Democrats think of democracy as a thing they have, whereas Republicans see it as a fight they’re in. That’s why Democrats don’t do anything even when they’re in power, and Republicans do even when they’re out. The Dems are bringing a knife to a literal gun fight. No wonder there’s blood everywhere.
Aristotle was a democracy understander, and he understood it as constant class struggle. A.D. Lindsay described his perspective as such: “each class is thought of, not as trying to express an ideal, but as struggling to acquire power or maintain its position.”
America is full of abstract, ideological debates like ‘guns rights’ or ‘abortion’ or ‘critical race theory’ which A) no other country has and B) are really just expressions of class struggle. Republicans say that these are tactics quite openly, but Democrats just don’t believe them. As the Reagan/Bush adviser Lee Atwater said in 1981:
You start out in 1954 by saying, “N*****, n*****, n*****.” By 1968 you can’t say “n*****” — that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N******, n*****.”
The class that is struggling here is the rich, white men who America was founded explicitly by and for. Only land-owning white men could even vote at the beginning. Their revolution and constitution were just branding exercises,Freedom™ over Slavery Inc. Patrick Henry said ‘give me liberty or give me death’but as Teri Kanefield writes, “What he evidently meant was ‘Give me the liberty to own slaves and the freedom to own guns to keep them in line.’”
As Michael Waldman writes about that founding fascist:
Modern democracies are supposedly better than Greek slave states run by a minority of dudes, but that’s exactly how America was founded. That’s still America’s DNA, that is their founder’s intent, well documented. They didn’t even want to give poor white men the right to vote (in itself a meager and pathetic right), let alone women or black people.
As John Adams said in 1776, the idea that their marketing copy about freedom would be taken literally was preposterous. Why then, male and female, rich and poor would have power. He said this “tends to confound and destroy all distinction and [surrender] all ranks, to one common level.” As well as any tyrant citizen of Athens, Adams understood the game of democracy.
What you can see here is that the American founders as much as any Greek enslavers understood what they were doing. Democracy has always been a game of class struggle, and the most important rule is who gets to play the game at all.Just as the Greeks said foreigners were fair game for torture and exploitation, it was the same with black people for centuries, and it’s the same with ‘illegal’ immigrants today. Same shit, different day.
If you understand democracy as the site of class struggle, you can understand more clearly what’s going on. This is something Republicans speak about as openly as the founding fuckers, but something that Democrats willfully misunderstand. The central tension in America is between rich, white men and everybody else. It is rank class struggle.
This struggle erupted in the Civil War, and afterwards black (men) actually entered Congress and state legislatures in large numbers. They started playing the game on the same field, and this white men could not abide. So that class struck back, violently. After the first black Senator in 1867, there wasn’t another one until 1967. Jim Crow saw to that, with poll taxes, violent intimidation, and lynchings. That was the first backlash, and they won.
When black people started getting power again with the Civil Rights movement, white men struck back again, following the Southern Strategy of people like Lee Atwater, empowering more deceitful racists like Reagan and the Bush family. Then Democrats like Bill Clinton and Joe Biden moved the Democratic party to the right as well. They ushered in crime bills and welfare ‘reforms’ that hurt black people, while pretending to like them, just as Atwater said could be done.That was the second backlash, and it went pretty well.
When one of only 11 black Senators ever was elected President in 2008, the third backlash was set off. And that’s what we’re living in now. Donald Trump dusted off the old Reagan slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ and when he rose to power claiming that Obama wasn’t a citizen, he was channeling a very deep American and even Greek sense of opprobium. This foreign, slave-looking man wasn’t supposed to be a citizen. That’s not how the game was rigged at all.
This is the great game, and all of the issues people get so excited about are a distriction. All the ‘issues’ like gun control and abortion are just divide-and-conquer debates, where the ruling class wins either way.
Democrats can campaign on these issues, not do anything, loot for their donor class, get kicked out of power, then complain bitterly that you need to vote harder next time. Republicans—being closer to the founding ideal of the worst white people you could find—actually do something, also reward their donor class, and campaign on doing even worse next time.
I’ll return to the Lindsay/Aristotle definition to understand what’s going on here. To draw that quote out:
What America actually has and always has had is an oligarchy of rich white men. There’s no class struggle there, that battle is won. These oligarchs just keep white people struggling with black people and everybody struggling over abstract ideals like abortion or gun rights, while they get the bag and run.
Americans, especially American liberals, love debates, Twitter is their wretched Colosseum. Meanwhile American conservatives—who are looked down on as just stupid—are outfoxing them at every turn. Lee Atwater said that ‘states rights’ and ‘busing’ were just fancy ways of saying the n-word, and American liberals just didn’t believe him. They’ll actually debate states' rights ad nauseum.
When complaining about black children going to school also began to look bad, the American right quite openly switched to abortion as a wedge issue, and now American liberals happily debated that one. As professor Randall Balmer writes:
White evangelicals in the 1970s didn’t initially care about abortion. They organized to defend racial segregation in evangelical institutions — and only seized on banning abortion because it was more palatable than their real goal.
As the evangelical leader Paul Weyrich said:
“The new political philosophy must be defined by us [conservatives] in moral terms, packaged in non-religious language, and propagated throughout the country by our new coalition,” Weyrich wrote in the mid-1970s. “When political power is achieved, the moral majority will have the opportunity to re-create this great nation.”
What he is describing, of course, is the immoral minority recreating this terrible nation, as it was terribly founded. Rich, white men in power, everyone else cowering in fear. These guys know they’re using random issues strategically, and it works. This continues with the endless debates about Critical Race Theory, which the modern Atwater avatar Chris Rufo is quite transparently manipulative about.
It’s just another way of saying the n-word. Lee Atwater would be proud.
Then liberals play all these Words-With-Enemies games and get completely played out. They act like their enemies are so stupid for holding these obviously inane opinions, while losing power in statehouses, courthouses, and being completely unable to govern. They miss the point that these debates are strategic and they’re getting drawn into them instead of pushing their own agenda. While liberals may tut-tut in the New Yorker about how correct they are, they’re losing the war for the country at large.
American liberals keep harking back to some principled founding that doesn’t exist, or blaming Russia, like they’ve suddenly been inceptioned into being the white supremacist state they always were. Even Teri Kanefield who I cited above falls into this blame Russia thing, it’s common. All of these people quite verbosely lose the class struggle that everyone else—modern conservatives and old founders—are quite clear about fighting.
American conservatives have been playing the long game for centuries, in cycles of decades, and guess where we are now? The empire is striking back, reasserting the rich, white supremacy that America is founded upon, and which the game was constitutionally rigged to support. Delusional about where they came from and distracted from where they are, American liberals are playing the petty word games of their enemies and losing the great game of democracy overall.