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Seeking compassion in our public discourse

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial
REUTERS/Allison Shelley
The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. greatly influenced by Gandhi, preached and led nonviolent civil rights marches through the South. But he also lifted up the poor, the despised, and the beaten down.

Lately, I’ve been searching for compassion in our public discourse. Actually, I’ve been longing for more discourse, period. The kind where people listen carefully to each other and honor the rights of each to hold differing points of view, even when they strongly disagree on values or courses of action. Instead, our ability to engage with each other across class, race, gender, political and philosophical divides seems to be deteriorating.

I find it elating when conversing with someone who feels free to express her or his points of view, including how passionately or lukewarmly they hold them. I recall a friend telling me that in the heat of the Clinton/Trump electoral contest, she sat beside a Trump-supporting businessman whose rationales ran totally counter to her own. But they managed to talk about the Clinton/Trump election for hours on a flight to Europe without rancor, each intrigued by the other’s reasoning.

Historical examples

Many of our great spiritual leaders and philosophers have lived compassionate lives. Christ often gathered and lifted up poor people, prostitutes, and foreigners, saving his dissent for the wealthy or those abusing political or religious power. Mahatma Gandhi organized against tyranny, both in South Africa and India, embracing nonviolence and welcoming all comers. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. greatly influenced by Gandhi, preached and led nonviolent civil rights marches through the South. But he also lifted up the poor, the despised, and the beaten down. In our current era, the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, leads both spiritually and politically.

photo of article author
Ann Markusen
When I was a child, our grade school Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet taught us much about compassion. Not just through instruction, but by their own example and their gentle responses to the inevitable scraps kids get into. They spoke strongly about their beliefs, but were tolerant of our questions, skepticism and disagreements. They encouraged us to inquire and think for ourselves. 

It’s hard to be compassionate toward others, including animals and even machines, that misbehave. But sometimes the most outrageous behavior is a yelp for help. And it’s sometimes hard to be compassionate toward yourself. British scholar of religion Karen Armstrong, in her book, “Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life,” writes an entire chapter on “Compassion for Yourself.Her chapters include “How Should We Speak to One Another?” and “Love Your Enemies.” I have to admit having a hard time with the latter.

‘Being Peace’

Books have helped me ponder compassion and work on it as practice. A staple is “Being Peace,” by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who opposed the Vietnam war. The book includes a long prose poem on compassion, “Please Call Me By My True Names.”

Our media isn’t much help. Television and movies lean heavily toward portraying violence, narcissism and dysfunctional relationships. A British TV series, available on Netflix, that models compassion beautifully, “Call the Midwife,” probes how a group of young midwives, housed in a convent and working in the tough East End of London in the 1950s, work around poverty, dysfunctional relationships and ignorance to build strong relationships with each other and solve daunting problems with their clients.

It’s hard to tolerate hateful speech, derogatory put-downs of others, and dismissive gestures toward values and beliefs I hold dearly. But then I think of a very charitable view my good friend Julia shared with me many years ago: “Most people are doing the best they can.” Now that is compassion.

Ann Markusen is a retired University of Minnesota political economist and resident of Red Clover Township, Carlton County.


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Comments (36)

  1. Submitted by Pat Terry on 12/06/2019 - 03:17 pm.

    Yeah, I’m not really interested in compassion for and discourse with people who think its ok to separate immigrant children from parents, who are fine with stripping LGBT people of civil rights, who take away food stamps from children and deny sick people affordable healthcare.

    I’ll stick with the rancor, thank you very much. Don’t normalize what is happening in this country.

    • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/06/2019 - 09:38 pm.

      Right back atcha brother.

    • Submitted by Patrick Tice on 12/07/2019 - 07:35 am.

      I would add that it is extremely frustrating to communicate with people who have a disdain for reason and facts. This makes it difficult, perhaps impossible, to agree on the definitions of terms. The way I see it, my preference leans toward the practical: I respect science, learning, earned expertise, observation and reason, comity in discussion, respect and compassion for others whether they are like me or not, and progressive values in general. That is why it is unproductive to interact with someone who hates academics, laughs off science and reason in favor of superstition and conspiracy theories, engages in name-calling and childish “owning the libs” antics, and flirts with (or outright embraces) racism, nativism, and fascism.

      Where does one even begin with such people? Kindergarten socialization? Primary school science and history? Where?

