In Search of a Moral-Intellectual Refuge

I’m afraid I’m seriously thinking about moving on from politics.

[Moving on? Meaning, on towards something better, something higher?]

You can’t sink much lower. The political culture of the United States has become so wretched and so cancerous, I don’t know how much more of it I can examine, how much deeper I can immerse myself within it, before I reconsider suicide.

[You can’t kill yourself now, not before the re-election campaign gets underway. You know as well as I do that 2020 will be a can’t-miss masterpiece of black satire, a buffet of gallows humor and the laughing nihilistic.]

Unfortunately, that “buffet of gallows humor” might live up to its name. For anyone who has a friendly disposition toward the humanity American, the last few years have been dispiriting as all hell. It isn’t so much the rise of Trump, and the mobilization of all the evil that he represents, but the absence of a moral-intellectual refuge on the Left. The so-called liberals of this country have proven themselves to be almost as shameless as the President, and the long-term implications are gloomy at best.

[But haven’t you said that this is all just par for the course? Didn’t you recently quote John Pilger in describing Trump as “America unmasked”? If Trump is merely a revelation of the evil lurking at the heart of the American Dream, then why is the present age any more depressing than, say, 2002?]

With disillusionment comes depression. Ignorance is bliss, etc, etc. Things may not be any worse than they were in 2002, but it is much more difficult to ignore the condition of things today than it was back then. In fact, it is nearly impossible now: one searches hopelessly for the sources of moral-intellectual refuge that were so readily available and accessible in the past.

[Can you explain what you mean by “moral-intellectual refuge”?]

It’s a solution, basically: a solution to our political problems. Let’s say you’re a liberal: you hate conservatism and all that it stands for. Needless to say, you won’t be very supportive of Trump: you see him as a villain, as a menace, as a problem that must be solved. You need a solution, but where will you find it?

[Well, most liberals turn to the Democratic Party.]

Right, but what happens if the Democratic Party is unable or unwilling to help you? What happens if the Democrats cannot offer you a moral-intellectual refuge?

[Well, you can always vote third-party, although that means your party or your cause is almost certain to lose, and you know this long before you ever cast your ballot. Yes, I think I see what you mean: if both of the major political parties are taken away, if neither of those options is on the table, then the alternatives, although ample, are hardly encouraging.]

Alternative without choice, as Tom Stoppard wrote.

[Yes, indeed. There is a contrast between the validity of the cause and the utility of action. Voting third-party, or taking some other course outside the mainstream, is obviously the morally correct thing to do, but it’s hard to get excited about a project that you know will end in failure, at least in the short term.]

Simultaneously, the media demands absolute adherence to one of the two major political parties. You must be a Democrat or you must be a Republican; to be anything else is reckless, immature, and morally obscene. Even in much of the so-called underground media, there is a dogged loyalty to the empire of political party: shortly before the midterms, Noam Chomsky took to Democracy Now to scold those who were considering voting for third-party runners, declaring that, under the circumstances, the Democratic Party was and is the only acceptable option.

[He was being pragmatic, arguing that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils, and therefore, a third-party vote represents a failure to make a difficult choice.]

And that argument is pathetic. Let’s make a very dangerous assumption and agree with Mr. Chomsky that the Democratic Party is, in fact, the lesser of two evils. Now, I as an individual voter choose to support a third party. Will my single vote determine the election?

[No, of course not, unless we find ourselves in some realization of that Kevin Costner movie, Swing Vote.]

However, a mass movement of voting for a third-party candidate could conceivably shift the election, yes?

[If enough people voted for a third party, yes.]

So, if it is possible for a significant number of people to vote third-party, then why is it impossible for a majority of people to vote accordingly?

[It isn’t.]

And therein lies the flaw in Chomsky’s claim: he believes that third-party votes can make a difference, but only a difference that benefits one of the two major parties. I understand that it is highly unlikely that enough people would vote to empower a third-party candidate, but that isn’t the argument Chomsky is making. Chomsky is arguing that a third-party vote is, in effect, a vote for a Republican, but isn’t this claim demonstrablyfalse?

