On the Ghost of Reagan at DNC 2016, or, Be Careful What You Wish For

July 30, 2016

I’ve been trying to sort out my mixed reactions to the jingoistic displays of patriotism at the DNC for a couple of days now. As a peace activist, I’m very unhappy about the gleeful waving around of military might. However, in some ways, the Democratic Party was giving the peacenik left what we’ve been asking for since, oh, about 2003.

I used to be one of the folks who stood at the central intersection in downtown West Chester every Saturday to vigil against the invasion/occupation of Iraq; the group that organized the vigils, the Chester County Peace Movement, also used to have regular meetings and other events at which we would talk in really wonky terms about how to do more than just witnessing and arguing with the proto-Tea-Partiers across the street. The question we almost always got stuck on was, “Why has the GOP been able to claim ‘patriotism’ for their side?” We love and respect the United States as much as they do, we said, and we believed that it was patriotic to fight back against an unjustly installed government committing unjust horrors against another sovereign nation. Hence the chant: What does democracy look like? This is what democracy looks like.

The last time I remember clearly being actively involved in that conversation was in the early days of this blog, 2007’ish, with a couple of the right-wingers who were furiously insistent that we were “traitors” because we didn’t “love our country” because we didn’t “support the troops” because we “criticized the war effort” because I’m one of those “dangerous radical leftist academics” because…. Point is, aside from a snarky cheapshot at people I hadn’t tried to talk to in years :), it’s been a long time since I’ve thought hard about what a Democratic Party committed to showing the larger voting public how patriotic it could be would look like.

And what I saw this week at the DNC wasn’t pretty. That’s not the patriotism we were hoping for. It is, however, an entirely predictable outcome of a process by which a mainstream US political party decides to show the country that it can outdo its main rival–especially when the rival party has given over its identity to a creature (OK, he’s a person, but I’m only willing to concede that grudgingly) whose patriotism extends exactly to the point where he’s willing to praise Putin and Saddam Hussein.

So in short–I’m not unhappy about the strategy of claiming, “We’re just as patriotic as you, GOP, if not more, and it’s possible to love your country while you support progressive economic and social policies.” I’m not very happy that there wasn’t any effort, not that I can see anyway, to make patriotism about anything other than threats–and acts–of mass violence.

Why are we talking about this (whatever “this” is)?

June 13, 2008

Who called who what names? Who hung up on who? Where and when did this and that happen?

I don’t know about anybody else, but the discussion on the blog over the last few days has held out the real possibility of exchanging some ideas about our occupation of Iraq, patriotism and who gets to claim it and on what grounds, the political goals of the CCVM/CCPM, etc. And while people have written things I found distasteful and inaccurate, much of it has been at least on point.

Some of it hasn’t, though, and that’s what I want to talk about now. I hope nobody disagrees with this point–that how we treat each other on the streets, how we talk about each other, etc, are all much less important than the big issues at stake–real life and death. Soldiers, contractors, and civilians are all dying in Iraq and Afghanistan. Some people are convinced that Islamic fundamentalists are going to attack the US again. Some are convinced that we can’t rest safely until our current military objectives are achieved; some are convinced that we can’t achieve those missions, and in fact amplify the risks to ourselves and our friends (such as we have them anymore) around the world by staying in Iraq. There’s blood in the streets, and we’re arguing about phone calls? We’re arguing about who shot videos/photos of what? There are real issues and problems here–the pride (wounded and otherwise) of maybe a few hundred people in a Philadelphia suburb isn’t one of them. Jewish people have a term for what we’ve descended into: pilpul, which means (roughly) elaborate debates about trivia designed to show people how smart you are.

I don’t expect this call to be particularly heeded, but I figured I should make it anyway. At the very least, let’s keep some things in perspective:

(1) We (CCVM/CCPM) aren’t the important people. The people who are actually at risk of dying are. Doc, I know you’ll take this as validation of your earlier point about the Harvard study on troop morale, and we can talk more about that later. The study isn’t bogus, but it doesn’t say what you say it does.

(2) Nobody cares, or should really, about individual moments of stepping out of line as long as nobody really gets hurt. Sometimes people do and say things they shouldn’t. Duh. With that said, I do believe that the Sheepdogs have adopted a strategy of trying to provoke CCPM members to do/say things we ordinarily wouldn’t. Congrats, it’s worked a few times. Given the nastiness of some of what your group says about us and our members, you probably don’t think your members have ever stepped out of line, so I won’t expect a similar acknowledgment.

(3) As much as the peacemaker in me would love to see this “debate” between Doc and John Grant (and whoever else they could get to participate) materialize, I still don’t see the point. Nobody who’s committed to one side or the other is going anywhere. Doc has said that CCPM is operating without enough information, but he doesn’t seem to understand that we all read, listen, watch, research a great deal. Sure, he might have inside (classified?) info we don’t, but he wouldn’t/couldn’t share that with us anyway or he probably would have. And he’s obviously not changing his mind again either. If Doc hadn’t already established that he “hates” us, maybe this would be different, but there’s not much good to come from inviting somebody who hates you to yell (metaphorically, that is) at you about why you’re wrong. I’m sure you can understand why we’d be suspicious of anything you have to say. I’m also sure you’ll say something like, “Of course you’re suspicious of anything that challenges your [fill in the blank with something evil] worldview.” That’s hogwash, and you know it.

(4) The “sides” here are more complex than many of us seem to think. Supporting “the troops” assumes that all “the troops” agree on the rightness of what they’re doing. They don’t. Supporting “terrorists” assumes that all “terrorists” want the same thing. They don’t. Our group (CCPM) is comprised of Democrats, Republicans, Greens, pacifists, soldiers/vets, and so on–all over the political and socio-economic spectrum. I don’t know any of the CCVM folks personally, so I don’t know how true that is for them; all I know is that Skye is a registered Democrat. Interesting as far as it goes, but that’s not very far. My point is that there’s real, deep disagreement among people who are smart and otherwise (generally) reasonable, and we’d all do well to remember that the people behind the signs and slogans are still people.

Life and death, folks. Let’s keep an eye on that, OK?

ADDED FRI EVENING: A point of clarification.  My agenda in this post isn’t to shut down discussion.  It’s to raise the level of the discussion, to get us out of accusations of “liar” and the like because one person remembers something differently from the other.  That doesn’t help resolve anything, nor does it advance anybody’s understand of the issues.  It just irritates everybody.

Also, I realize perfectly well that I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know in referring to “life and death.”  That’s a reminder, not a preachy comment.