“All politics is local.”
This is a phrase that is often attributed to Tip O’Neill and bears reflection especially during this time of life in what will become Trumpland come January. In my last post I reflected on how the Democratic Party had left its progressive roots to become a softer version of Republican conservatism and how it showed up at the voting booth. What others have said and I have to agree with them, is that the electorate had become so disillusioned with its government that it was seeking change for change’s sake. They were willing to accept a political neophyte who spoke to their fear and their frustrations. As we look at the results of the election, those of us who subscribe to a more liberal, progressive ideology are bemoaning our state and are doing the Monday morning quarterbacking thing. We say, “If we had only nominated Bernie Sanders”, and “Hillary was such a flawed candidate”, and other things that indicate if only we had won the White House things would be much different.
But when we look at the down ballot races we find that even if, even if we had nominated Bernie Sanders, even if Hillary would have come up with the win we all expected, it really wouldn’t have mattered much. The House and Senate are firmly in Republican hands and we are already hearing stories of repealing the Affordable Care Act, the privatization or elimination of Medicaid and Medicare, and the lowering of corporate tax rate from 34% to 15%. We see a more hawkish, mean spirited government bent on supporting and encouraging the very institutions that threaten our economic welfare and our safety. If in fact, the Democrats had won the White House, chances are they would have faced the same obstructionism that President Obama has had to deal with over his last 8 years in office. In my home state, the legislature has moved to Republican control for the first time in 95 years. What does this say to us?
This says that progressives have been shortsighted in their maneuvering, seeking change from the top down. Our Democratic politicians were, as it was said in the movie American President, were more concerned about keeping their jobs than doing them. Bernie Sanders had it right when he said that real change comes from the bottom up. We the people have to take charge of the levers of government and those levers are located in our city halls, our county courthouses, and our state legislatures. These levers are located in the communities in which we live. We have to talk to people and not just the people who agree with us. We have to make an argument that shows the logic of coming together to work for the common good and not just any one interest. If our argument is sound and we can educate people, chances are we can effect real change within our country.
We also have to give up our arrogance. We liberals can be an arrogant, smug lot. We ignore or belittle those who don’t subscribe to our ideology. We call them stupid; we call them uninformed and revel in their ignorance without trying to educate and inform. We sit in our ivory towers of privilege and education and spew the very hatred that we rail against. We refuse to “walk a mile in their shoes.” We look at simple absolutist visions of “Yes or No”, “Right or Wrong” and embrace them. We know that the world is not this way. We know that the world is a place of hues, a place of shifting scales, and a place of context. What happens in Rural America is important as you can see from the electoral map at the end of Election Day.
Fear won on Election Day because we did not do our jobs. By “we”, I don’t mean the political machinery that orchestrated this fiasco, I mean us. We as individuals did not lend our voices as a repudiation of this fear and hatred in the grocery stores, in the PTA meetings, standing in line at the DMV, or any of the other venues of our everyday lives. We didn’t address this in our churches and in fact, allowed those people charged with the spiritual care of “we the people” to spew the very hate and division that the politicians were spreading. We did not hold them accountable, we did not challenge them in their teaching, and we gave them authority without bothering to check if their teaching aligned with the teachings of God who called on us to welcome the stranger, or feed the hungry, or clothe the naked, or visit the sick.
We live in lament now, but this lament cannot last long. We have to speak out and this speaking has to be done in the highways and byways of our everyday life. Yes, we can do this on a national level, but if we cannot convince our neighbor, then what have we done? We will have won an election but not changed anything. What happens in your neighborhood is more important because that’s where the real change begins. It starts in our neighborhood then to the next, and to the next, and to the next. We must give up our arrogance and our certainty and be willing to wander around in the gray areas. All politics is local. How will we embrace that?