Monday, January 20, 2020

Moderates, Radicals, and MLK

I have a number of friends who are supporting moderate candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination – candidates like Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar. Other moderates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination include Joe Biden and Michael Bloomberg.

Moderates are generally described by their supporters and the mainstream corporate media as no-nonsense pragmatists and/or as realists. As such, they're sympathetic to the need for social and political change but it must be done incrementally over time. They don't believe the status quo should be too disrupted. Better to try to all get along with not too much confrontation or drawing of lines in the sand. And, judging from the fact that many of the moderates I've identified are taking money from big corporations and billionaire donors, they generally don't subscribe to the adage that “You can't change a corrupt system by taking its money.” Indeed, many moderates can't or won't even go there in acknowledging the extent of the corruption of our current economic and political system. Finally, more often than not, moderates and their supporters discount or even dismiss as naïve visionaries and idealists those who strive for deeper awareness of the flaws and failures of this system and thus advocate and work toward fundamental and immediate-as-possible changes to it.

Yet I find myself in agreement with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez when she says that “moderates are more naive than the visionaries if they think tinkering around the edges will solve systemic problems in our democracy and economy. It’s time to rewrite the social contract, not manage decline.”

Although there can certainly be a time and place for it, I don't believe that at this moment in American history political moderation is called for; that it's even desirable. Why? Because political moderation has become too much associated with preserving the political and economic status quo, a status quo that is profoundly dysfunctional and damaging to individuals, society, and the environment. I've also come to understand that it has been the failure of moderates and liberals to acknowledge the degree of this dysfunction and damage which in large part contributed to the election of Donald Trump. Said another way, Trump is not the problem; Trump is the most severe symptom of the problem.

And the problem? Here's how author Marianne Williamson identifies and describes it:

We have essentially moved from a democratic to an aristocratic situation where our government works more to advocate for short term profits for multi-national corporations than it does to advocate for the well-being of people and the planet. Our government works more to make it easier for those who already have a lot of money to make more of it and harder for those who do not have any money to even get by. This corruption, which has progressed over the last 40 years, has created an amoral economic system where economic values are placed before humanitarian values and the well-being of people and the planet. And our democracy itself can no longer be accurately described as a government of the people, by the people and for the people [but rather a government of the corporations by the corporations and for the corporations]. It’s only when we recognize the depth of this corruption that we can move into a path of genuine transformation. Because until then, all we’re doing is addressing the symptoms and no one is naming the cause. All we’re doing is making incremental changes seeking to diminish the pain that people are experiencing because of all this, but not challenging the underlying forces that make all of that pain inevitable. . . . I stand for an actual pattern disruption of the political and economic status quo.

Marianne was, of course, up until recently, a candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination. And right up until the day she suspended her campaign, she was my preferred candidate. And, no, she is definitely not a moderate but rather a progressive, a radical, in the deepest and truest sense of he word.

To be radical means that you recognize the need for going to the root or heart of a situation, issue, or problem in order to truly understand, correct, resolve and/or transform it. The beauty of Marianne's understanding of this process, one that's often understood to be necessary only in the political realm, is that it actually needs to occur in our personal lives as well in order for it to be truly effective in the political and societal realms of which we're a part, individually and collectively.

Accordingly, to be radical also means being willing to go deep within one's own life and experience so as to identify, name, and embody the healing and transformation that one wants to see in the world.

Of course, Marianne Williamson is not advocating anything new when she says these things. Rather, she's lifting up and encouraging all of us to embrace the spiritual teachings on radical love and nonviolent activism that people like Jesus of Nazareth, Mahatma Gandhi, Dorothy Day, and Martin Luther King, Jr. embodied. They did it in their times, we need to do it in ours.

All of which brings me to an informative and insightful article by Bob Hennelly, published today over at Salon. In this piece Hennelly reminds us that Martin Luther King, Jr. (whom we're celebrating today here in the U.S.) was "gravely disappointed" with white moderates, whom he believed were responsible, for impeding civil rights. I would argue that moderates today within the Democratic party are responsible for impeding the much needed transformation of our corrupt political and economic system, one that still disproportionately impacts black and brown people in this country.

Following are excerpts from Hennelly's piece, one that is entitled, “Moderate Democrats Are Celebrating MLK. He Was Disgusted By Them.”

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day comes as moderate Democrats, falling in line behind former vice president Joe Biden, are warning that the party risks re-electing Donald Trump if it nominates too radical a candidate for president – by which they mean someone like Senators Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren.

This so-called moderate world view is underpinned by the belief that, over the arc of this nation's history, we have been striving for and realizing a "more perfect union" through disciplined incrementalism and market capitalism.