    • Submitted by joe smith on 12/07/2019 - 08:23 am.

      Pat, unfortunately your response is becoming more of the norm in our society. To tackle one point of your argument and try for dialogue, what would you do with illegal aliens crossing our borders (illegally, not talking legal immigrants) with children? Flores agreement won’t allow children to be detained with parents on illegal border crossings.

    • Submitted by John Clark on 12/08/2019 - 10:29 pm.

      I would certainly have to agree that normalizing any of the social injustices mentioned, would be going totally in the wrong direction. But, also have to say, I’m not very convinced that more rancor is the answer to resolving these problems, or the increasing tribalism that is taking place in this country now. I think, as this commentary points out, that compassion, discourse and nonviolence can be effective methods to bring about change.

      Do these more civil courses of action have their inherent limitations? For example, did the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr., in his battle to push for civil rights in the 50s and 60s, significantly squelch the bigotry, or rampant racism that was very prominent then. Of course not. In fact, when he made his “I’ve got a dream” speech, he was very often denounced as an extremist, especially by the FBI. And only about 20 percent of the white population approved of the Freedom Riders’ actions, or his march on Washington, where he made this famous speech.

      But one thing is for sure: MLK’s demeanor and discourse was very civil. He did not take the low road, and resort to hateful rhetoric, or name calling, as his adversaries did then, (or as some of the more visible politicians do now). And headway and progress were clearly made in the 60s, especially in the forms of the Civil Rights Act, the Voting Rights Act, the Fair Housing Act, etc. Needless to say, this was a start, and we’ve still got a ways to go. But I don’t think MLK would have the national recognition or the inspiration he does now, had he followed the usual course of action, which, unfortunately, is often the more primitive path.

      BTW, in 1957, MLK wrote an enlightening paper entitled “Nonviolence and racial justice”. It’s content still seems very relevant, and is worth reading.

  2. Submitted by Mary Britton on 12/07/2019 - 07:16 am.

    Thank you for a very thoughtful and timely article. Compassion is a strength.

  3. Submitted by Joel Stegner on 12/07/2019 - 09:16 am.

    When dealing with those who support a would be dictator who takes visible pleasure in hurting people, all one really can do is try to appeal to their deeply submerged sense of right and wrong.

    I believe that affluent societies are best judged by the conditions to which they subject innocent children who grow up in poverty. There are millions of Americans who have decided that further depriving poor children of their basic needs to achieve lower taxes for the economic elite is acceptable.

    There was a second war in the 1960s that we lost – the war on poverty. Today, that one of five children grow up in poverty and for the most part remain there. This has had a far more devastating impact than our loss in SE Asia.

    If there was ever a good war, that is it, but very tough because it was and is a civil war fought against those who believe people have “earned” their poverty by making bad choices, when poverty is defined as lack of choices.

    We owe it to the next generation find solutions to other issues so we can address poverty. Just one example – contraception. It is stupid and immoral to deny contraception to women not ready to be mothers. Enabling women to chose a time to become a mom when they are better prepared is simply the only moral choice. It would immediately reduce our rate of child poverty.

    We have a society where millions can justify taking children away from their parents. This is not something we do only with refugees. Slavery was based on breaking up families, as were efforts to destroy Native American families.

    We can have polite discussions that achieve nothing or tough discussions in which people serious about addressing evil can pursue. The later can be very unpleasant, but have huge benefits if solutions are found. Do people have the courage to get real about our differences and debate morality?

  4. Submitted by Patricia Enstad on 12/07/2019 - 10:41 am.

    I am a teacher trained through the Center for Mindful Self-Compassion. Research by Kristin Neff and others shows that yes, we can learn compassion. However, there is a Yin and Yang of compassion – meaning there’s a very important place for fierce compassion that steps up to care for and protect, and work to alleviate suffering and create justice. That requires action, not just attitude examination. I found this article disappointing in its vision. What real life suggestions would this author have that would mirror the compassion in action found in the fictional TV show she admires?

  5. Submitted by Arthur Himmelman on 12/07/2019 - 10:43 am.

    Compassion and civility are appropriate for those who earn/deserve it, but not as a general principle. As a general principle, it is an unreasonable platitude of privilege for those who are denied their basic human needs or rights, Among countless Trump Administration examples is its recent decision to take over 1,000,000 very low income children off food assistance programs. Suggesting families experiencing such cruel treatment, and those fighting back with them, should be compassionate and civil is like telling them to bring a knife to a gun fight.

