Socrates and Buckminster Fuller had some advice that the Democratic Party in the U.S. (and similar parties everywhere) would do well to heed.
“You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”. Buckminster Fuller (who was paraphrasing Socrates). To which the voice from the cornfield (the movie “Field of Drams”) added, “If you build it, they will come.”
In the excitement of current American politics swirling around the President, the central issues are being forgotten.
1. Millions of Americans felt that the political process was either irrelevant or significantly injurious to their well-being. It is not for politicians to reject or disparage or simply disregard the feelings of voters: it is for politicians to understand the source and strength of the feeling and address the root causes before they become critical or fatal. Voters certainly felt that both the Democrats and the Republicans were equally ensnared in a political process they (the voters) had come to despise. Some of these millions felt so despondent that they simply didn’t vote. Others of them concluded that a genuine deconstructionist had taken over the Republican Party, and they parked their vote there.
These people are not going to be persuaded to return to the familiar past, not even by an implosion of the Trump presidency. It appears that many American voters are ‘mad as hell and not going to take any more’, in which case a Trump implosion will not send them back into the compliant fold. It will send them further out, in greater anger, even if a residual democracy is left to pick up the pieces. And it may well be that there will be no democracy left to pick up the pieces.
My advice to the Democratic Party — stop focusing on what your ‘base’ wants, and stop focusing on the tempests of the moment, for four reasons.
First, your base is your base: you are unlikely to lose them even if you continue to fight old wars and cry foul at the memory of recent outrages.
Second, your base is not growing. Those new faces aren’t converts, they are returnees who should never have been allowed to lapse in recent years. (They are the reason you lost the last election.) You won’t win elections until you grow your base, and you can’t grow your base except by building “a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”.
The Democratic Party has not said or done anything since the election to attract voters: whatever uptick it is experiencing is entirely the result of Mr. Trump having repelled some voters.
Third, as a purely pragmatic matter, you are unlikely to win any of the immediately upcoming battles, but you can certainly waste imagination, energy and other resources on them.
Fourth, you are being suckered into acceding to someone else’s game plan, always a sure sign of fundamental disciplinary weakness and lack of vision.
The key is this: urgent is not the same as important. What is important is to acknowledge that the anger of middle America was/is widespread, and deep to the point of being existential. It was legitimate – because it had been brewing and neglected for almost 40 years — and it needs to be respected. It needs to be responded to with sympathy, imagination, and commitment. If Democrats don’t understand the anger and its causes, the most valuable thing they could do right now would be to listen.
2. Having listened, Democrats had better invent a better model for life in the U.S.A. – a model that takes the U.S.A to inclusion, the celebration of diversity, economic security for all, good stewardship, and a semblance of equality for all.
Mr. Trump’s Presidency will not last, and his legacy may still be other than his close advisor (Steve Bannon) has in mind. The outcome will be determined by whose imagination of what comes next proves to be more powerful and attractive to Americans.
On the one hand, we have Mr. Bannon, who is quoted as having said: “Lenin wanted to destroy the state, and that’s my goal, too. I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.” Mr. Bannon apparently does not claim to be the Hindu god, Shiva (the transformer of worlds). He is merely Steve Bannon, the destroyer of worlds.
On the other hand, we have Socrates and Buckminster Fuller: “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete”. I’m with Bucky (and perhaps with Bernie Sanders, too. At the moment he seems to be the only one with two eyes clearly focused on the long game.)