Some pundits extol this as the great virtue of American moderation.

And yet, a glance at Martin Luther King Jr.'s actual words reveals the civil rights leader saw such moderation as a "fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity."

From a Birmingham jail cell, he wrote he was "gravely disappointed with the white moderate" that he saw as "the Negro's great stumbling block," as much or more so than ardent segregationists or even the KKK. The white moderate, he observed, lived "by a mythical concept of time" and constantly advised "the Negro to wait for a 'more convenient season.' Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection."

As King saw it, the American embrace of moderation in his time was enabled by a belief "that American society is essentially hospitable to fair play and to steady growth toward a middle-class Utopia embodying racial harmony. But unfortunately, this is a fantasy of self-deception and comfortable vanity."

In grade school, I was indoctrinated with this same moderate narrative – that we were on the conveyor belt of socio-economic progress that was a through line from Lexington and Concord, through Gettysburg, and on to the beaches of Normandy.

In this airbrushed history, America expiated its original sin of slavery with the massive bloodletting that was our Civil War. Scroll forward to 2008, and we have elected the first American African American president.

Perhaps too slow, argue the moderates, but progress none the less.

But our actually history as it was lived, but too often not remembered, reveals that every civil rights breakthrough is accompanied by reactionary blowback. We saw it after the Civil War, with the abandonment of Reconstruction by a federal government that fell captive to capital interests and its own deeply embedded racist world view.

Scroll forward a century: the same happened in response to the passage of landmark federal civil and voting rights legislation. And as with the murder of Lincoln after the Emancipation Proclamation, the white supremacist terrorist rage murdered Dr. King and so many others.

And similarly, after the two-term presidency of President Obama, the election of Trump was the blowback.

There is a pattern here, one that has been flagged by writers like Michelle Alexander and Ta-Nehisi Coates. In 2020, there can be no excuse for not seeing it.

. . . We have so deeply internalized structural racism that most politicians easily ignore the fact that between 1980 and 2015 the number of people incarcerated increased from 500,000 to over 2.2 million, according to the NAACP. That means that while the U.S. makes up only 5 percent of the planet's population, we have 21 percent of the prisoners.

Evidently, we are just not that outraged by it. If people are in jail, there's some justification for it. Right?

That's how former Mayor Mike Bloomberg can joke through his recent The Late Show with Steven Colbert appearance and blithely explain away as merely "a mistake" his embrace of race-based profiling where the NYPD illegally stopped and frisked hundreds of thousands of young men of color annually for years.

And with hundreds of millions earmarked as new revenue for hungry broadcast media outlets, don't expect Bloomberg to be pressed on how he plans on making right the tragic consequences from the NYPD's unconstitutional actions that led to bad arrests, unjust incarcerations, lost jobs and ruined lives.

This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, pay close attention to the white moderates, like Bloomberg and Biden. Ironically, not only do these men fail to grasp the radical nature of his dream, their past actions actually helped defer it.

– Bob Hennelly
Excerpted from “Moderate Democrats Are Celebrating MLK.
He Was Disgusted By Them

January 20, 2020

Related Off-site Links:
Countering Annual Whitewash of His Legacy, Progressives Remember the “Anti-Capitalist, Anti-Imperialist” Martin Luther King Jr. – Jessica Corbett (Common Dreams, January 20, 2020).
MLK Should Inspire Us to End Our Wars – Jack Nelson-Pallmeyer (Star Tribune, January 20, 2020).
Martin Luther King Jr Was a Radical. We Must Not Sterilize His Legacy – Cornel West (The Guardian, April 4, 2018).
When King Was Dangerous – Alex Gourevitch (Jacobin, January 21, 2019).
The 11 Most Anti-Capitalist Quotes from Martin Luther King Jr. – Katie Halper (Common Dreams, January 21, 2019).
Martin Luther King Jr. Was More Radical Than We Remember – Jenn M. Jackson (Teen Vogue, January 15, 2018).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
For MLK Day (2018)
Quote of the Day – January 15, 2017
Martin Luther King, Jr. and Democratic Socialism
Quote(s) of the Day – February 26, 2019
Quote of the Day – March 10, 2019
Quote of the Day – October 30, 2019

Image 1: Martin Luther King Jr., delivering his “I Have a Dream” speech to a crowd before the Lincoln Memorial during the Freedom March in Washington, DC, on August 28, 1963. (Bettmann/Contributor/Getty Images)
Image 2: Marianne William delivering her MLK Day Message, January 20, 2020. “The greatest way to honor Dr. King’s legacy is to seek to embody the principles for which he lived and for which he died,” Williamson says.
Image 3: Photographer unknown.

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