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    • The Lack of Belief In Good
      Are humans good, bad or neutral? It’s an old philosophical debate, and not just in the West. Confucius thought they were born neutral, for example, while the later Confucian Mencius felt they were good, noting that everyone who saw a child fall into a well would be horrified. Others, including many Confucians and the Christian church, with original sin, have […]
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They Count on Us Not Playing The Way They Do

“They” being the Republicans, and ‘Us,” being the Democrats, liberals, people whom we most generally identify with. “Our side,” as we perceive that.

We know that Republicans have increasingly descended into a group of people who will do anything and everything to win. Their tactics still shock us with their brazen and relentless disregard of fairness, empathy, and concern for the costs to people and institutions of their techniques and policies. There appears to be no limit or constraint, they do whatever they think will help them gain and keep more power. They are emboldened to go further when nothing really happens to them as a result of any of what they do.

Perhaps the biggest danger, and the most significant reason for why Republicans keep pushing and pushing, running over all the guardrails of democracy, is that they apparently know that the Democrats will never do what they are doing. I think that this is a very important way to look at it, not just in terms of the worsenng of all of these situations, but in terms of the psychology which suffuses our politics.

Both parties used to gerrymander, but while Republicans still do, and are given complete license by last year’s Supreme Court decision which permitted them to gerrymander in any extreme form they want; as the Court said it would not overrule any of it, I don’t think that Democratic-controlled states even do it now; or if they do, it is very minimal. I know that California, which is completely run by Democrats, has gone to a bipartisan commission to draw the legislative districts. Most of the Blue states have done that. This is a fair and honorable way to go–except that the Republicans do not do it. This means that Republicans keep drawing districts to carve out more wins for them, while Democrats do not. This inevitably allows Republicans to gain a premium of at least 10-15 Congressional seats that the Democrats cannot balance out, because they want to do things “the right way.”

Republicans are passing truly disgraceful and totalitarian voting laws, we hear about that every day. Do Democrats, in states which they control, pass voting bills to disenfranchise likely Republican voters? Of course not. So again, Republicans not only gain votes, but Democrats’ apparent only response is to somehow try to overturn these laws in court, or to find some way to allow people to be able to exercise their right to vote.

Republicans risk absolutely nothing by this; maybe a few of their bills might be found unconstitutional, but they will just write more of them, and most will stand. Democrats will not do it to them anywhere, so they have what the people in Vegas refer to as a “free roll,” where the player will win money if he rolls a winning point, or picks the winner in a sports event, but he cannot lose money if he does not. Sometimes a casino will offer that to a bettor who has lost a lot of money, just as a minor goodwill gesture. In this context, Republicans get a series of free rolls, because what they do to Democrats, Democrats will never do to them.

It could be analogized to a boxing match where one fighter throws all the punches. and for some reason, the other fighter never punches back; his only responses are to try to block some of the punches, while complaining that this is not right, and his opponent should stop the low blows, sucker punches, and hitting after the bell. No one does anything about it, and so the one fighter just continues punching away, getting more bold about tactics; and of course the more honorable opponent absorbs all the blows, and loses the fight, likely never getting a chance at a rematch.

Now obviously this is not a perfect analogy, few are. But how can Democrats think they are going to win under these drastically different two sets of rules? And “winning” would not mean just for them, of course; there are tens of millions of people who are depending on them to save American democracy, and their right to vote; and to keep the country from turning into a permanent Republican dictatorship, where a minority of the people completely control the rights of the majority, and the Democrats then cannot do anything to change it, because it is cemented to such an extent that only the Republicans can make the laws and control the process in most of the states. In other words, pretty much like Russia or China.

They are our surrogates in that sense, or we can see them as our representatives whom we elect to protect our rights and values. So the approach they choose to take, is not just one which they get to try out, for their own sense of dignity or worth, with the only consequences being to them. All of the consequences are passed to us. So the question is, do we want them to keep acting this way? The answer, no, seems obvious at this stage

It is very true that in general, most Democrats are people who believe in fairness and honor, and not taking advantage of other people; all things Republicans have lost, or maybe never had to begin with, as they are the party of big business, the robber barons, jingoism, red-baiting , and McCarthyism. But is this sense of decency and nobility enough to win elections, and attain necessary significant power in the government? If not, then I absolutely do not think that it is enough to be able to say or think, “At least we are the good people, we have value and ethics. We want to play fair, and treat the other side the way we would want them to treat us.” Not when the results of that noble but naive perspective keep making it harder for us to vote, even survive.

