Home / General / Marginally Connected Thoughts on Impeachment, the Democratic Primary, Climate, Activism, and How We Process the World

Marginally Connected Thoughts on Impeachment, the Democratic Primary, Climate, Activism, and How We Process the World


I have not written a single post about impeachment from the moment Trump was elected. I have not tweeted a single tweet about it. This isn’t precisely because I don’t have an opinion. It’s because everyone’s opinion about whether he should be impeached or not is based out of a lot of forcefully putting forth an opinion without much backing and that very much includes me. To the extent that I have thoughts about it, they are following: 1) I have absolutely no idea what the political implications of this will be and no one else does either, despite what they write about it. 2) Successfully impeaching and convicting Trump isn’t going to happen, or at least it is highly unlikely. 3) If it does happen, we have President Mike Pence, who might be even worse. 4) The political calculations people make are irrelevant because no one can know what they are going to be. 5) As a general rule, I think that despite all of this, I support moving forward on it because you have the fight, win or lose. The fight is the point. Anyone who thought Brett Kavanaugh was not going to be confirmed was deluding themselves. And even if he wasn’t, the next nominee was going to be just as horrible, even if not in that precise way. But the point is to throw sand in the machine. So you do what you have to do, even if you have no belief you will win. Trump or Pence, who cares. But you fight anyway.

This leads me to some other thoughts. I am a little sad right now. And that’s because our incredible obsession on the News of the Day is really damaging. Take the Democratic primary. The immediate aftermath of Trump’s election was horrible. But then we picked ourselves up off the mat, thanks in no small part to the brave protestors at the airports to protest the Muslim ban, thanks to the Women’s March, etc. And then we spent 2017 and the first half of 2018 thinking about what the Democratic Party should look like. This was a moment of ideas. It was a moment when I could advocate for a federal job guarantee in the pages of the New York Times, of all things. We were debating between that and Universal Basic Income schemes on the left. We were talking about all sorts of ideas on a huge variety of topics.

Then the midterms took place, which naturally took our attention for awhile. And then the primary started and never ends. So basically since the summer of 2018, all discussion of ideas has died and been replaced with constant obsession, certainly not only here but on Twitter and just among conversations with regular people, with the daily actions of the primary. And while I do have a preference, this is quite the attention paid for a bunch of pretty similar liberals up for the nomination in a structural scenario where all the presidencies are probably going to look more or less the same. And while that is somewhat less true of Biden, who is more problematic, it’s still mostly true of him as well.

I get why this is, even if the endless hatred of Bernie people for anyone who isn’t one (me increasingly included) and the hatred of non-Bernie people for Bernie is tiresome and counterproductive. And I certainly get why this is for impeachment. Trump is a walking constitutional crisis. But I want to hype up Shakezula’s post from earlier that getting rid of Trump barely makes a difference in terms of the disease that is the 21st century Republican Party. That’s true. Moreover, there is a real price to pay for how we digest politics today. There are lots and lots and lots of problems in the world. And they simply come and go in our minds, maybe one grabbing our attention for a day, because of the 24-hour news cycle that Twitter and what is left of blogs like ours both respond to and contribute to. Any given comment thread is far more active if it is about the primary or Trump or the outrage of the moment than any kind of substantive issue. Again, I understand why that is. We are all conditioned for this by now.

But there’s still a big price. I am teaching a course called “Protest and Resistance in America” this semester, which I debuted last fall. Basically, it seeks to take a group of students and get them to think harder about how change is made, both past and present. And one thing I have to actively fight is this extremely media-dominated narratives that they and everyone else imbibes in. Basically, we have to step back and look at the larger trajectory of social change, understand that change happens both within and outside of electoral politics and that one is not more important than the other, and work to place our current issues in a bigger context of historical change than what is on CNN or MSNBC or whatever. As an aside, I also urge them to never, ever, ever, ever watch any of the trash that passes for cable news, which feeds into all of this. Helping students understand the tremendous power they have in their lives to make change, getting them to move beyond pat narratives about change in both the past and present, and giving them concrete examples of organizers is something I am very happy to be able to teach. But I’d like to apply these principles beyond a handful of students once a year.

Let’s make this a little more concrete. Greta Thunberg is an amazing human being. She is a great leader who is challenging people to get their shit together and fix the planet. This was all of 2 days ago. And now it is completely gone from the news. There has been basically nothing at all about it today except for a few residual articles that were clearly written before the impeachment news. Climate change is a far more important issue than impeachment, and that’s not me trivializing impeachment. Simply put, climate change is far and away the greatest crisis in the history of human beings as a species. And while, yes, Democrats are more likely to do something about climate than Republicans, it’s not like we are taking this seriously as a society anyway. We need more Greta Thunbergs. We need them on our TV every day. We need to listen to her and others. We need to debate this stuff with the same vigor that we do the current political outrage in comment threads at LGM and everywhere else in the world. We need to focus on solutions, highlight outrages, target villains, and challenge each other to do better. We are going to do none of these things because Bernie just said something that a Hillary support doesn’t like or Trump acted like a criminal thug again or whatever. Nothing is going to change and it’s not only about oil companies or Republicans. It’s partly because of how we process the news and work on issues at this point. We simply don’t have the long-term organizing mindset of the past that helped take on the most intractable issues imaginable.

It’s the same with the UAW strike against General Motors. This is Day 10 of a strike that is really about the future of industrial work in America. And yet most people are only vaguely aware of it and it is getting almost no coverage, even before the impeachment process began.

I’m not really chiding anyone here. It’s just a condition of modern life. But it doesn’t have to be. What I am trying to say is that we need to think less like political junkies, which is a pretty valueless position, and more like activists, people trying to organize and move forward toward something that is more than the next election or the next news cycle. There are lots of examples of that today and in the past and there will be in the future. See this interview as a fantastic example of what else we could be talking about and other leaders we could follow, emulate, take inspiration from. They are fighting and struggling to make a better world. The question is whether we listen to them or we exclusively obsess about every detail on the latest political hot button story. I’d press the idea that the former is a lot more important and that taking power in your own life and working to build cultures that we together can have power is something with a tremendous amount of value that we can not get in how most of us process our politics. That’s certainly what I try to teach my students anyway. I hope that some of you believe that too.

On the other hand, I recognize with 100% certainty that almost all of you would rather talk about the primary or Trump than climate or labor. But you have the fight you think you need to have. I am also a believer that we can do more than one thing at a time. We can impeach Trump and actively fight for climate justice. We can have a preference in the Democratic presidential primary and take action for economic equality. We often say we can do two things at once. But we actually have to do it and mostly we do not.

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