I Blame Us

It is our fault. We allowed it. We are allowing it right now.
04/12/2017 11:37 am ET Updated Apr 12, 2017

Here’s the thing: Yes, Mitch McConnell is a terrible human being, and an awful influence upon the United States. We could make a long list of politicians equally craven and/or evil. That could be matched by the list of those who are “merely” stupid, foolish, or incompetent. And, for each of the very worst of them, there are – quite literally – millions upon millions of citizens who support them in their efforts to roll back civil rights, gender equality, and environmental protection accomplishments won over the past several decades (among other essential, and civilized, aspects of our society). There is no shortage of people at whom to point, and shriek, “Shame!”

But, it’s our fault. We let it happen. I blame us.

And, by “us,” and “we,” I mean the ones who know better. The ones who understand the atomically simple fact that the verb “progress” is the one to which a sane society ought to, and must, aspire. That the noun “progress” is something every sane society should aspire to obtain. And that the adjective “progressive” (whether describing someone who “gets things done,” or not) must accurately describe a society, and its leaders, or that society is headed in precisely the wrong direction, if it’s headed anywhere at all.

It is our fault. We allowed it. We are allowing it right now.

Because “taking” anything “back” in 2018 is not a strategy. It is an aspiration. It is also, I would argue, quite possibly a pipe dream. As of this moment, after all the excitement over a “merely” seven point loss in Kansas, there is still no hard evidence I have seen to support a probability of congressional districts, senate seats, or statehouses swinging left eighteen months from now. And, if I’m correct in this skepticism, “impeachment” is a concept even more fantastical, perhaps akin to a fever dream. Don’t count on it.

Besides, November 8, 2018 is too far away. Untold damage will be done by then. From my viewpoint, not only legislatively. I fully expect every effort to be made to fully deconstruct whatever remains of the already imperfect “fairness” of our representative democracy prior to then. Meaning, it might very well be impossible to “vote them out,” even if you could gather enough with admirable intent. Seriously.

In fact, the deathblow to our democracy has probably already been delivered, and absorbed. And that assault, and concomitant acquiescence, is probably the best example of how, and why, it is our own fault, and our own failure. Just this past week, twelve months after Mitch McConnell announced that he and his Republican cohorts would unconstitutionally refuse to allow Barack Obama to appoint a Supreme Court justice to replace the recently deceased Antonin Scalia, Neil Gorsuch was confirmed for a lifetime appointment to the Court.

Twelve months. A full trip around the sun. Four full seasons. A human Earth year. That was the time during which we – the ones who know better – failed to act, to implement, to demand, that what was wrong be made right.

And I truly believe the victory that has been achieved, and cemented, by the evil components of our society, along with their co-conspirators, could have been prevented. But we didn’t do it.

I’m not talking about turning out to vote. Yes, voting is essential. Voting might be one of the most primal, and crucial, expressions of agency in our world. It is also pretty much the most passive. Voting is a means for helping guide the general direction of the every-so-slowly turning ship of state. But it bears little relationship to the urgency of insisting upon something specific, and immediate. It is only distantly related to the act of saying, “We will not sit down, and we will not sit still, until you do as we say.”

So, what could have been different? Well, if 200,000 people had shown up on the steps of the Supreme Court on March 17, 2016, the day after Mitch McConnell announced his party’s usurpation of President Obama’s rightful appointment, and if 200,000 or so had stayed, or been consistently swapped and replaced, for days and days afterward, I highly doubt the coup-like theft would have occurred. McConnell and his cabal would have backed down. Quite possibly a fraction of that number could have done the trick. But, we didn’t do that. We relied on editorials, and opinion pieces, and petitions. We expected to win an election. And, so, the coup became a fait accompli.

Because editorials, and opinion pieces, and elections are not insistence. They are not effective resistance. They are statements. They are suggestions. We have, it appears, lost our ability to make demands.

That was twelve months ago. A full trip around the sun. Four full seasons. A human Earth year. In that time, an election was lost. Since then “usurpation” has become something quainter than it was in March of 2016. The assaults upon our society have been relentless, blunt, blundering, and, by political standards, perhaps, “ineffective.” But, in terms of their actual effects on our lives, and our times, they have been, and will continue to be, overwhelmingly impactful. The effective opposite of “ineffective.” Courts may have struck down Trump’s so-called “Muslim ban,” but people who were supposed to be protected are being deported. Rivers and streams are being polluted, where they weren’t before. Pipelines without prior permission are now pumping oil, while the Chinese are selling solar. The EPA is not only being defunded, but its troves of scientific data are being hastily deleted, and destroyed. Not only are policies being diametrically altered, but our scientific history and knowledge base is being anti-factually rewritten, or simply eliminated. No one should be fooled by legislative victories or losses. The bureaucracy is not only being dismantled, it is being transformed into a mechanism for destroying (to give an incomplete list) the poor, the vulnerable, the non-native, the non-Christian, non-white, non-male, non-heterosexual. Indeed, anyone outside of the administrative, and corporate, powerbase. In short, anyone who opposes the aims of those in authority. Which, if it needs to be said, is pretty much a definition of “authoritarian.”

