Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Moderation vs. extremism?

Digby today refers the current situation back to one of the major milestones on the road that got us to the Trump Admministration (Trump’s game of thrones heats up: McCabe, Rosenstein and the “memo” Salon 01/30/2017):
So far the courts have maintained independence in dealing with the Trump administration's contempt for the rule of law. But there hasn't yet been a high-stakes political showdown in the Supreme Court. There was a time when people relied on the high court as the ultimate neutral arbiter of such partisan disputes, but after Bush vs. Gore we can have no more illusions about that. In fact, the Supreme Court's conservative majority provides role models for what Republicans are doing today. When push comes to shove, it's always party first, country second.
The Republicans have been pursuing a radical strategy for over two decades. They weren't just using marketing spin when they called the Republican House takeover in the 1994 election the Gingrich Revolution.

Meanwhile, the Democratic leadership has continuee to plead for moderation and understanding and Bipartisanship. Their strategy has been a conservative one, even though their official policies and actual practice are more left/liberal than that of the Republicans. The corporate Democrats will fret that Congresswoman Barbara Lee's not attending Trump's State of the Union speech tonight is disturbingly heterodox:

Digby's piece from today is essentially an continuation the one yesterday, Death by a thousand tweets: Is Trump slowly killing democracy? Salon 01/29/2017. There she explains the approach of Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt on how democracies can evolve into authoritarian systems. They stress the importance of the erosion of two institutional habits, "mutual toleration and forbearance."

They apparently see the increase in partisan polarization as a bad thing per se:
In this article in The New York Times, Levitsky and Ziblatt note that 50 years ago, only 5 percent of Americans said they'd be unhappy if their child married someone of the opposite political party. Today, 33 percent of Democrats and a whopping 49 percent of Republicans say they would be displeased with that eventuality. An equal number of Republicans say they are afraid of Democrats, while 55 percent of Democrats feel that way about Republicans. It's fairly obvious that this is about race, secularism and modernity. Both parties used to be predominantly white and now we have one that is almost entirely white and Christian, while the other is a diverse and largely secular mixture of religions, races and ethnicities.
For me, the current situation is in significant part the segregation system of the Deep South prior to the 1960s. The dominant party is fanatical in its defense of segregation and its hatred of democracy. The opposition appeals to reason and practical accommodation without targeting the core of the anti-democratic system, the denial of the vote and other basic civil rights to black citizens.

The analogy isn't exact, of course. But the major American precedent for today's Republican Party's state of being is the old segregation system.

But the thing is, the fabled "Southern moderates" did not bring down the segregation system. It took a militant civil rights movement and the federal government finally deciding to enforce basic rights in the Old Confederacy. The white moderates mostly tagged along for the ride.

It was this attitude that Martin Luther King address in his "Letter from a Birmingham Jail" (1963; text from MLK Center); see also the text at the University of Pennnsylvania's African Research Center.

The letter is addressed not to hardcore segregationists but to moderate Christian who criticized the demonstrations he led as being too rude and unruly and impolite, or whatever. The penultimate paragraph is not without irony:

If I have said anything in this letter that overstates the truth and indicates an unreasonable impatience, I beg you to forgive me. If I have said anything that understates the truth and indicates my having a patience that allows me to settle for anything less than brotherhood, I beg God to forgive me.
Democrats to this day are horrified at Barry Goldwater's line in his speech accepting the Republican Party's 1964 nomination for President, "Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And let me remind you also that moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue." So are our Both Sides Do It journalists and TV commentators. And from the standpoint of democracy and peace, Goldwater's was a dangerous and destructive form of extremism.

But left and right, as well as moderation and extremism, are determined by historical context. We can talk about moderate style or moderate strategy, which essentially means not being impatient or insulting about existing conditions and those responsible for them. But in an undemocratic system like Southern segregation, "moderation" of that kind means acceding legitimacy to that system. A system that was in violation of the Constitution. King wrote:

You warmly commended the Birmingham police force for keeping "order" and "preventing violence." I doubt that you would have so warmly commended the police force if you had seen its dogs sinking their teeth into unarmed, nonviolent Negroes. I doubt that you would so quickly commend the policemen if you were to observe their ugly and inhumane treatment of Negroes here in the city jail; if you were to watch them push and curse old Negro women and young Negro girls; if you were to see them slap and kick old Negro men and young boys; if you were to observe them, as they did on two occasions, refuse to give us food because we wanted to sing our grace together. I cannot join you in your praise of the Birmingham police department.
It is true that the [Birmingham] police have exercised a degree of discipline in handling the demonstrators. In this sense they have conducted themselves rather "nonviolently" in public. But for what purpose? To preserve the evil system of segregation. Over the past few years I have consistently preached that nonviolence demands that the means we use must be as pure as the ends we seek. I have tried to make clear that it is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends. But now I must affirm that it is just as wrong, or perhaps even more so, to use moral means to preserve immoral ends. Perhaps Mr. Connor and his policemen have been rather nonviolent in public, as was Chief Pritchett in Albany, Georgia, but they have used the moral means of nonviolence to maintain the immoral end of racial injustice. As T. S. Eliot has said: "The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason."
King addressed the charges of extremism being hurled at him:
At first I was rather disappointed that fellow clergymen would see my nonviolent efforts as those of an extremist. ...

I have not said to my people: "Get rid of your discontent." Rather, I have tried to say that this normal and healthy discontent can be channeled into the creative outlet of nonviolent direct action. And now this approach is being termed extremist. But though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love: "Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you." Was not Amos an extremist for justice: "Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream." Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: "I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus." Was not Martin Luther an extremist: "Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God." And John Bunyan: "I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience." And Abraham Lincoln: "This nation cannot survive half slave and half free." And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal . . ." So the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice? In that dramatic scene on Calvary's hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime--the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists. [my emphasis]
Which brings us back to the point of the 2000 election that Digby makes today. The Republicans have been on an extremist cours in many ways for a long time. And demanding that the Constitution be respected is "conservative" in the sense of conserving official American institutions. But that doesn't mean it has to be defended by conservative strategy or tactics.

Especially when the party trying to destroy it is pursuing and extreme course with extremist methods.

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