Sunday, December 12, 2021

The Other Great Resignation (Or Why Progressive Politics Are In Bad Shape)

There's been a lot of talk about the large numbers of workers quitting their jobs, the so-called "great resignation." It reflects a tighter labor market, as well as the stresses of COVID and the ways the pandemic has prompted reflection on what matters in life. I tend to view this positively, since it might break the ironclad hold the bosses have had over workers for the past few decades. 

However, there is another great resignation, one going on with political progressives that I feel far less sanguine about. 

The reason why Donald Trump lost the 2020 election despite the advantages of the electoral college, voter suppression, and incumbency was progressive mobilization. This lead directly to two Senate seats being picked up by Democrats in Georgia, something few people foresaw. His presidency in general resulted in massive levels of participation, from the nationwide Women's March events to protestors shutting down airports after the Muslim ban to (less directly, but still connected) the Black Lives Matter protests in 2020. 

Since then the scales of mobilization have flipped. Conservatives are flooding school board meetings and censoring high school history and English classes. Red states have basically made any mitigation of COVID inoperative by opposing and nullifying vaccination and mask mandates. They have also passed new voter suppression laws and have used the filibuster to prevent any federal action against them. The Supreme Court, packed by Trump, is poised to destroy abortion rights. The fact that COVID and its related economic disruptions drag on will give Republicans the shine of being the opposition party in the midterm election, especially since most moderate voters do not see them as the vehicle of an extremist Right wing movement (which they are.) As evidence of that, the January 6th coup and the complicity of many Republicans in it has been forgotten. 

The forces of reaction were ripe for a backlash, especially after losing an election and the Black Lives Matter protest. It feels like the Tea Party all over again, but with the latent fascism now being expressed out in the open. However, it is more difficult to explain the ineffectual nature of progressive politics currently.

Some certainly is, in the words of Marx, repeating history first as tragedy and then as farce. Like after the 2008 election, a lot of normie liberals basically assumed they could go home and weren't needed in the streets anymore. Some of this has to do with American liberalism's misbegotten faith in institutions and process, and in the assumption that their conservative neighbors are the loyal opposition rather than extremists who would rather they be dead. 

There's also some measure of fatigue. After four years of desperate fighting and almost two years of pandemic we need a break. I certainly don't write and call my electeds with the fervor I once did. I know plenty of people like me feel the same. That said, I am afraid we might be using this to slide into cowardice. Looking at the right wing mob and their willingness to punish those they hate can be intimidating. I get the feeling sometimes that a lot of us (myself included) aren't just tired of fighting, but fearful of it. 

Another big reason for the resignation has to be feelings of futility. The Biden administration has done a lot, but not what people were expecting. For example, student loan payments are about to continue. Voting rights are still being held up, as well as promised expansions of the social safety net. The political news has been dominated by Manchin and Sinema basically blocking any progress on these issues. In light of this, it's pretty easy to give up. Also take into account that one of Biden's major successes, ending the US war in Afghanistan, was treated as a failure by the press (a narrative accepted by plenty of his voters.) There's also the overriding fact that the pandemic continues. A lot of people expected "back to normal" and didn't get it.

However, there are even deeper reasons for a feeling of futility leading to disengagement. In the part four years I have witnessed massive mobilizations by young people against gun proliferation, climate change and police violence. Students walked out of my school to demonstrate their voice on these issues, something that had never happened before in my time as a teacher. What was the result? In the short term, nothing. Cops were untouched, guns are just as available (and more so in some states), and the Biden administration is allowing new coastal drilling. In terms of the Black Lives Matter protests the only substantive legal outcome has been several states trying to ban the teaching of the history of race. I am not sure how progressive-minded young people can live through this without giving up hope. 

The threat to democracy is so stark right now but those who need to defend it are indecisive and silent. Those of us who spent the Trump years need to get active again, and need to get organizing instead of Tweeting (I include myself in this.) But it's not just on us. Progressive political leaders desperately need to up their game. They need to get results instead of dithering. They need to take the kinds of actions that will give us hope instead of leaving us mired in cynicism. First and foremost would be leadership on voting rights. I am planning to make that the center of my activism for the next year, hopefully my prodding will lead to something. I shudder to think at the results if it does not. 

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