knocking at your door. I don’t mean to digress, but this sort of “reasonable suspicion overriding probable cause” approach was used under the Patriot Act in a post 9/11 world. The assuming of such powers by the CPS presents a very similar case. It is yet another way in which the state is intruding into our lives.
The fundamental problem with such organizations as the CPS and the Department of Children and Families is that the state practically assumes ownership of children. It is one thing to enforce the non-aggression principle and punish parents who have abused children. It is another thing to give the state the authority to assume ownership of our children. Even if the moral argument against the state is not sufficient, practically speaking, the utter inefficiency of the CPS based on the statistics presents a good argument against government assuming such a role. I think it is safe to ask the question “ do parents really own their children?”.
These explicit means are indeed something we must examine, but the government has also found a way to implicitly isolate the child from the parent. And this is the gradually increasing assumption of monopoly powers in schooling by the government. It may seem like an absurd statement at first to the typical sheep who obey their government masters, but the filtering and controlling of ideas is indeed a very powerful tool that the state uses, and it is especially useful for children, who possess young and fertile minds. Sheer military power is not enough for the state to keep control over its people. The state must also indoctrinate its subjects in its ideas. North Korea provides an excellent case study of how this indoctrination is used to maintain order.
Since I am in the public schooling system right now, I have had direct and recent experience in regards to this indoctrination. I had one teacher in my junior year in high school who would constantly make fun of me and embarrass me in class on a near daily basis for not agreeing with her progressive agenda. I didn’t mind and I understood she was joking around as well, but this goes to show you what kind of people are in the public school system. They are close-minded, safe space junkies. The censoring and suppression of ideas becomes nearly immediate when the discussion becomes just a little controversial. There was another teacher who was an ardent feminist that would make us read feminist articles, and only such articles. I don’t mind teachers discussing politics with students, but when their politics affect the information that they feed to the students, it becomes a problem. I believe it is crucial that all perspectives are considered.
So we have now established the premise that government schooling can at its most extreme be terribly biased. So what about homeschooling? Even then, the state has supervision over what must be taught to the students by their parents. Occasional evaluations are administered by the state to see how well a student has been indoctrinated by the ideas pushed forward by the state. According to an article written by Lynn Hatter in WFSU in 2013, a couple faced 10 charges that could put them in jail for up to 60 days per charge. And why did they face these charges? According to the state, their children had not been properly indoctrinated. The story occurred here in Leon County, Florida. Such cases are not necessarily rare; they can happen where you live too. I’m all for education, but what I am against is the government deciding what standards the education must conform with, and in such a way assuming even more ownership of children. It presents yet another example of the state alienating the child from the parent, even if doing so implicitly.
A final point I want to make is in regards to the Attorney General’s comments in comparing the bringing of children across the border to smuggling. Sessions claims that since the act of bringing immigrant children across the border can be likened unto smuggling, the state has the right to confiscate the children. In making such a claim, Sessions is taking the stance of a legal positivist. And all those who support such a policy are doing the same. In making this claim, the Attorney General is assuming that it is not wrong for the government to confiscate money and personal belongings from domestic citizens, and he is, therefore, extending this notion even further by applying it to immigration. His application of this doctrine to immigration assumes that he first applies it to domestic protocols, then protocols in regards to immigrants.
A large part of the populist right-wing takes this legal positivist stance regarding immigration and load of other issues, all this being influenced by strong nationalism. The left wing, however, is not exempt from any criticism. They claim to be such great supporters of civil liberties, but support to censorship of websites and organizations that they deem “too extreme” or “too far right”.
I think that the immigration controversy is certainly an issue that has to be addressed properly and is not something that can be solved overnight, but it is fallacious to assess that situation without even assessing what is going on here at home. We can not ignore the ways in which the state is alienating the child from his or her parents, both explicitly and implicitly. If we don’t have a sound foundation of ideas regarding how we, the citizens of the United States ought to be treated, what good is it to try to solve the current controversy. We must treat others in the same way that we want to be treated, and if this doctrine is to be held true, immigrants won’t get treated any better. If anything, this debacle has revealed a plethora of inconsistencies on both the left and right.
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