Post-Election Day 2012: The Good Guys Won, but Did Progressives?

Update I & II & III: Below

Well, here we are. On the other side of that Great American (non)Test. The Democrats won that test: The first Black President was re-elected for a second term. The Democrats retained control of the Senate. The GOP retained control of the House.

The POTUS, re-elected, said in his acceptance speech last night:

Tonight you voted for action. Not politics as usual.

If that is the message, then Democrats have been validated by their victory last night. Unfortunately, many Americans are fine with a murderous foreign policy and heinous domestic policies that violate the US Constitution on multiple levels. Sadly, Democrats have received confirmation that it is a winning strategy to target vulnerable poor white, and black and brown men and women across the United States.  Blindly, Democratic voters have indicated that they believe Timothy Geithner, Lawrence Summers, Rahm Emanuel, Robert Gibbs, David Plouffe and David Axelrod were fine choices for Cabinet and advisory positions.

Unfortunately, that message is accurate.  But if it is the only message received by the Democrats, then we as a society have lost. The Democrats have not heard the message that some segment of the US voting population wants them to be accountable to their progressive voters.  Just because violations of the US Constitution and arbitrary assassination polices and secret kill lists play well to mob approval, that doesn’t mean that the Democrats should engage in it.

My fear in the aftermath of Election 2012: We will return to being as silent, complacent and passive in the face of unconstitutional practices and destructive policies over the next four years as we have been over the last four. This is because at some level, most Democrats believe that “the good guys” are in office.

It is much harder to challenge one’s “own” people. It is more difficult to voice dissent, to express protest, to resist evil when “ours” are in office. Some evidence is here and here and here and here and here and here. The list goes on, and has been repeatedly discussed by a number of us on the left who found these practices to be “dealbreakers” in the words of Conor Friedersdorf.

The POTUS and the Democratic Party have put in place the laws and policies that allow the current and future president the legalized power, immunity, and political repression of American voters—in order to continue the above, and to enact similar policies.  The passage of NDAA and H.R. 347, among a myriad of other policies, are guarantees of that. The Supreme Court and Appeals Court verdicts that enable many repressive policies to remain in place will also promise the immunity to POTUS and others to expand the war on terrorizing US men and women and foreign nationals—here and internationally.

Yes. A Romney Administration would have been “worse,” in that Romney and his GOP could have easily gotten down to the business of political, social, and economic repression. But it would have been able do so with the help of policies put in place by the Obama Administration as well as the Bush and Clinton Administrations. So will every future Administration, Democrat or Republican, if we don’t challenge the expansion of federal and executive authority to police, surveil, arrest, detain and incarcerate us without cause.

The goal of slashing Social Security and Medicare (now uncritically and ubiquitously referred to as “entitlements” rather than a forced savings program) will be, according to Robert Kuttner, Matt Stoller, Robert Prasch, and others, taken up immediately after this election—regardless of which party had won. Had the Republicans won, this agenda could—and would– have been vociferously challenged by a united Liberal/Democratic/Progressive coalition.

The same turn to the right, the same prevarications, the same murderous foreign policy, the same harassment of US and foreign nationals in the United States–under a Republican Presidency– did not go unchallenged under the last Republican Presidency, although they were facilitated by numerous obsequious Democrats in the House and Senate. But the POTUS has been excused from those challenges by those very same critics, who were—are–his supporters.

The President also said optimistically in his speech last night:

We are an American family that rises or falls together, as one nation and one people…We know that for the United States of America, the best is yet to come.

Perhaps this is the most insidious and the most untrue logics of the Democratic Administration. In reality, we know that the success of both political parties—Democrat or Republican—has depended upon the strategy to divide and conquer.

That is to say, the Democratic Party has had a standard agenda of eviscerating a social safety net for all but the wealthiest—bankers, corporations, and millionaires. They have done so all the while boasting of and highlighting the scraps that poor whites and middle-class populations will receive from the state: The Democrats have distracted white and middle-class voters from the pernicious effects of mortgage foreclosures & crappy settlements, the financial crisis, and unemployment by showcasing the aggressive and punitive treatment of US minorities and foreign nationals through (to name only a few). As Matt Stoller has convincingly argued, the majority of the US population—including many whites as well as black and brown populations—is worse off today than the day that Obama came into office in 2009. Than the day the recession ended. The recovery has been bad for most Americans.

This brings me to the final and perhaps most difficult fear: American liberals and progressives have a fundamental difficulty in coming to terms with a problematic racial and gender politics that are waged by a Liberal Black President and his Liberal Multiracial Democratic Party.  It is much easier to attack and challenge a GOP full of Old White Guys. Such challenges confirm our pre-existing worldviews because they lead from a(n accurate) narrative that the gains of whites/Europeans were built on the genocide of indigenous populations, the enslavement and persecution of West Africans, the persecution of Latinos, Blacks, Chinese, Japanese, and other minorities throughout the history of the Newer World.

