As a young adult I understood that there was no real difference between Hitler and Stalin. It didn’t matter that one of them was considered to come from the left while the other was depicted (by the communists but not exclusively) as a paragon of the right, both of them had in common an absolute disrespect for everybody else. Each of them was convinced that only his opinions mattered and that all else were absolute morons – as long as they were audacious enough to think for themselves.
That was when I started to have an inkling about what ‘the elders’ wanted to convey to us, green-horns bucking under the communist rule that was crippling Romania at that time, when whispering ‘there isn’t much difference between Russia and America. Their leaders want to rule as much of the world as they can grab while the ordinary people, in both countries, don’t have a clue about what’s going on’.
As I’ve become older I’ve started to figure out that the real difference between various activism-s has nothing to do with the ‘hue’ displayed on their banners but with the intensity of the sentiment that fuels them and with the manner in which their activists relate to the other participants in the game.
At first glance the very notion of ‘conservative activist’ would be an oxymoron, given the fact that (some of the) conservatives define themselves as defenders of the existing order who only react, within the boundaries of the law and using the tenets of the Constitution, to whatever follies the ‘liberal activists’ are trying to bring upon our heads:
“Like the American people I have watched this process for a number of years, and I fear this empathy standards is another step down the road to a liberal activist, results-oriented and relativistic world where — laws lose their fixed meaning, unelected judges set policy; Americans are seen as members of separate groups rather than simply Americans, and where the constitutional limits on government power are ignored when politicians want to buy out private companies… Call it empathy, call it prejudice, but whatever it is, it is not law. In truth, it is more akin to politics. And politics has no place in the courtroom.” (Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL), speaking at Sonia Sotomayor’s confirmation hearings)
As usual, practice trumps theory. Regardless of whatever the theory says – and some of the pundits pretend, everybody has an agenda and everybody who has an agenda is actually an activist.
Now that we’ve successfully climbed down to the practical level let’s see what’s the real meaning of Trump backing down from his trumped up stance on torture:
Hey, wait a minute! So he actually said that ‘we should go tougher than waterboarding’ and he still has such a strong following among the ‘law abiding defenders of the Constitution’?
Well, I’m afraid things are more complicated than that.
Here’s what he says about those who trust him:
“The people, my people, are so smart…
And you know what else? they say about my people? the polls?
They say I have the most loyal people! Did you ever see that?
Where I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”
Well, if this isn’t ‘activism’ then I don’t know what else is.
But what kind of activism is it?
I’m not asking about where it should be placed in the political spectrum! I’m just wondering how are his proponents, Trump’s people, going to relate with their fellow citizens?
Or with the rest of the world…
And what’s the true meaning of the conservative activists coming out of the closet and assuming such an active stance? So active, in fact, that – as I said before – it is now way outside the realms of typical conservative behavior.
The explanation – as I see it – has little to do with Trump itself and everything with the present situation of the American society as a whole.
First things first.
Trump is nothing but an opportunistic bug, the real problem being come the American Conservatives have not seen him for what he is and have not thrown him out yet.
I’ll concentrate on this from now on.
The American Conservatives, and not only those ‘loyal’ to Trump, behave as if they have been under a two thronged siege.
‘The liberals are destroying America from within, the enemies from the outside are growing stronger and stronger yet the American Political Establishment does nothing meaningful about any of these, not even the ‘entrenched’ conservative ‘figureheads’.
This didn’t start yesterday.
“Whenever you get a group of people together who share certain basic assumptions, there’s a natural tendency for the group to gravitate toward the most uncompromising, extreme, strident, fundamentalist, hard-core positions. Social psychologists call this tendency group polarization. It happens on juries with some regularity. It explains why the Tea Party became so insane, so deeply out of touch with the needs and views of the average American voter. And it explains why the Bush Administration invaded Iraq without an exit strategy (they stopped inviting people who disagreed with their assumptions—people like Colin Powell—to the planning meetings).” (John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016))
But because of the internet things have gotten even worse:
“These days, any simpleminded partisan with a political ax to grind can find an online community of like-minded whack-jobs who’ll be happy to provide him with plenty of ideological ammunition (e.g., bogus stats, pre-fab arguments, etc.).” John Faithful Hamer, From Here (2016)
“Worse” not because of the ease with which these communities can grow but because too many of the members of these communities tend to give in to the apparent comfort and safety of single-mindedness.
Arguments are no longer able to penetrate the boundaries of this kind of communities.
Walls are erected to keep the odd man out. Then defended fiercely.
And this is why any attempt to cross those walls, be it aggressively or even in good faith, is too often perceived as a mortal threat by those within.
This is the mechanism through which the likes of Hitler and Stalin have managed to dominate for so long their hapless followers, by convincing them that all outsiders, all aliens, are conspiring to destroy ‘Das Vaterland’.
Fortunately the Internet works both ways. It’s true that the members of those communities can chose not to read anything else but the ideas promoted by their insiders but, just as easily, any of them can find out everything that ‘the others’ have to say about the matter.
But what if things are not (yet) as bleak as some of the media venues present them to be?
Not that all the media wants to scare the shit out of us or that all of them are politically biased. No. This happens simply because all of them want to make better ratings and because very few of them understand that ‘he who saws the wind will reap the whirlwind’. (Well, some of them might actually do it on purpose and that’s exactly what activism means but my post is more about those who let themselves be sucked into the whirlwind than about the tempest sowers).
A very short search of the Internet produced two extremely interesting ‘snapshots’.
The first, that the CPAC straw poll placed Trump no higher than the third place, should not surprise us very much. After all most of the participants are either GOP officials or young wannabees and for them Trump is akin to a ragging bull.
The second, though, is rather mind boggling.
Four out of the six still running candidates nomination are perceived more or less unfavorably by the American public?
So what is this? A contest for ‘the least un-liked presidential candidate’ title? (The answer to this question might also explain why Trump has backed down on torture. He figured out that that was too much, even for him. And for ‘his people’.)
We couldn’t blame this on ‘activism’, as such – the remaining two candidates are also ‘active’, but shouldn’t we be asking ourselves about what kind of activism deserves our encouragement?
When our votes are brought to bear?
Well, before answering this we must consider another issue first.
What brought us to the present situation, where both sides of the Political Establishment – and not only in America – are acting as if they want to tear everything apart instead of doing their best to make it all work together?
“Abraham Lincoln represented the entire nation, and his most serious actions were aimed at improving the lives of the oppressed and the poor. Lincoln’s values and actions still rank as the greatest period of social activism in the United States. Lincoln’s goal was to create a more perfect union by extending dignity to all — to once and for all end a diabolical, brutal, and oppressive system in which humans were property, mere production instruments.