Stephen and I had a good discussion of the recent Democratic and Republican conventions over breakfast this morning. Part of the reason it was so good, is that I have set down some new rules for myself in serious discussion. I will wait until the person is finished speaking, and if I have something to contribute, I will make sure I am not interrupting. So, most of the time, I can just interject my thoughts, but some of the time, I ask permission to add something, and sometimes—especially if my dialogical companion is in the heat of proclamation—I will just say, “Let me know when it is ok to continue in response to your thought.” Tangentially, it occurs to me that I could teach Chris Matthews of MSNBC a few new tricks.
We don’t need to get into Stephen’s thought today, because he’s not here to defend himself. But, like a lot of my friends, he is feeling pretty good about what transpired at the Democratic Convention. Generally speaking, some folks have been pretty upset with the Bernie Sanders supporters all along for not getting with the program, as well as being mildly to extremely irritated by Sanders’ staunch commitment to his revolutionary principles. It also seems to me that a lot of political moderates are so terrified that Donald Trump might actually win the presidency of the USA, that they just fervently hope they can convince their more progressive friends to sand the warts and blemishes off the various plaster-cast models of Hillary Clinton that are currently being vended.
For my own part in this dialog, I have frequently irritated people by calling them out for compromising democratic principles of debate and campaigning in the alleged interests of national safety and security. I remind them about First Amendment rights; I remind them to see the political beliefs continuum as a spectrum rather than a binary choice. But most of all, I am called out for my claim that a democracy where we can’t have free and open political debate is not worth fighting for. I have a long political history, and it seems to me that almost every election cycle that I can recall, there are critics and political agendas that fall outside the binary choice of Republican or Democrat. It seems to me that sooner or later, the fear-mongering begins. People point to Nader as giving the election to George Bush, and they blame him for “spoiling” the 2000 election, and there are other examples I could give.
Stephen and I kicked this conversation around for quite a bit, and then I was struck by an epiphany, which is the real point of this blog post. I told Stephen that I could see that our differences were irresolvable, since disparate fundamental principles were at stake. Both Stephen and I want to see a world at peace, of that I am sure, but for Stephen, he is convinced that a Hillary Clinton presidency will move us in that direction. For my own part, I am quite certain that Clinton will work hard on all of the objectives she has stated in her campaign, should she be elected, and that is why I support her. However, I am far from certain that electing another moderate Democrat, and certainly not a Republican, to the White House will do anything but put a tire change on an essentially rickety imperialistic political machine.
I told Stephen that I respected his political opinions, and later in the morning, I thanked him for all the opportunities he gives me to test out my own ideas on another thoughtful, committed, and caring person. But for my own part, I said, I hereby admit that I am a coward, and I believe in the past that I have been even more of a coward, because I do not and haven’t for a long time voted my conscience in a national presidential election. I am a hypocrite. I would be voting, if I ever grew the gonads—and there seems to be some question about whether they would be ovaries or balls—for the Green Party. I have believed for thirty years now that a cataclysmic environmental degradation was in the making. I have written songs about it, given speeches about it, and prayed about it. Thirty years ago, the world could have possibly turned itself around. Today, not so much. And all that while, I voted Democratic whenever I could. Thirty years of Democratic votes in a nation and a world crying out for a Green perspective.
Stephen said he didn’t think I was right. I wasn’t a coward, I was just being sensible and reasonable about who could get elected, and who could do the most for the environment. This got me to reflecting on what real courage is in the political realm. Whatever else it may be, possibly safe or convenient, voting for who can get elected and do the most for a problem certainly isn’t courageous. A medal of honor for voting for Hillary Clinton? I don’t think so.
That train of thought got me to thinking about a book I read not so many years ago by Martin Duberman, A Saving Remnant: The Radical Lives of Barbara Deming and David McReynolds. The book was reviewed by J. Courtney Sullivan in the New York Times in 2011. Sullivan’s first paragraph is worth quoting.
