People will often say that leftists are just pandering to the naivete that they view others as having. They like to imagine that we’re just saying things that sound good in a fairy tale context to appeal to fools and credulous people, but that the real world is much nastier.
But in fact the work that we do involves tearing away a lot of illusions that people rather like to hold onto. It’s actually those of a conservative bent who routinely are holding onto comfortable, but false, beliefs.
Throughout history, people have believed that there was a golden age that we just lost somehow. The Sumerians viewed the people from before the flood as being better and stronger than us. The Greeks viewed themselves as the most degenerate of humans. If only we could go back to that past, the reasoning goes, we’d be better off. Of course, it seems so silly in retrospect. We know that, as tragic as it was, the Sumerians and the Greeks were actually the height of civilization, its apotheosis, not its nadir.
That’s the idea that people are expressing when they say “Make America Great Again”. They want to believe that America’s golden age is behind us. But it never was. We never had the kind of freedom or prosperity or equality that we hoped for. A world where every American has dignity only lies forward into the future.
So we have to take away that hope, that they can go back to some place in America’s childhood. Even if they could try to suspend time and roll back the clock, that place never existed.
We also have to tear away the illusion that the system can be easily reformed, or that it’s just a few bad politicians or a few conspiracies that took away what we love.
Fact is, even when you actually voted the bastards in, voting them out doesn’t matter if the only people you can even in theory choose from will be other bastards. Our system doesn’t need an Illuminati or a New World Order to crush people: It’s always crushed people, because that’s what the system is basically designed to do.
A lot can be done within what we already have. But the kind of world people want is only going to be achieved by really marked changes to our basic social institutions.
Nor is America being ruined by crime, or immigrants, or any other presumably outside toxin. There, at least in theory, the problem could be solved: Throw them into jail, throw out the parasites.
But the corruption came from within. The collapse of the American middle class had nothing to do with immigration and everything to do with decades of class warfare waged by the rich against the poor. The fact that we don’t call it class warfare and call it “economic policy” or “ta x breaks” is only an indication of how totally they won. As John Oliver put it recently, when it comes to inequality, the rich are practically just running up the scoreboard now.
We as leftists and social justice activists have to take away the myth that it’s a few mean people that cause the racism and discrimination that we see in our society. We have to take away the comforting belief that it’s going to be possible in even the very short term for America to bomb its foreign policy problems away. We have to take away the intellectual sanctuary that there’s a safe place from the drought, extreme weather conditions and destruction that climate change and ecological damage will wreak.
Even the idea of American exceptionalism is rooted in a fairy tale that reduces our work. If America is the best country in the world, then we’re done! No more hard work, no more marching in the streets. Admitting that we have problems and that they’re hard to fix… That requires facing our fears and our busy schedules.
So, no, we’re not trying to pander to you. And maybe sometimes you might think that folks on the left are disrespectful, or disloyal. But ask yourself: Ho w many people, from conservative politicians to talk radio of all kinds, are actually trying to pander to me and give me a fairy tale instead of the truth?