  6. Submitted by Barbara Dennis on 12/07/2019 - 12:14 pm.

    Very thoughtful commentary. It is increasingly difficult these days to have inter generational discussions. I hope we have someone young and progressive who says seniors may actually know a thing or two!

  7. Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 12/07/2019 - 01:39 pm.

    As someone who studies politics and polarization, I have noticed that too many people find the worst couple of traits/policies of the ‘other’ side and paint everyone on the other side as ‘that’ person. We had similar policies, people, and country a few decades ago. We had racists and homophobes. But we didn’t have the angst or the inability to have dinner with someone on the other side.

    People who cannot have a conversation with the other side are saying they cannot be like MLK, that they cannot be like Gandhi. Their excuses focus on someone else. This hides their inability to bend.

    • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/08/2019 - 09:14 am.

      You’re right, all those things existed in the past, the difference being those bad actors felt no pressure to change their bad behavior whilst hiding behind the protection of decorum. Why should letting bigots, ideologues, and generally all-around boorish individuals know that their behavior will no longer be tolerated, be considered a BAD idea?

      • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 12/08/2019 - 11:28 am.

        Exactly. In the past, since we did not paint all of ‘those’ people the same, the extremes stood out, and ‘those’ people did not get elected. Today, because we choose to label everyone as boorish, the extremes become fuzzy and we can’t differentiate between your man-on-the-street and someone truly boorish.

        If you are talking about tolerating a certain elected official, we are having separate conversations. My question is: how do you treat a supporter of an extremely boorish president/senator/representative from the opposite party? Would you have dinner with her?

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/08/2019 - 08:33 pm.

          I’m talking about everyone. Decorum is a facade that allows one to avoid dealing with the discomfort of addressing bad behavior. The sorts of folks I mentioned should be called out at every available opportunity as what they are, for as long as it takes them to amend their behavior. Attempting to agreeable with such only makes one complicit in the behavior.

          • Submitted by Ray J Wallin on 12/08/2019 - 08:57 pm.

            We are obviously having two separate conversations. I’m talking about being friendly to supporters with good behavior and you are talking about calling out bad behavior. While I agree with your comments, you have not stated your stance on my comments.

            • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/09/2019 - 11:42 am.

              I’ve not met many “supporters with good behavior” as it were, so I can’t tell you. Supporting the sorts of actions undertaken by modern conservatism is by definition an exercise is excusing bad behavior at its core, so any window dressing put on by those still interested in maintaining an acceptable “reputation”, is just that, window dressing.

          • Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/09/2019 - 08:32 am.

            “Decorum is a facade that allows one to avoid dealing with the discomfort of addressing bad behavior. ”

            Since you claim to be a big fan of addressing bad behavior in the without regard to discomfort, perhaps you’d agree it’s time to reinstate dueling.

  8. Submitted by William Hunter Duncan on 12/08/2019 - 09:57 am.

    I admit it is hard for me to feel compassion for a society that is so blithe about systemic pollution, pollinator, insects generally and bird extinction, racketeering in Education, Health Care, Corporations and banks, and an eternally self-justifying, eternal growth war/security complex, all of this tied to a business as usual economy hardly any hyper-partisans on either side of the political divide care to upset in any fundamental way, so distracted by political theatre and the myriad entertainments.

    But then, being human, it is hard to find compassion for my society when it is such a challenge to find compassion for myself.

  9. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/09/2019 - 10:05 am.

    How many of these moderate laments must we endure before these people realize that they’re completely missing the point?

    Listen, again and for the 100th time; the issue isn’t whether or not we CAN talk to each other. The crises is that one of our two political parties has descended into Neo-Fascism and is attacking our society, government, and democracy. You don’t work things out with Fascists by appealing to their sense of decency, honor, or compassion. How is this not obvious?

    Moderates have clearly failed to keep extremism in check, and they’ve failed spectacularly. We started with Reagan and Iran-Contra and we now have Trump in the White House. We’ve gone from Gingrich to McConnell. We’ve gone from George Shultz to Rudy Giuliani. We’ve gon from Republicans who recognized their constitutional duties to Fascists who want to keep their man in power no matter what. What part of this clear and obvious trend are “moderates” oblivious to and why?

