The upshot of everything I shared last week about my increasingly feeling left out on the left is this: political homelessness. Where do you fit in when you don’t believe government regulation in all cases is a bad thing, but neither do you believe that identity politics in all cases are a good thing? A question that’s been asked thousands if not millions of times on the left in the past couple of years–it’s just one I never thought I’d ask.
A book I’ve had hanging around unread in my iBooks for awhile gave me some perspective this week. Mark Gerzon’s 2016 The Reunited States of America hits my discomfort right on the head in his lengthy discussion of the dangers of hyperpartisanship. The book was a call for finding a way work together across the political aisle to heal the nation in the pre-Trump era. It’s hopelessly outdated now, only a year or so after its publication, but only because the toxic effects of hyperpartisanship run wild have come to pass due to the behavior of the White House and Trump-enabling politicians.
Gerzon’s point lies in the nation’s former coinage motto, E Pluribus Unum–Out of Many, One. Drawing from a lifetime in mediation at the highest levels of government and business, he posits that America’s democracy works best when that motto is taken literally. That is, when a plurality of ideas are shared by a diversity of people who also share a unifying respect and (his word) love for American history, precedent, and institutions. When the second part is taken to heart, the first part doesn’t devolve into attempts to invalidate and delegitimize each other on partisan grounds. When it isn’t, we end up with an endless campaign cycle where voters interests are never really represented because elected officials are reduced to playing partisan campaign politics one-hundred-percent of the time.
Clearly that’s what has come to pass in the post-Trump era, at least for now. But Gerzon doesn’t blame one party over the other. Instead, he blames the choices both parties have made to jettison the unifying respect for Unum in stark attempts to keep their jobs and maintain their parties in power.
For Gerzon, when we stop validating each other’s citizenship and shared Americanness (the Unum), it leads us to stop validating our individual truths, too–our races, colors, creeds, ethnicities, gender identities, sexual preferences, anything and everything else that makes us unique from an individual and community perspective (the Pluribus.) The right has been playing that game against the left for a long time, with the left defending itself my saying that respecting the intersectionality of Americans is important to ensure their rights and liberties are best protected.
That’s true, but it doesn’t also mean that the left doesn’t use identity politics as the same kind of objectifying, divisive political mallet that the right does. By doing exactly what the right does, too–demonizing the other side, refusing to acknowledge shared Americanness because of unshared beliefs–the left damages its moral anchor for ensuring that it doesn’t act in delegitimizing ways towards its own partisans and allies.
That’s how exclusionary memes like #MeToo happen. That’s how entire communities are left out of debates regarding policies that affect them. That’s how family members come to justify the death of their loved ones on partisan grounds. That’s how progressive outreach campaigns turn into daily fundraising pleas based around political demonization. That’s how supporters–some of us, anyway–start to realize both sides are doing the same awful thing. That’s how–and why–allies walk away.
Gerzon called for the growth of an already-nascent “transpartisan” movement of people of divergent political perspectives to sit down together and learn who they are as people first–a learning that by definition fosters the growth of respect, empathy, friendship, and caring–before engaging in political debate. His experience suggests better outcomes–not better partisan outcomes, but better problem-solving outcomes–emerge from the process.
It’s a great idea. However, since Trump became president, his website became moribund and links to the transpartisan projects he described in his book are now broken or removed. And that’s how invested we as a nation are now in excluding each other and demanding that ours alone is acknowledged the single and only perspective.
What way in is left if you’re on the left and don’t think things are right right now? Remain in the Democratic Party as a Progressive, hoping at some point that the powers that be stop invalidating your (not really) radical beliefs in justice? Be a Green? Be an independent with no party? Walk away entirely?
Where is the way in that isn’t on the right and doesn’t demonize the right, the left, or anyone else? That’s political homelessness.
That’s where I live right now.
Michael Thaddeus Doyle
I'm a NYC-native, Latino, Jew-by-choice, hardcore WDW fan in Chicago with an Irish last name. I believe in social justice, big cities, and public transit. I do nonprofit development. I've written this blog since 2005. Believe in the world you want to live in.