But we must confront a more difficult racial politics, and challenge this Administration to stop pitting the fates of vulnerable and poor minority populations against those of wealthier whites and more privileged minorities. We need to resist the mistaken view that the safety of Americans depends on droning, bombing, and murdering brown U.S. citizens or incarcerating Black Americans. We need to insist that the reproductive systems of wealthier women must not be posed against the evisceration of the reproductive systems and health of Muslim women, or decimating Muslim communities around the world.

My fear is that because the “nicer, kinder, wiser, more likeable guys” have won, we will glow in the supposed victory until the next time comes to vote for the” lesser of two evils.” Except that next time, we won’t be able to tell even the slightest difference.  But maybe my fears will be proven wrong over the next four years.


Update I. Glenn Greenwald has an excellent column that also considers the impact of a second-term win for the Democrats.

Update II. An old column by Randy Fried, “Your Brain on Obama: Waiting for the Man,” previously published at Counterpunch, is up at Black Agenda Report. Long, important and relevant.

Update III. As we know, Obama was declared the victor by 11:15 last night. This morning, less than 12 hours later, reports of deaths by drones of several individuals in Yemen were reported. Strikes could only have been approved by the POTUS, as Joshua Hersh reports. No negotiations with Republicans are necessary to approve them. The second Democratic term has begun.

Author: Falguni A. Sheth

I'm a philosopher and political analyst who writes about all kinds of things, from national security, US politics, race, terrorism, miscegenation, feminism, philosophy, and whatever else captivates my attention. My views are idiosyncratic. I'd like to believe they're carefully considered, and I'm not particularly interested in following crowds.

9 thoughts on “Post-Election Day 2012: The Good Guys Won, but Did Progressives?”

  1. Thanks so much for this! I think we do need to be asking ourselves what interest(s) this narrative about “minorities winning” serves. (So, maybe, the Foucaultian version of this question would be “Why do we tell ourselves that white dudes are over and women and POC won in this election?”) I woke up to a lot of self-congratulating posts on Facebook about how “we” won the culture wars…and all that says to me is that the “cultural” front of the 80s and 90s no longer matters. IMHO your post points right at power’s vested interests in the “we won” narrative. Would you say this sort of “look at us, we’re so just/good/etc” narrative is a sort of US version or analog of what other scholars have identified as “pinkwashing”?

    1. Thanks. You’ve described one of the reasons I’m not on FB…the self-reinforcing narratives of one’s ‘friends,’ was getting to be rather tedious. I’m not sure how you’re connecting ‘pinkwashing’ here. As I understand it, pinkwashing is the promotion of support for gay rights alongside a massive Islamophobic/xenophobic platform. I would say that we haven’t even done much in the domestic arena. See this thoughtful letter by Prof. Imani Perry in the WaPo:

      I don’t think the “liberal Dems” have done much for poor women in the US either. So at some level, the question remains what the ‘washing’ that has been done? Rhetorically, the self-congratulations borders on some serious self-deception promoted by some–those who won’t be immediately affected adversely regardless of the outcome of the election. See the updates to my Nov. 9 post. And I think there is justifiable rage, on the other hand, of those who have been unceasingly affected by the ‘liberal’ position on foreign policy:

      And those who are watching rather clear-eyed from outside the US:

  2. In case you can’t guess, I’m hoping you’ll say something to prove me wrong and make me happy that it’s all going to be okay.

  3. What’s the deal with progressive bloggers utterly ignoring the question of mass progressive/left psychology?

    The same story ad nauseum:
    obama and the dems (or your country’s left mainstream party) are not real progressives, they just play some on tv; their voters stick with them, incorrectly.

    Tx 4 the update.

    there’s this impenetrable fear on the part of bloggers to psychoanalyze the reasons for such amazingly passive conformity. The excuse is usually, “you can’t prove anything psychological, so it can only amount to libellous ad hominems at best”.

    There’s tribalism, for sure. But that’s not the most important point. Consider that at every job (private, institutional, educational) where cameras are placed, there is zero resistance. Indeed, there’s approval, both overt and tacit.
    What are the excuses:
    don’t want to make waves, don’t want to seem weird, I’ve got nothing to hide, the other workers will make fun of my paranoia, the other kids will make fun of my paranoia.
    We’ve lived forever without that level of surveillance and invasion, yet it turns out, there was never going to be any resistance had it come earlier. People have surrendered without a fight. They’re ashamed to fight. pe-ri-od.

    It’s shameful to fight, it means someone doesn’t respect you and you have to deal with it.

    You want to talk about macro issues in far away lands that people can forget in 30 seconds.
    Before you understand why they ‘tolerate’ murder directed at people they will never know,
    ask yourself why they would tolerate a cop jamming their surveillance equipment up their daughter’s ass, before he arrested them for asking the cop to not jam it up their child quite so rough.
    If they’ll tolerate their own harassment and brutalization, they’ll tolerate someone else’s.