    As Pat Terry keeps pointing out there is NO good reason to put children in cages, invite foreign influence into our elections, or promote a Russian intelligence operation that tries to blame Ukraine for 2016 election interference. It’s NOT that we don’t understand these people… we understand them perfectly- they’re FASCISTS.

    Most people are uncomfortable with conflict but conflict is not always avoidable, nor should it always be avoided. People of conscience do not seek “dialogue” with evil, they oppose evil. Sure, you can exchange pleasantries with anyone, if you avoid issues of substance or disagreement you can talk to anyone for hours. Most of us CAN do that, it’s not a “moderate” or elite super power.

    The problem is OUR president is literally trying to reform an AXIS alliance, he’s attacking democracy and embracing dictatorship all over the planet and Republicans are backing him 110%. These people will not stop until they tear up our Constitution. If this is to be stopped, WE must stop it. And you don’t stop it by dialoguing with them or having nice conversations on aeroplanes.

    Let me be clear at this point, I’m not advocating any kind of violent confrontation, when I say they must be stopped I’m referring to legal,social, political, and electoral defeat, not physical confrontation. However, if we fail to stop them politically and legally we will have to contend with their violent natures and oppression inevitably. If you’re uncomfortable with THIS, you’re going to have a complete meltdown when THAT happens.

    If you want to go “talk” to these people who are attacking our way of life and putting children in cages go ahead but don’t pretend you’re working any problems or offering any solutions because all your really doing is empowering Fascists. That’s WHY the more you guys “talk” to these people the more divisive, extreme, and powerful they become.

    Having conversations with people is a mundane social skill; it’s not a solution to existential political crises. A guy walks into a room wearing a Nazi uniform; you don’t walk over and comment on his “interesting” clothing and ask if he got his armband on Amazon? “Oh, so you’re a virulent racist? How interesting. I’m curious, where do virulent racists buy their coffee?” This is how you end up touring concentration camps some day.

    We are no longer living the moderate bi-partisan comfort of days of yore. If anyone is trying to convince you that we need to join forces, get organized, and stop this neo-fascist threat rather than dialogue with it… I’m afraid YOU’RE part of the problem. Stop pretending you’re the solution.

    The truth is that this “moderate” dialoguing was never a solution, it actually brought these people onto our political landscape and put them in the White House. Instead of complaining about those who are “woke”, you need to wake-up before this becomes a full blown nightmare.

  10. Submitted by Connor OKeefe on 12/09/2019 - 11:23 am.

    “A guy walks into a room wearing a Nazi uniform; you don’t walk over and comment on his “interesting” clothing and ask if he got his armband on Amazon? “Oh, so you’re a virulent racist? How interesting. I’m curious, where do virulent racists buy their coffee?”

    In my opinion, the inability to detect the difference between encountering a guy wearing a Nazi uniform, and calling everyone with a differing opinion a “FASCIST” or “Nazi” is fueling the civil discord.

    Although I encourage pursuing it, not everyone has perfected the ability to laugh off the inchoate invective of mindless zealotry.

    • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/09/2019 - 02:20 pm.

      I’m more concerned about inability to recognize a Nazi (or Neo-Fascist) in the room leading to a 4th Reich.

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 12/12/2019 - 11:36 am.

      If it talks like a fascist and walks like a fascist and approvingly quotes fascist news sources and becomes gleeful at the thought of depriving needy people of part of the social safety net and never met a war it didn’t like and becomes a deficit hawk only when there is talk of helping ordinary Americans instead of beefing up our already overweight military or giving tax cuts to the rich and misuses the label “Christian” to promote policies that are 180° from what Jesus taught–guess what, it’s a fascist.

  11. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/09/2019 - 11:50 am.

    I’ll make one more observation, and frankly I’m embarrassed that I’ve not already pointed this out, nor have I seen anyone else point it out: The fact is we keep seeing these appeals to dialogue with right wing extremist from people who have obviously made no legitimate attempt to dialogue with the right wing extremist among us.

    The fact is that those of us who no longer talk to these people to the extent that we’ve stopped talking to them; have done so precisely because we tried talking to them. Once you get past the pleasantries like we both like 80’s music, or the movie “Jaws”, or hope the Twin’s win their next game and have a good season- you start running into their intolerance, racism, sexism, and religious bigotry. You get the part where they want to build concentration camps for immigrants and put kids in cages, or create a Christian theocracy, and turn women into waling incubators with no rights to privacy and all fun stops pretty much right there.

