By John Rensenbrink – Trump believes he has found an elixir. Since we were great once, we can and will be great again. He imagines a story about America. It’s altogether the wrong story, a false story, a fell story.
The spirit of America that he appeals to as springing from our past is false. He conjures up a false and fell spirit and presents it as the real thing. Not that the real spirit of America didn’t falter time again, often shamefully, even evilly. But it recovered time and again. The enduring spirit of our country is vibrant, future oriented, experimental, inclusive of others, problem-solving, ready for can-do action, and expectant of new and exciting things. America of old was inclusive of others and welcoming change. Trump’s image is one of negativity towards others, suspicious of others, fearful of others—at home and abroad. His symbol is The Wall. The symbol of the real America is the Statue of Liberty.
Will he get away with it?
Even if in the very short term the American people fall for him, are cowed by him, are carried away by the fear and resentments he daily stokes, even so the fell spirit he exudes and spreads as in Tolkien’s Mordor cannot win. He and his crowd are self-destructive. The real spirit of America will re-assert itself, is now re-asserting itself, and is finding new ways to re-invent itself in the face of new challenges.
Many states of the union, each girded and buoyed with their own will and power, are not buying it. Congress is wary and wearying of his pretensions. Some big businessmen and women across the country are having second thoughts and getting restive. Millions of small businesses to not want to be pushed around and will not be pushed around. The plethora of cooperatives and municipally owned utilities in the land are showing a new way to build an economy. Unions are showing much of their old mettle. Small farms and small markets are coming back. People on their own and in their localities are building a creative economy underneath the consumerist and alienating policies and politics of the corporate upper crust. (Many outstanding books, blogs, and hard copy publications report a surge of local action. Please become familiar with the writings of Gar Alperovitz, Sam Smith, David Korten, and Howard Zinn).
In a word, the spirit of independence, do-it-ourselves, and community-building is strong even underneath the often cloying and dampening conformity and the “giving in” to status quo conventionality. It’s even become o.k. to talk about politics! In the same vein, it has become de rigueur, even chic, to stop smoking and to ban smoking in public places, leading the still smoke-stuck world by example. The days of Frankie Sinatra and Humphrey Bogart are gone–when smoking seemed literally correlative with acting and singing! Stopping smoking is just one example of a rising tide of concern for better health and for an effective universal health insurance system.
In the past few decades there have been huge changes in America’s social values and practices. The status of women, the power of women, the values of women have changed America forever. That fundamental change is, by example, changing the world. Who could have predicted, just a few decades ago, the widespread change towards acceptance of homosexuality and gay marriage. Similarly, awareness grows, deeper and deeper, of the pain, injustice, terror and unspeakably patronizing attitudes and practices inflicted upon people whose color is black, brown, yellow and red by white people. This leads to a deeper dimension of struggle. It goes way beyond the polite and mutual self-satisfactions of tolerance. The deeper awareness is leading to serious, defiant and revolutionary resistance. It is this depth of resistance that Trump and his crowd, can’t handle and find strange and terrifying. Their response is “Let’s make America great again,” meaning “Lets go back to white dominion, white privilege, white terror.” It’s all part of the fell spirit, the false spirit, that they reveal and in which they dwell.
What about the Left and the spirit of America?
It’s complicated. For one thing, I must admit that, being part of the Left (according to the prevailing lingo), I tend to be especially critical of the Left. Also, being part of the Green Party, I am especially critical of the Greens. So I should start out being aware of such seemingly built-in tendencies.
We on the Left do tell ourselves that we spend too much time and energy criticizing and berating one another. We do it to the point of splintering into warring camps. But it goes on unabated nevertheless. In like manner we Greens do it to one another. We render ourselves vulnerable to dismissal by others on the Left who seem ever eager to pile shame upon us. Disturbing yes, but true, all too true. Consequently one result is that the millions and millions of people who do not regard themselves as on the Left or on the Right are turned off and confused.
Both the Left and the Greens (as a hopeful variant and pace-setter) are zealous in their attack on the Right, proud of their opposition and resistance, trying to out-shout the other shouters (often dismissing the latter as not really shouting enough) and failing entirely to bend their energy to figuring out a story of America that truly swings. They cultivate a culture of indignant hate to match the fell culture of hate that spews forth from Trump and his crowd.
Something peculiar here. Their indignant hate, indiscriminately taught and spread around, comes off to immense numbers of the people as hatred for America. At an earlier point (in the 60s) it came off as the callow rebellion of the youth against the pigs. But now it has become a steady chant of misgivings, negativity and righteous slander. The Left for some time has been risking being perceived as turning one’s back on “America,” giving up on America. One can readily see how this plays out in the workplaces, churches, kitchens, neighborhoods and streets of America. It gives the Trump crowd all they need to excoriate the Left and make the Left the enemy of America. In foreign policy, the chant in countless demonstrations has been, “America out of X.” Next year it’s “America out of Y” and the next year it’s “America out of Z.” On and on. It’s become an industry.
Unintentionally, naively for the most part, the Left puts the onus on “America,” and not on the warped government and oligarchy and militarists that illicitly produced X, Y, and Z. The mass media make the most of it and drive further and deeper the cleft between the people in their daily lives and their need and desire to believe fully in their native land. Words of an old hymn come to mind, “Oh who will show us any good, exclaims the troubled multitude!”