    1. You’re right, and I don’t know. Not a big fan of psychoanalysis, must admit. A friend who is a tireless organizer and extremely astute (i.e. he agrees with me on just about all of these anti-war, national security, beyond Democrat politics)– a day after the Election–asked what the point was of organizing events,when no one other than students and lefty retirees showed up. “Where is the left?” he asked insistently. And I must admit, I don’t know why folks–who have much more power and protection than Muslim protestors–are completely indifferent to challenging the regime–or even challenging lawless murders.

      1. I don’t think one needs very much psychology to explain the weakness of the left in the US. People only engage in political action when they feel like it will make some sort of difference. Contrary to liberal homilies about speaking truth to power or making our voices heard, most people will devote time to political action only when they feel it will effect something beyond their own self-expression. Given that social movements have been getting hammered for going on thirty years, there are few examples of successful oppositional politics that can make it seem like a realistic course of action. The ones we have had (the CTU strike, for example) aren’t disseminated widely enough, though there is clear evidence of them having an effect on people who do know about them (a host of strikes throughout Illinois followed).

        In an environment where oppositional politics don’t appear at all realistic, people are going to treat electing Democrats as the only viable strategy. When they do that, they will contort themselves to defend all the awful things the Democrats do, such as drone terrorism. I don’t think it’s the case that people aren’t protesting because they don’t care (though certainly the unbelievable racism that is disseminated against Arabs and Muslims helps to anaesthetize at least a section of the population against moral outrage on their behalf), but rather that it appears that there is no way to stop the killings, and thus, people aren’t going to devote significant emotional and political energy to trying to end it. Combine that with the strategic perspective of electing Democrats, and you have a recipe for drone terrorism ceasing to be a live political issue. I’ve written a bit more on how I think a strategic perspective on the Dems enervates movements here:

        None of this is to excuse the way liberals and people who protested Bush’s wars are silent on Obama’s crimes. Their hypocrisy should never be ignored. But those of us who are dedicated to challenging the current order need to understand why it is exactly that larger groups of people aren’t rallying to our standard. Otherwise, it’s all too easy to descend into mere moral condemnation of those who aren’t fighting alongside us, which will only ensure that our numbers will never grow.

        Practically, I think this means trying to build movements that have some momentum behind them, such as anti-police brutality or anti-inequality, rather than trying to will movements into existence. If we can break the stranglehold of political passivity with movements like these, we have a much better chance of convincing people things like drone killings can be stopped as well. This doesn’t mean ceasing to talk about them and use them to point out how awful Obama is, but it does mean not banging our heads against the wall trying to organize antiwar protests that only 50 people come to when anti-police brutality marches are drawing hundreds.

        Wow, that ended up being a lot. Be curious to hear your thoughts on it.

        1. It should be noted that when the opposition is in government, your protests are particularly irrelevant. Yet it was during Republican times and it tends to be, in most areas, during conservative times, that the left comes out and out and out to anti-government rallies and “demands” that their idea of justice be met. Despite the fact that it is only at the next election that anything changes, if the parties switch (unfortunately even this is no longer the case re dem/repub).
          Although marches will occur, there seems to be no effective way to get consequences enacted in response to police brutality. They get away with murder, literally.
          And people in a smaller organization (office, education, public bureau) have enormous power to resist the intrusion of security policies that seek to surveil and control their every movement. Yet, there’s always just one weirdo who believes it should be opposed and everyone else wants to steer clear of him/her for fear of getting in trouble. The flock stick together to keep themselves down, not to lift themselves up.
          Teachers’ unions, as pitifully incompetent as they are, remain the last stronghold of workers who can strike and keep their jobs and do so regularly. The public absolutely needs free babysitting more than anything and no matter how much they hate teachers’ unionized privilege, that need means they want to see strikes ended asap. This is also why anti union neoliberals have focused their hate on the teachers’ unions, in order to try and make an example of them.

          Here’s a church conference that asked if ‘security is the new religion’.

          You did write a lot and I think this question deserves a lot because it’s at the root of motivation. And motivation is the hardest problem in any enterprise.

          My suspicion ATM is that people are like gentle but wild animals, like ducks. They leave themselves open to a kind of harvesting because they have no awareness of the consequences of their decisions. So they go about their business, pretending that if they mind their own, nobody will react intrusively. What happens is that police and neoliberals can then pillage and rape as they like, like plucking leaves off a branch and none of the other leaves notice it, or accept to notice it, determined to mind their own business.
          I was hoping that the 3rd parties would at least show, in their loss, that a significant number of people are fed up. Instead, they got less than 2 percent, collectively.
          Yet, the ballot initiatives, where people could decide something directly, were a much more vibrant set of results. Which speaks to your idea that people will speak out only if it will be effective.

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