Sunday, July 31, 2016

In Praise of Incrementalism

The DNC Convention?  The best one ever, and I've been watching them since 1968.  The best speeches.  The best starpower.  And, in the end, about as much party unity as you could have possibly hoped for, going into last week.  Granted, the unity was far from perfect.  But I'll take it over the fiasco the previous week that called itself the Republican National Convention, where most of the party's major political figures refused to show up, and the best star power available came from Scott Baio (i.e., not very much, and those of you who listened to him speak know what I'm talking about).

So, we launch into the fall campaign.  And what are my immediate thoughts?  My immediate thoughts are about incrementalism.

I have an actor friend, with whom I appeared a number of years ago (no need to mention how many) in a play.  He has been a die-hard Berniecrat for the better part of the past year, which, as far as I'm concerned, is perfectly O.K..  Of late, however, as evidenced by his Facebook page, he has gone off the deep end with his support by promoting the Hillary-is-the-devil-herself point of view and suggesting that a Trump presidency would be no worse than a Clinton one.  Recognizing the obvious--that Bernie is no longer an option--he has cast his lot with Jill Stein of the Green Party.  In his view, everything that is good and righteous from a progressive perspective needs to happen right now, and, should you disagree with him, you are guilty of the crime of incrementalism, and deserve to be unfriended by him.

Well, it's a free country and, to each, his or her own.  I can find a number of reasons for not jumping on the Stein bandwagon, one of which is that I like my children vaccinated (and find it appalling that a physician would even suggest anything to the contrary).  As I indicated last week, Trump = Hillary is the falsest equivalency there is.  You can believe every conspiracy theory there is about her, and Trump is still, as Hillary described him "a man you can bait with a Tweet," and therefore not "a man you can trust with nuclear weapons."  Sorry, buddy, case closed.

But, in any event, incrementalism is how things get done in a nation in which both the people, and their system of governance, is factionalized by design.  To point out the painfully obvious, while wishing that our schools went back to teaching civics, we live in a federal system of government, in which certain powers are reserved for the national government, certain powers are reserved to the states, and leaders at both levels are free to test the range and limits of those powers in the course of exercising them.  Then too, at both the national and state levels, government is divided into three branches:  legislative, executive, and judicial.  Finally, as a matter of both history and necessity, we are a nation of peoples from all over the globe, with different experiences and expectations.

In such a system, conflict and compromise are the only way to accomplish anything at all.  Not peacefully.  Not violently.  At all.  If, for example, my friend somehow envisions some kind of giant uprising that will make all of the conservatives in this country wake up the next day and realize how wrong they were, it's never going to happen.  People with strongly-held views do not change them overnight, and they aren't going to change them just because you have the power to change everything in the nation around them.  If in fact you have that power, and choose to exercise it, it's more likely than not to make them even angrier.  And, therefore, more dangerous.

We did not get ourselves into our current Dickensian state overnight.  It has happened over the course of four decades, engineered by conservatives who, whatever else can be said about them, understand the distribution of power in this country, and who were therefore willing to submit the welfare state to the death of a thousand carefully-timed sword cuts.  In short, incrementalism got us here.  It's way past time for those of us on the progressive side of the fence to learn how to make incrementalism work for us.  Hillary understands how to do that; Bernie, for all of his well-thought-out and well-stated positions, does not.

Sadly, as my friend exemplifies, neither do many of his supporters.  I am hoping and praying that changes dramatically over the next 100 days.

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