To fill the void, “Something wicked this way comes!” It has come in the form of Trump and his crowd.
Can the Greens Party make a difference?
The answer, with a shrug, is “Probably not.” The reason I say this is twofold. There is (carefully hidden) immense skepticism and fear of the Green Party and un-reasoning opposition to it, as if its very existence is harmful! And there is stumbling awkwardness by and within the Green Party.
Fear, and accompanying jealousy, is rife. It comes from the Democratic Party especially. On many vital matters their leaders are in cahoots with the Republican Party. They resist pressures to institute political change that would open the doors to collaborative politics and thus to direct engagement in solving problems by millions of people. Ranked Choice Voting and easing horrendous ballot access requirements are so important because they can lead to a framework of moderate competition among parties seasoned by a spirit of collaboration. But opponents of RCV, both left and right, have been slamming the door shut on that possibility, apparently not caring a hoot about the fate of the nation and the planet.
The challenge thrusts itself in front of Democrats especially for if they would let down their rigid guard against any competition, fully embracing it instead, they and the Greens would be able to work together. How very healthy that would be! Given a spirit of friendly competition (which stems from the spirit of America itself), a way could and then be found to overcome decisively the hovering alien and fell cloud of Trump’s negative politics.
All this is nice to think about and does give one a sense of options. But it’s unlikely.
Not that a course of action by the Greens that features going it alone with inner strength and self-confidence has any greater chance of success. But precisely because inner strength and self-confidence have not so far been present, one may be pardoned for hoping that after 35 years the Greens will and can find that elusive inner strength and self-confidence.
Part of this is the possibility that Greens will grow in maturity. This may happen. Part of this is the already substantial and thrilling creation by the Green Party of many Caucuses, composed of identity groups–Black, Women, Latinx, Lavender, and Youth. They are flourishing. Caucuses of Native Americans and of Elders are on the horizon. This captures the energies, cultures, ways of life of everyone, distinctly and differently and all together. This, the Rainbow, is so much an expression of the abiding spirit of America: “Be together, not the same!” It’s our own home-made and home-bred elixir. It’s a powerful example for the world; a far superior and attractive way forward for the planet than the narrow minded fell spirit of Trump. We can show forth this way of relating! The countries and peoples of the planet will receive it with respect. It’s a great foundation for an effective foreign policy!
The Green Party has also, from its beginning in 1984, created and has been guided by The Ten Key Values: Ecological Wisdom, personal and social responsibility, grass roots democracy, non-violence, decentralism, respect for diversity, post-patriarchal values (gender equality), community economics, global responsibility, and sustainability. These values are good in themselves. They are also a tremendous and fruitful source of unity and policy-relevance for those who come forward to run for office and prepare themselves for governance.
And once again: what really can we say about our prospects as a country, a Green Party, and about recovering from the slough into which we’ve stepped and now can’t seem to get out of?
In the past few decades, Green has burst forth everywhere. Stores, supermarkets, banks, churches, corporations too, and sports, have suddenly and magically in the last decade traded on their allegiance to and promotion of Green! But in politics not so much. The Democratic Party has held back. It has in fact suppressed efforts by many for a new day. But right now there are intimations of renewal among Democrats. Of fight back. Of new energies, especially from women and young people.
Yet there are crippling and crucial failures. They continue the tendency of Democrats to be as imperialist and militarist in foreign policy as the Republicans. They are just as absorbed by and immersed in corporate funding as the Republicans. They have been slow in recognizing and doing something about climate change. They have been sluggish in actually meeting the everyday compelling needs of working people.
They have been slow–have indeed resisted out of base fear–efforts to reform our electoral system. Overall they love best to be on both sides of the fence, often just hanging there. On most things needing action they tend to be too little and too late.
Several things coalesce to make the Green Party unable to fill the void. As already noted, they are caught up in internal battles with one another, suspicious of one another, just like the Left in general. Many Green leaders are less than enthusiastic about electoral activity. They are more interested in ideological disputes. They’ve been arguing for decades over where, when, and how socialism fits in—or not. Many have no, or very little, inkling of what it takes to actually run for politics. Many are diverted from learning about politics and getting serious about running for office and learning the ins and outs of governing. Hoped-for political maturity and effectiveness are stymied, stifled by a too easy assumption that politics is not worthy of careful study and willingness to learn. Nor is there sufficient willingness to take risks. Or any at all.
I’d say, based on my 35 years (from the start) of experience and participation in the councils of the Greens that, in general, Greens have been tentative and feeble in regard to electoral politics. They spend an inordinate amount of time responding to groups and organization that are going to bat for causes and–baffling to me–getting into fierce arguments among themselves over whether to support or not support this cause, that cause—“no, not that one, but this one!” There are thousands of “causes!”
Is all this an excuse for not closing with the stark and appalling fact that the greatest thing afflicting America is its political failure? Maybe the challenge is too great. I can see that, but there still is a chance. A chance that a Green Party can make a course correction. That it can become a catalyst for rediscovering and renewing the Spirit of America.