Totemism, in which a group identifies with a symbolic animal, survives mostly in sports teams. But modern politics also has a totemic aspect, though not explicit. The current Republican Party's predatory approach to power suggests that its totem is the wolf. Despite this week's historic election result, wolves remain with us.
Moving forward, the wolves can only prevail if the rest of us act like sheep. In times of trouble, many people have the impulse to retreat into submission. But with all due respect to the 23rd Psalm, if our Mother God wanted us to be sheep, She'd have given us the brains of sheep. For our and our nation's good, we must not worship that totem.
It is not God who wants us docile, but wealthy and powerful fellow mortals who would control us for their benefit and not ours. When we withdraw from our imperfect political system out of disgust at its flaws and frustrations, we empower the wolves and disempower ourselves. When we take an all-or-nothing approach to our advocacy or political choices, we set ourselves up for disillusionment and undermine the sustained engagement required to create lasting change.
The key to sustained engagement is organizing. Effective organizing has a clear focus and is based on relationships that bridge our differences. It requires a combination of passion, respect, innovation, and testing ideas against reality. It is not just about using new tools. We must venture outside our comfort zones. If we stay in silos with others like us, we fail even to begin the necessary work.
When Mitt Romney told black voters that it is the Republican Party that has fought for them, he was ignoring American political history since 1964. Black voters are loyal Democrats not because the current president is black but out of self-interest. Given the GOP's attacks against women, racial and religious minorities, and LGBT people, the only way it can hope to win with its shrinking base is by fooling the rest of us into voting against our own interests.
Contrary to media portrayals, the political polarization of recent years is not symmetric. Democrats' greater willingness to compromise has been exploited by their ideologically purified opponents to drag the political center further and further to the right.
The most brazen campaign lie this year, sadly swallowed by several newspaper editorial boards, was that President Obama should be punished for the intransigence of House Republicans. It doesn't require the visual acuity of an eagle to see the folly of rewarding political sabotage.
On November 2, Obama told a rally, "Don't boo. Vote. Voting's the best revenge." Gov. Romney feigned shock at this throwaway line, responding, "Instead, I ask the American people to vote for love of country."
Really? Was it love of country that prompted Romney's suggestion that 47 percent of Americans are parasites? Was it patriotism that made him so eager to exploit the terrorist attack in Benghazi for partisan gain that he couldn't wait for the body count? Is that why his surrogate John Sununu suggested that the president was not American? Is that why Republicans deny the reality of climate change? Is that why they tried their best to keep so many fellow citizens from voting?
In a way, the answer is yes. The country for which the Republicans have been fighting just isn't the one where most of us live. And experience suggests that they won't awaken from their brutal fictions any time soon.
So the fight for America continues. Real solutions require real cooperation. We must resist wolves who substitute bullying and deception for leadership. Let us hope that true conservatives take the GOP back from the radicals. We can only compromise with opponents who are prepared to reciprocate.