Toads for Bernie 2016

bernie_2

(Image from MotherJones.com)

What we want are unpractical people who see beyond the moment and think beyond the day.

– Oscar Wilde

There is much, much more to being progressive than just “making progress.”

The progressive doesn’t just act progressively, he or she thinks progressively, beyond the merely possible to the possibilities inherent in the impossible. Last night’s debate on MSNBC made it clear which of the two remaining Democratic presidential candidates understands this.

Again and again, parsing the term in a highly simplistic fashion, Hillary Clinton insisted that her ability to “make progress” makes her a “progressive.” And again and again, she dismissed the big ideas (universal healthcare, reinstating Glass-Steagall, taking the price tag off of public higher education) as third-rail politics. They’ll never pass, she insisted, so why bother?

Why bother? The true progressive “bothers” with these issues precisely because they will be hard to sell, and even harder to implement. Precisely because there is a good chance they will never pass.

The true progressive understands that forward movement is often mistaken for progress when it is really just inertia. That sometimes true progress entails no movement at all. That progressive rhetoric must fail often in order finally to succeed.

The true progressive knows that sticking with ideas that fit within the present paradigm is not enough. True progressives deal in ideas so big that the paradigm can no longer contain them, explain them away, or hide them from view–because then, and only then, will the paradigm shift and make way for real, meaningful change to happen.

Clinton has already referenced, repeatedly, the fact that she would be the first female president, and has presented that as a selling point on its own merits. And while that would (and will one day) be a milestone of great importance in American history, it cannot be the sole motivating factor in a voter’s decision.

It is not enough to vote for the first female president simply because of her gender. Were that the case, every feminist in America should have marched to the polls in support of Sarah Palin or Michele Bachmann. No, the first female president must also be a good choice on policy grounds, and the refusal to contemplate big ideas because they offer a challenge (perhaps even an impossible one) to policymakers makes Clinton a bad choice on those grounds.

The former Secretary of State also claimed, last night, that there are few who would consider her a member of the establishment, based largely on the fact of her gender. Well, I count myself among those few. Again, Palin, Bachmann, and now Fiorina offer a ready counter to the suggestion that women cannot belong to the establishment. And while, on the whole, I prefer Clinton’s approach to those of the aforementioned contradictions, her repeated rejection of the monumental but difficult in favor of the small but doable causes me to question her ability to effect meaningful and lasting change. Not because she couldn’t if she wanted to, but because she seems unwilling to try.

One day, hopefully soon, the United States will meet its first female president, and she will blow the doors off the way we think as a nation, and redefine the parameters of social justice as applied in our society. And that woman will receive my whole-hearted support (not to mention my whole-hearted vote at the polls). But Hillary Clinton is not, to my mind, that woman.

So, we are left once again with a choice between men, and of those men, Bernie Sanders best embodies the imagination and big thinking that are the hallmark of the true progressive. If nothing else, he has shed a more positive light on the idea of socialism, and reminded us of the “social” part of it all: one can embrace communitarianism without surrendering to authoritarianism. It is possible (and more than that, it is necessary if we are to thrive as a nation) to put our neighbors first without ourselves disappearing from view.

Being a toad (being The Toad) is all about rejecting the limits others would place upon my imagination and/or will to change. It’s about insisting on my right to wild, idealistic dreamery. And Sanders’ campaign is built on toads–people who refuse to discard ideas because they are difficult, or because they’ve never worked before, or because they challenge the status quo. After all, we would not as a nation even exist were it not for our willingness to pursue freedom in new and mold-breaking ways.

So this Toad’s for Bernie…even if he doesn’t win. I’d rather back a long shot who dreams big than a sure thing who thinks small. And Sanders’ success to this point proves that, in this, I am not alone.

There is much, much more to being progressive than just “making progress.” It’s about making progress that matters.

American Idiot

Donald_Trump_2_March_2015 (Image by Michael Vadon)

We move toward a lofty ideal. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last, and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.

– H.L. Mencken

Has anyone ever considered that maybe a Trump presidency is exactly what this country deserves?

They say that hauntings are the result of past trauma, passions accumulated through the years and then released in a catharsis of spectral manifestation. If that is true, I would like to submit this as an explanation for the remarkable, yet not entirely incredible, success of The Donald’s presidential campaign thus far: as a nation, we are being haunted by the ghost of ourselves.

Trump, as a political thinker (if such is an accurate term for the regurgitative extrospection he exercises on camera) is the immaculate culmination of the phenomenon known ’round the world as “the ugly American.” He is our national id, as Jon Stewart (may his memory increase) so aptly noted after the initial announcement. He is everything we want, but are too afraid of social sanctions, to say. Since Trump can afford to ignore those sanctions, he is rapidly becoming a collective escape valve for our inner sociopathy–the means whereby we dump our boiler, lest the Overlook explode around us, blanketing us all in a cloud of radioactive Fox-planation…

But this is nothing some pundit or other hasn’t already said. The salient point here is simply this: we asked for it.

I recently asked a Dutch friend what he thought about our two-party political system. It does not, he said, allow for nuance: two parties mean two sides to any given issue, black and white, right and wrong (interchangeable according to the views of the speaker). Yes, we have “third parties” and “independents,” but I think Ralph Nader’s political career is indicative of those groups’ viability. Two parties, two teams, two ideological armies locked in rhetorical stalemate.

Add to this the fact that politics is considered a “career,” and that anytime someone dares to mention term limits they are immediately shouted down (by the very people who spend all their time complaining about “imperial presidencies”), and it’s a wonder we’ve made it as far as we have as a nation. It’s not democracy; it’s pure dumb luck.

Given the incessant pissing contest in which we’ve engaged the whole world since the 1950s (at least), it was really only a matter of time before somebody ended up pissing on us. I’ve never quite figured out the dismay with which people react to terrorist threats and/or attacks on US soil; of course they are a bad thing, an evil thing, but to expect anything else is simply naive. One cannot spend his days tossing bombs over the back fence without assuming that, at some point, his neighbor’s gonna toss one back.

We have rested too long on imaginary laurels. We police the world but consider ourselves accountable to no one. We are not the watchdog; we are the bully. And we worry now that Trump’s foreign policy will alienate potential allies? That cat, my friends, done got out the bag.

Ultimately, we can’t talk productively amongst ourselves, which means we can’t talk credibly to our “allies” (defined, lately, as “whoever we aren’t bombing today”). And underneath a thin veneer of cosmopolitan globalism, a strong current of pre-1940s isolationism still flows: there is a fine line between exceptionalism and “go-fuck-yourselves,” and Donald Trump seems determined to erase it, one idiotic tweet at a time. The longer we insist that we don’t need the world (that we, in fact, are the world, Coca-Cola and all), the more likely it becomes that the rest of the world will realize it doesn’t really need us at all. At that point, it won’t matter who’s in the White House, because we’ll all be in the dog house.

Perhaps what we as a polity need is a swift kick to the groin, as a reminder of our unmitigated hubris. And what better stand-in for Uncle Sam’s crotch than good ol’ D.T.? And it’s an honest mistake: he is a bit of a dick.

If the prospect of Trump in the Oval doesn’t get us to sit up and take notice; if The Donald doesn’t inspire us to re-engage one another in some sort of peaceful and constructive way; if we continue to be so deeply inspired by idiocy, well, then…I give you…

Trump 2016:
When we can’t pretend we aren’t who we are
anymore…