“The phrase ‘a saving remnant,’ ” Martin Duberman writes, “has historically referred to that small number of people neither indoctrinated nor frightened into accepting oppressive social conditions. Unlike the general populace, they openly challenge the reigning powers that be and speak out early and passionately against injustice of various kinds.”
Duberman intends to portray Barbara Deming and David McReynolds as examples of the saving remnant in the sense defined in the quote. They were dedicated peace workers, so much so that one can simply not understand their lives apart from this primary commitment. That did not mean that they were one-dimensional. Deming was a gifted lesbian poet; McReynolds a dedicated socialist. Both aligned themselves with the progressive issues of the day: civil-rights, nuclear disarmament, the Vietnam War; both were committed to principles of non-violence and underwent periodic incarceration for their peace work. Now here are lives to which we can meaningfully apply the term “courageous.” Compared to them, I not only lack courage, my addiction to convenient living and the moral approbation of friends has led to cowardice on my part. Currently, I do a number of things that could be considered mildly progressive. I attend a progressive church, and we have a number of programs that address the local problems of poverty, hunger and discrimination. I keep up on progressive issues. I gently try to confront white privilege, all the while living in white privilege. I support the least racist and sexist politicians that I can identify. But I am facing up to the facts: I am a half-assed progressive.
It’s not worth constructing the questionnaires and doing the statistics, but I strongly suspect that 99% of Bernie Sanders’ supporters are definitely not in the saving remnant category, either. That’s not to criticize their values. It is to say that before I pass judgment on their value choices, I need to see how they end their lives. If the country is still around, I predict that the vast majority of them are voting with some major party in 20 or 30 years. In Bernie Sanders, however, we may very well have an example of that rara avis of which I speak. He often gets called down for being “idealistic,” “impractical,” and the one I really hate, “ineffective.” I think in the scale of things, those terms probably applied to Barbara Deming and David McReynolds, also, but for people doing true peace work, it doesn’t matter. They simply have to speak out, have to act because the thing is immoral and we can’t wait for effective or practical or realistic.
I noticed that Bernie wasn’t smiling too much during the final night’s proceedings. He was listening, but he seldom applauded. I wonder what was going through his mind. On the one hand, he really had made a difference, and may still have a few years to do more. But you know, Bernie has no obvious heir apparent who could take up the reins of his campaign and lead it with such power, consistency and moral authority. Maybe he was thinking about how very close he was, how unfairly he had been treated by the party with which he joined forces, and how hopes of a true turn of direction in this nation are perhaps gone with the winds of political fortune. Maybe he was dreading the “business as usual” that may very well ensue.
As much as I admire Bernie Sanders for the progressive leadership and inspiration he has shown to us, he hasn’t gone nearly far enough. Perhaps that is why in the end I am not too dissatisfied voting for Hillary Clinton. Her victory and a Senate majority of Democrats will assure that LGBT rights, women’s reproductive rights, voting rights, and perhaps many other valuable protections will be secured for many years to come, perhaps for a generation. The real looming catastrophy is even bigger than an Elephant or a Donkey in the room—one group of scientists recently estimated that we have a 25% chance of the human race surviving until the end of the current century. Scientists are proposing that we have entered a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene Epoch. The sheer magnitude of the human race itself and its impact on the environment is altering the climate in even more dramatic ways than five previous discontinuities in the geological record that signaled the wide-spread distruction of life on Earth.
There is one clear solution to this problem: all the nations of the world must work together to rebuild a sustainable lifestyle within which everyone can live and prosper. That includes possibly significantly reducing the human biomass, converting to wind and solar power and eliminating the use of petrochemicals for fuel, exiting the current world production system which focuses on consumption for the sake of making the owners more wealthy. Many will be outraged by this suggestion for various religious and political reasons. Nonetheless, within 50 years, the world will either succeed in doing this, or we will be shortly to be gone. 50 years. Let me repeat this. 50 years. The work of one or two generations.
Working together like this, against a common enemy—our worst selves—it would look very peaceful on this Earth. It might even usher in a new era of world government, one that today we can hardly imagine.