[. . . I believe it is. I believe you’ve proven he was guilty of circular reasoning. And even if you haven’t, his defeatist message hardly encourages us to be the best of ourselves. But then again, his entire argument is contingent on the premise that the Democratic Party is the lesser of two evils. Do you reject that premise?]

It’s hard to say.

[Oh, come on: I’m not saying that the Democrats are good, but you can’t sit there and say with a straight face that there is no difference at all between them and the Republicans, can you?]

There is a difference in their social policies, but the relative infrequency of legislation pertaining to social policy is the elephant in the room during any such discussion. For all of the bluster that the Left generated during the Kavanaugh hearings, I very strongly doubt that the Supreme Court will revoke the right to gay marriage in the coming years. Abortion has fallen on uncertain ground, I grant you, but then again, I think it’s time we had an honest conversation about that issue.

[A conversation we will have on a different day. But in the meantime, do you describe yourself as a social liberal?]

I believe in personal liberty, which means that I support the right to things like gay marriage and abortion—but also to the potential for access to guns. So, generally, I’m a social liberal, which is why I’ve always had an easier time voting for Democrats than for Republicans—but, again, that decision is guided less by the issues that are actually on the ballot than by a more nebulous philosophical concern. In other words, I’m not convinced that I’m actually voting for what I think I’m voting for.

[I see what you mean. So, when it comes to the issues that actually are on the table, do you see a substantial difference between the Democratic and the Republican Parties?]

No. Everyone who is paying even occasional attention ought to understand that the Democrats, not unlike the Republicans, are business consultants for Wall Street and the military-industrial complex. One of the reasons I can’t humor the leftists when they complain about Trump’s crimes against humanity on the Mexican border is their silence, indeed their abysmal ignorance, of Hillary Clinton’s indispensable role in the American invasion of Libya, a disastrous undertaking which led to the ongoing European migrant crisis. I have no doubt that a Democratic Senate would continue to support the war in Yemen, provided that it was politically forgivable to do so. I’m sorry, but I will not see the Democrats as the good guys simply because Trump is so clearly bad.

[Does that address the matter of relativity, though? Noam Chomsky was saying only that the Democrats are the lesser of two evils, implying that the Democrats are still pretty evil.]

That may be, but are they so truly less that it is ignoble not to vote for them? I might be willing to go as far as to say that voting for the Republicans is indefensible, but to say the same of failing to vote for the Democrats? If you’re going to make such a claim, then you have to explain what good will come out of voting for the Democrats.

[I believe Chomsky said that the Democrats would prevent the Republicans from implementing a number of disastrous proposals, including efforts towards voter suppression and the elimination of health care protections.]

With respect to the issue of voter suppression, I have to ask if the Democrats are truly protecting the right to vote or if they are merely protecting the right to vote for their candidates. You know as well as I do that the Democrats would be perfectly fine with such measures if they could be turned to their own advantage.

[But the fact that they are not pursuing such measures at this time would suggest that they stand on higher moral ground, would it not?]

Yes, but they would stand so elevated, even if they weren’t Democrats.

[Oh, come off it: now you’re just avoiding the facts of the case.]

No, I’m not. If a candidate is in favor of protecting voting rights, then by all means, vote for that person. However, not every candidate is quizzed on this issue because it is not actively considered everywhere. For example, there is comparatively little discussion of voting rights in New Hampshire, even though this state already requires voters to present their identification at the polls. If a New Hampshire Democrat will take no action on voter suppression, am I still under some moral obligation to vote for that candidate?

[Okay, I see your point. However, if a candidate is opposed to voter suppression—]

Is that the only issue, then? If a Republican candidate is opposed to voter suppression, but is also opposed to abortion rights and environmental protections and many other things, but that person’s Democratic opponent is in favor of everything except voting rights, am I still required to vote for the Republican? And even if I was, wouldn’t that disprove Chomsky’s claim that we all must vote for the Democrats exclusively?

[Okay, okay: what Chomsky said didn’t make any sense.]

You’re damn right it didn’t. And no deluge of hysteria in the so-called liberal media will redeem it, will make it sensible. We are still living without a moral-intellectual refuge, still wandering in a political wilderness.

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