With the rise in authoritarian governments around the world, I’ve become very interested in the qualities that make for a healthy and functioning democracy. Our democratic republic functions best when the Left, the Middle and the Right have a constructive debate on the issues facing the nation. And when the debate reaches an impasse, all sides should be willing to find areas of common ground and compromise for some progress. Each side of the political spectrum has been right about some things, wrong some things. Liberals have been right about some things, wrong about others; conservatives have been right about some things and wrong about other things; and the same can be said about democratic socialists, libertarians, moderates, radicals. No one has a monopoly on truth.
Right now many Republicans are caught up in a groupthink mentality right now, with a fervent cult of personality surrounding President Trump and a rigid ideological purity test that tries to denigrate or silence anyone who doesn’t agree 100% with them. But that sort of groupthink is just a dark side of human nature, something that we’re all vulnerable to, whether one is to the Left or the Right of the political spectrum, if we are not careful to guard against it.
That is one of the reasons why I admire independent minded leftists, individuals to the Left of the political spectrum but who are willing to go against the Left if they think the Left is wrong on a particular issue. Leftists like George Orwell, Bayard Rustin, Pete Seeger, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King Jr, Muriel Rukeyser. These leftists were often criticized by their own side for being insufficiently left wing or for not towing some sort of party line. They were leftists who valued their right to their own independent point of view.
In the late 1960s, there was a growing rift in the Left between two groups over tactics. One group of leftists, including Martin Luther King Jr, Bayard Rustin, Dorothy Day, and Pete Seeger, held fast to their belief in nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of increasing opposition from leftists like Stokely Carmichael, Bernardine Dohrn, Huey Newton, Mark Rudd, who believed that peaceful protests were ineffective and that violence was the only means of achieving lasting social change. Several years ago, I watched the documentary “The Weather Underground” about a group of radicals who began bombing federal buildings in a desperate attempt to highlight their political concerns. The documentary interviewed former Weathermen Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, Mark Rudd and David Gilbert, who maintained their leftist beliefs but voiced deep regret about adopting terrorist tactics to try to achieve their goals.
I think many in the Right today are caught up in the same sort of extreme mentality that the Weathermen were caught up in during the 1970s. The Alt Right and white nationalist elements of the Right are trying to take over the conservative movement, using the Republican Party to advance an agenda of scapegoating vulnerable minority groups for problems they aren’t responsible for, denigrating people who disagree with them as unAmerican, and rolling back the gains in civil rights that women, minorities and LGBTQ people gained these past few decades.
I think it’s important for principled conservatives to fight to regain control of the conservative movement from the Alt Right, the Trumpists, and the white nationalist elements. Conservatives like Jeff Flake, George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Liz Mair, David Brooks and others have been fighting for a conservative movement without the racism, religious intolerance and anti-immigrant bias of the Alt Right. Former Arizona Senator Jeff Flake said in a speech to the National Press Club last year:
“…never has a party abandoned, fled its principles and deeply held beliefs so quickly as my party did in the face of the nativist juggernaut…
…If my party is going to try to pass off the degradation of the United States and her values from the White House as normal, if we’re going to cloister ourselves in the alternative truth of an erratic leader, if we are going to refuse to live in the world that everyone else lives in and reckon with the daily reality that they face, including their very real and understandable anxiety that they feel, then my party might not deserve to lead…
…To restore leadership that is aware of and cherishes our constitutional framework, which by design is meant to force compromise. It shouldn’t be hard because it is basic. But it will be hard.
To once again have a leader that assumes that Democrats and Republicans are not intractable enemies, but competing friends, leadership that recognizes the once seminal American notion of the common good. It shouldn’t be hard because it is basic. But it will be hard.
To swing the pendulum away from the toxicity of our current moment, we must recognize the good in our opponents.”
Here is the trailer to the documentary “The Weather Underground”
Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., spoke to the National Press Club audience on March 15, 2018 about his criticisms of President Donald Trump and the Republican Party’s acquiescence to Trump