The story of the musical “Man of La Mancha” was that Don Quixote, somehow through the purity of his beliefs, and the way he perceived and treated others, was able to transform Aldonza into Dulcinea. That penultimate scene in the play is one of the most powerful and moving in the history of musical theatre, certainly not just for how it is played (I got to see the excellent actor Jose Ferrer, standing in for Richard Kiley, who had immortalized the role, but had a vocal cord strain; and the superb Joan Diener perform it) , but for what it conveys.

I remember a radio news and comment show which my parents liked to listen to, and which I was sort of a dinner table captive to, but which I sometimes appreciated as well. The comment on one day was about the performance of “Man of La Mancha” on stage in Washington, D.C , maybe the opening performance. And as the commentator, it might have been Edward P. Morgan, or William Winter, said, the D.C. crowd, sophisticated and worldly, and maybe inclined to be blase’ about things, got to their feet at the end for something like a fifteen minute standing ovation. And I am touched still, thinking about that; and I did feel, along with I am sure many others, that this was a musical for our time, and which surely would help and inspire what looked to be an idealistic era. That was an optimistic view, but I still think that anyone who sees it cannot fail to be moved by its theme.

Well, here we are now, and the musical is still as good, and it is often restaged. But Democrats are not able, like Don Quixote, to somehow transform people into the good they hope to see in them. Being nice to Republicans, referring to them as “our friends across the aisle,” always trying to be fair-minded and aboveboard with them, does not seem to be doing us much good at all. They take this for granted, count on it, and go right ahead looking for ways to game or corrupt the system, so that they can roll over us, and control every lever of power.

Frankly, I wish the Democrats would gerrymander in states where they have a legislative majority. That would probably keep the House in Democratic control, but we are not doing it. I mentioned the other day that it might have been worthwhile for Democratic state legislatures to have passed voting laws which severely disadvantaged Republican voters. Why? As a kind of protection against Republicans doing it.

The Supreme Court, as biased as it is, would likely not carefully overturn all the Democratic voting laws, while keeping all the Republican laws. But since the Republicans are the only ones who pass these, the Court can write what purport to be abstract opinions, about the rights of states to do this or that; the reluctance to look into intent, etc., trying to look impartial when they are not. If they had to deal with the Democrats doing the same thing, they could not hide behind this, and they might even be forced to throw most of the laws out; or if not, then the Democrats should keep doing more of them. There are more Red states, but gerrymandering and vote suppressing in Blue states would do us some pragmatic good, even if we like to say that we are appalled at that kind of thing.

You can walk away from a job where the owners don’t treat you fairly, or reward colleagues who lie, and take advantage of you. You can leave your town if it is biased and they don’t seem to like people who look or talk like you. But you can’t abandon the national fight for democracy and individual rights, unless you are ready and able to find a new country to live in; and even then America is so powerful that you could not escape the implications of it turning into a dictatorship. You can give up boxing if it is corrupt and the referees cheat, but you can’t just abandon the political and governmental arena to the Republicans who are relentlessly trying to turn it into a permanently fixed illusory contest.

So what should Democrats do, to fight this? It has to be more than making speeches, or saying “Shame on them,” that is of debatable value in the best of times, almost impotent when the other side is taking away your side’s right to vote for anything. Should we cheat? That sounds pejorative, but I guess that people who cheat somehow rationalize it as good strategy, not cheating, just doing what is permitted.

We certainly have to do something and I would start with gerrymandering, though of course forming all those nonpartisan voting Boards has perhaps made it too late. We keep thinking that doing things the right way is not only admirable, but will win us the support of the people. The history of of the last sixty years has shown that this is questionable; although we do seem to be able to win the national popular vote, for what that is worth, which seems increasingly less so, as Republicans and their media propaganda machine, ignore it, or contend that it was a lie and a fraud.

You see, even when you scrupulously play fair, and have a higher sense of ethics, your enemies will simply project their own lack of morality onto you, so that you get attacked and debased anyway. “Why not?,” they think, it works for them in every other way, why not this one? This is what we are fighting against. Virtue is said to be its own reward; but in the current realm of politics, against a brutal opponent which has not an iota of fairness, decency, or moderation, we simply cannot cling to our sense of virtue as a fragment to shore against our ruins, to use that hauntingly powerful image from T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Wasteland.”