I’m not exaggerating. If anything, the opposite.

This past week, hearings were held on the twelve-month-delayed Supreme Court appointment. The Democratic Party mounted a significant, if merely symbolic, attempt at obstruction. Attention was successfully drawn to the issue. The U.S. citizenry were handed another perfect opportunity to protest, and to resist. To make a demand. There was barely a whimper. Yes, phone calls were made. Petitions were circulated. Critical commentary was broadcast. Voices were raised, in what now passes for “protest.” None of this, by itself, is what was needed. None was sufficient.

I’d posit again that had 200,000, or half that number, or half of that, shown up on the steps of the Court, in concert with the Democratic filibuster, in tandem with revelations of Neil Gorsuch’s penchant for plagiarism; if 200,000 had stood, and had stayed, and had said, “No, this we will not allow,” that it would not have occurred. The so-called “nuclear option” would not have been as easy to employ, and I believe it would not have been implemented. Because 200,000 bodies speak more pointedly than Lawrence O’Donnell. They are also much less funny than Rachel Maddow, and I’m not among those who believe satire will save us. I believe the compendium of occurrences – the unprecedented natures of the theft, of the rule change, of the public outcry in the form of bodies lining the plazas of Washington, D.C. – would have averted the travesty.

In my own perfect dream world, would I have applauded if Barack Obama had thrown ex-presidential tradition to the wind and, adopting civic activism as his new mantle, led this campaign? You bet. Do I think the chances for forcing the abandonment of the current cabal’s opportunistic, kleptocratic, authoritarian takeover ambitions would have been increased if he’d been joined by Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, George H. Bush; Maxine Waters, Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris; hell...Sheryl Sandberg – all stating together that, “This is unacceptable…This is wrong…We condemn this together…And if you arrest any of them, you’ll have to arrest us, as well”? Yes, I wish it would have gone down that way. Because, a) I think, with such powerful and diverse civic and corporate leaders, masses of people might actually have followed, and appeared; and b) I think the presence of all surviving ex-presidents would have helped insure the masses’ success. Not all of them withholding endorsements during an election, as they did. All of them putting their bodies and freedom on the line, and encouraging other Americans to do so, in a joint statement of, “You have now gone too far.”

It was certainly called for. Why it didn’t occur, I’ll leave to others to speculate. No former presidents offered to lead the resistance to what I think is easily categorized as the most egregious authoritarian overstep the U.S. has known in my lifetime. In their absence, words of opposition were spoken by citizens and commentators. Gestures were made. Not demands. There were no demands. There was no insistence.

This is why I say it’s our fault. Because the one thing that, in my opinion, would have worked was not employed. We allowed it. It could have been stopped. That’s not to say Mitch McConnell isn’t “a cancer upon our democracy,” as I’ve seen him described. It doesn’t mean Donald Trump, and Mike Pence, and Steve Bannon aren’t the most despicable of villains, whose venality would make the merest resistance, much less progress, much more difficult than if they weren’t elected (well, some of them weren’t elected), or, better yet, didn’t exist. But they do exist, as do their supporters, and enablers. And elections, and scheduled demonstrations, are insufficient, and will never be sufficient, to keep such villainy from triumphing. It will take massive resistance, yes. But much more active resistance than has been demonstrated thus far, in which demands are made, and insisted upon. Not outrage. Not protest. Not votes (because they can’t be depended on). Demands, which, unmet, lead to constant, escalating non-compliance, and disruption.

We didn’t do it. Even when a clearly stolen lifetime appointment to the highest court of our land, virtually assuring rollbacks of precious, and essential, rights was at stake. And, from my point of view, it’s quite possible that we will never have such a clear opportunity again. Not in such peaceful fashion, anyway. Because now that those in power have seen that there is no willingness to resist in truly demanding fashion, why would they ever acquiesce to any sternly worded request, or even harshly delivered threat, again? If the will to make peaceful demands isn’t strong enough, it’s hard to imagine people taking stands requiring real personal injury, and perhaps even physical harm.

That’s not to suggest it’s impossible that the future might be brighter than it appears to me right now. It doesn’t mean that determination to disrupt, and demand, won’t escalate. But, so far, in this nation, at this moment in time, aside from a few scattered subgroups (which have endured significant marginalization as a result), I have not seen such strength of will and purpose demonstrated. I hope I’m wrong. If I’m right, I hope the change is yet to come. But, so far, as of today, we didn’t do it. We let it happen. I include myself. It’s our fault. I blame us.