Earlier in the spring I wrote a column (Vanishing Persuadables) wherein I suggested that since it was impossible to persuade family and friends who support the President, because they rely on an entirely different media ecosystem that is indifferent to truth, it would be better to simply provide them with the President’s tweets and speeches along with very basic fact check information. At the time, I worried mostly about using a made-up word such as “persuadables” on a blog spot dominated by English professors.
But I have more to confess. Having written with such confidence I promptly reacted to the first provocation, ignored my own advice, and wrote my family a six-page (single spaced) screed.
It did not go well.
In fact, it reminded me of a comment by Kurt Vonnegut Jr. about the power of writers in politics.
During the Vietnam War, every respectable artist in this country was against the war. It was like a laser beam. We were all aimed in the same direction. The power of this weapon turns out to be that of a custard pie dropped from a stepladder six feet high.
Fortunately, we can, in retrospect, recognize that resistance was not entirely futile, just as we recognize that Vonnegut’s sophisticated cynicism encased a good and sometimes hopeful heart. Today, as it was then, those who write are no longer just writing, and millions of people are demanding change, not just as marchers in the streets but as employees, consumers, and citizens.
No doubt we will be unable to end racism or to create communities so healthy that police are not required but what a joy to see a serious challenge to the idea that the primary role of the state is to create the conditions for private profit and enforce the resulting economic inequality by isolating and controlling a mostly permanent underclass.
It is not at all clear that these challenges can successfully forestall the forces that are moving the country towards a more authoritarian future.
What is clear is that this will require creating a political “laser beam” to deliver a crushing blow to the party that has inflamed racial division and fallen in line with a lawless demagogue.
However, the uprisings around the country can teach the Democratic National Committee and the Biden campaign how to alter their course and avoid a historic failure.
I ended the letter to my family by recommending The Death of Democracy by Benjamin Carter Hett, which is a history of the fall of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hitler. There are many frightening parallels to our current situation, but the overarching theme is the failure of the political opposition in the new German republic to effectively combat the slide into extremism.
One such failure applies with particular force to today’s Democratic Party: Those in a position to halt the rise of authoritarianism failed to create emotional attachments to an easy to understand alternative vision for the nation, believing instead that appeals to reason will eventually prevail.
The protesters can help if the party can listen.