Our Teachable Moment


by Adam Staley Groves

After watching the first Democratic debates, from which this party will nominate its candidate for President of the United States, I was happily unnerved. Leading up to the debates, I resisted watching anything Bernie. Indeed on the second debate night Sanders seemed dinted. His progressive hue was no longer exclusive to him. If his candidacy seems past its meteoric rise, we should not forget running for president is a way to change a party’s platform. Sanders surely knows and has made several effective injections. Now it becomes a question of willing and effective therapy.

Medication alleviates not the cause but the severity of symptoms. It does so, when properly administered, so that the fundamentals of a pathology, through therapy, may be addressed. Once addressed earnestly—usually because one recognizes change is more than necessary—a self-knowledge might be constructed. A knowledge which produces understanding; enough to address the experiences an untreated pathology or addiction had crystalized in the sparkling trove of the brain.

I mean the underlying conditions which many voters suffer from. I do mean, without doubt, the digital and electronic means from which they engage in politics. Media pathologies to be exact. Those particular, but not exclusive to, an annoying swath of baby boomers. For media today is governing by direct intervention, pleasure and anxiety causing, more than at any other time. So if one shoots dope and forgot what led them there, you need to realize a common cause with everyone who is supposedly sober. If you feel anxiety, are you sure it’s about your divorce; or, your worry about taking another drink?

At any rate, remember that word “change”? Remember “hope”? Remember: “We are the change we seek”? This was 44’s portentous gift; a substance which transformed into a paltry pile of prosaic matter. Yet what transpired between 2009 to 2017 was at best level-headed management of a status quo, of a liberalism which Vladimir Putin now audaciously claims has ended. Indeed, some surely long for a return to that now. And look man those folks will assuredly support Joe Biden. So if 2016 was about making change tangible, among his colleagues Sanders now stands out in relief. He has hardened into a concept. He looked grouchy, white and old.

And so the change. What changed? You need ask yourself before the needle, before the next drink. In the end, all 44 could give was moderation and cooperation with dedicated enemies and haters in Congress, the right-wing media, the current president, and the rest of a moronic vanguard. I don’t think things got any better for most people. I am not apologizing here. It’s clear 44’s was an effort to preserve a state of global order which many governments seemed okay with: Trans-Pacific Partnership, Iran Denuclearization, Paris Climate Accord and various trade agreements—business as usual. Much more was needed, but this exceeds one presidency, to be sure. Just as the progressive necessity exceeds one candidate.

Somehow, Americans came to understand that global economic “liberalism” meant they were being ripped-off, robbed of a middle class, social contract—which is rooted in a once fervent debate with socialism. Yet 44’s global liberalism conceded there was an inevitable economic amplification of countries like China, with or without the United States. There was always going to be a liberalization of economic, trade, and financial systems. There is no longer a need to make that argument.

The problem is, and remains clear, the United States has failed to take care of its working class. Bernie Sanders has made this a reality, a knowledge from which the experiences of delusion, the current delusion, may be shattered. In particular, 45’s blame projection that global economic liberalism viz. Obama, is the cause. If anything, it was just keeping a status quo that liberals, progressives, and socialists at one time held in check.

I remember when, for much of the left, global economic liberalism was perverse. And when it became normal for “liberals” in the United States, the only place of a political dialectic was the social, those “culture wars”. And it was then that I realized I was unfit for typical political dope fixes. This has been a long withdrawal. Both parties had come to agree upon it since the end of the Cold War. It seems they still do. If Sanders had become president there probably would have been a similar trade-protectionist push, though resisted with immense tumult by the right. With 45 they let it happen. And in that there is a bit of light. I shall explain in a moment.

First, let me take another drink from my pumpkin spice vodka. That is, what will allow me to remark of Hillary Clinton and the dumbly corrupt, magical arrogance of professional democrats so many seemed willing to embrace. The American left needed to go left. But they never were gonna do it themselves. They need do so by ways of a corrective nationalism which is, I surmise, a conservatism of sorts. Progressive thought, I believe, comes to govern our political dyad of left and right when it is pushing for an extreme of one or the other. Would this had been realized if Clinton had won? I am glad Clinton lost the election and glad Sanders lost the nomination. I really don’t think he will get it this time around. A Sanders presidency would have been as polarizing as 44’s. Why? Because there is nothing “conservatives” despise more than socialism—so steady yourself for this coming attraction. It unites the racist assholes and the remaining conservative intellectual bourgeoisie. Had a democrat won, there was never going to be a way to engage the change we seek. For another, conservatives have aligned themselves with trade protectionism via Trump. There is now a pathway for a corrective nationalism after the global economic order, a type of liberalism, has seemingly been diminished.

Trump needed to happen, to signify and expose how paradox is the essential feature of privilege, of the rich and powerful. Trump is a masthead of a selfish generation derelict of the immense and spectacular diversity of the United States as ideal. That is, the ideal of liberty which is to be at liberty to share its great wealth among its citizens and those who are drawn still to the ideals of the Republic. Thus 45’s carnival show of paradox is our teachable moment, rife with a substance for change we need seek.

To advance a regime of progressive necessity includes health care as a right, basic income, and a dedicated effort to understand how technology shall work for humanity, not against it. This means thinking how we work less and invent more. I won’t bother with degrees of policy and the radical neophyte in me wants to say—do it already! I suppose I am searching for a liberty by way of liberalism, a progressive liberalism. A Clinton or Sanders presidency would not have shown this in a teachable way. Indeed that is a bit of hypothetical doodling! But moving in a more nationalist direction is not a bad thing if indeed it seeks a progressivism which has a vision situated, I should add, on reality.

Reality of course is problematic. But something suggests to me that the candidates first showing reveals, without doubt, a new cadre of leadership. Before Obama’s meteoric rise we had Howard Dean who, due to a scream, was lambasted. How stupid does that look today? It’s to our advantage—indeed those of us interested in a general progressivism—that the candidness of the moment not be lost.

The current President will most certainly deploy the flattery of a master narcissist. It is a matter of style. And if you take style as seriously as I do, one should be a bit concerned. Why? Now that 45 has set the expectations so low for what type of statesman an American President could be, his July 4th speech may come to characterize his political strategy here forward. Paradoxical but not equivocal to confusing ramparts with airports. The point is not try to conserve the state which is no longer there but the state of change that is upon us.


About the Author:

Adam Staley Groves’s research focuses on the “theory of poetry” of Wallace Stevens and other modernist poets. He is a teaching fellow at Tembusu College, National University of Singapore.

Image by Justin Lincoln via Flickr (cc).