I’m a socialist. However, I have a commitment even deeper than my commitment to socialism. I am committed above all to democracy. Democracy, for all its inefficiency and mediocrity, is the best system we have for maintaining community within a nation as wildly diverse as the US. And last but not least, I love America, I love being American, I love living in the US.
Holding all three of these allegiances simultaneously leads me to some choices within American society that are complex and not necessarily what one would expect. Though I feel the US would be a much better place for the majority of its citizens if its political policies were more socialist, my commitment to democracy as a political system and my desire to stay in America mean I cannot impose my ideology on the millions of Americans who don’t agree with me. For us to hold together as a democratic union, our only option is to come to a place of mutual compromise through the democratic process. Deep down, I feel the people on the far right are nuts and totally wrong, but they are a part of our democracy and have as much a right to influence our laws as I do. I hope they feel I also have a right to influence our shared society. The point is, democracy trumps ideology if one is committed to democracy. Whatever my ideology, the domination of American politics by my ideology cannot be my goal in a democracy. Democracy is the antithesis of a winner take all political structure.
Where this gets really complicated is in this season’s presidential race. I love Bernie Sanders. His ideology is probably closest to mine of all the candidates running. However, democracy works from the center and cannot function with ideological purity. If democracy is my first concern, rather than the authoritarian enforcement of my own ideology, then what I am really looking for is the candidate who can move the center more toward what I consider the best path. At this point, I believe Hillary Clinton would be better able to move the US toward the left than Bernie because she will be pushing from the center instead of standing for, as Bernie says, a revolution. Clinton, as everyone has pointed out, is a pragmatist, sometimes such a pragmatist that it makes me very uncomfortable, while Bernie is more of an ideologue. My best guess is that at this point, because of her great skill and experience as a left leaning pragmatist, she will be able to accomplish more, in practical terms, than Bernie. I may be dead wrong. Maybe Bernie can create such enthusiasm that he can create a major shift in American thinking. That would be great. But I will not support Bernie simply because his ideology is more in line with mine. This is not about what I would do as an authoritarian. It is about how to strategically strengthen the clout of my values within this democracy.
The trend on both the right and the left to excoriate candidates for their ideological impurity places ideology above democracy. If we choose to continue to live together in a non-authoritarian state, we need to radically tamp down the ideological self-righteousness on all sides. The self-righteousness stems from a winner take all, anti-democratic attitude and will tear, is tearing, this nation to pieces. If authoritarianism is what you prefer, then admit it. Say, “we want our side to take over and subjugate your side because we are right, you are wrong, and democracy is not important”. If, on the other hand, democracy matters to us, then we need to challenge our ubiquitous harsh and judgmental political behavior. The problems between the right and the left are obvious, but what is becoming just as bad is the name calling within the left and the right. It is all authoritarian in nature. I might be right or I might be wrong in my political judgements, but don’t call me the anti-Christ. I’m a participant in our democracy, as are you. I am not the enemy. Civility is the currency of democracy. Without it we strengthen the rigid anti-democratic politics that have brought American democracy to a standstill.