    In fact it’s kind weird to see a political scientist go in search of compassion among Fascist or even Republicans. Anyone who HAS actually engaged these people in substantive conversation would know better.

    The Republican Party (and many conservatives) have been engaged in a very public, successful, and concerted effort to purge compassion from their mentality and ideology for decades. When the “Republican” branch of the party isn’t condemning “entitlements” and attacking those who rely on them, the Libertarians branch is promoting selfishness and dystopian meritocracy. These people see compassion as a weakness that promotes irresponsible choices and those who need services as failures who have earned their poverty and suffering. Those of us who’ve been “dialoguing” with them have known this for decades.

    I can’t imagine why someone like Professor Markusen would go there looking for compassion in the first place? It’s pretty clear that those who lament the loss of this dialogue have not attempted it themselves. When we stop talking to people we have reasons for doing so, we’re not just closing our minds.

    And I’ll just add to this: If you’re REALLY looking for compassion, it’s easy to find. You just have talk to liberals who wear their hearts on their sleeves rather than Fascist who wear bands on their arms. You would think a political scientist would know which end of the political spectrum is oriented towards compassion? Yet we keep seeing these laments by self declared “moderates” who worry that we’re no longer talking to Fascists.

    It’s not my job to classify people. But those who seem to be more preoccupied with opening and promoting dialogues with Fascists than they are liberals like Warren or AOC, are not “moderates”. I can’t say what they are, but they’re NOT in the “center”. If you’re looking for compassion from Tom Emmer instead of Ilhan Omar, or if you’re more comfortable classifying Omar as a “radical” than Emmer… you’re not a moderate or a “centrist”.

    • Submitted by Henry Johnson on 12/11/2019 - 09:53 pm.

      Wow, that’s a whole lot of words to say you despise, hate, and blame everyone who doesn’t share your near-exact political beliefs and based on your ‘red-flag-in-front-of-a-bull’ reaction to this article encouraging dialog between opposite political groups, you also demand complete adherence to your social beliefs as well, in order to avoid the wrath of your nonsensical fictional narratives, and your bashing and blaming.

      I’m guessing that the author of the article you hate so much is probably as liberal as you are, but unlike you, she’s the type you described in your post regarding liberals, warm and compassionate, and therefore, she’s on your list of ‘enemies’ as well – she failed your required “must be just like me socially” test.

      As for your ridiculous claims that ‘moderates’ and ‘centrists’ are to blame for the rise of extremism and Trumpism in the republican party – that’s just a projection of your hatred for moderates and centrists I believe, expressed ad nauseum in post after post now, and not based on any logical reasoning.

      The increase in extreme right-wing bias and the rise of Trumpism can be explained instead in a logical fashion I believe by two factors:

      First – The near virtual taking-over of the republican party over the last 20 or 30 years by the religious right, who I believe tend to be generally more inflexible in their beliefs, more extremist, less convinced by factual evidence, and less inclined to compromise with Democrats than the republican party from pre-1980 or pre-1990, which was more focused on fiscal conservatism in government and more favorably inclined to be flexible and to reach reasonable compromise with democrats on important issues.

      Secondly – and probably even much more important, consider the dramatic rise in the devoted and MASSIVE Fox news audience, the devoted Rush Limbaugh radio audience, and all the other right-wing outlets that have become a huge 24 hour a day propaganda machine for the rise of extremism, with conspiracy theories to suit every republican goal, and to support and encourage Trumpism in every way.

      They are probably the primary source of news for a large percentage of the republican membership I’d bet, that a huge difference from Nixon’s day, when their news came from ABC, CBS and NBC.

      In fact, Trump went from being a reality TV show host, to being a politician, by using that Fox news/ right-wing media empire to tout and promote himself and the “birther” movement.

      So by the time he decided to run for president he already had a large group of political fans, and a pre-fabricated base of supporters, thanks to that media empire! That media empire launched Trump into politics.

      The rise in the power, and audience size of the Fox news/Rush Limbaugh/etc. media empire tracks EXACTLY I’d say with the increase in extremism and the rise of Trumpism – they have gone hand in hand.

      We don’t need to turn to some baseless, illogical theory based on your dislike of moderates, to explain the rise of extremism and Trumpism – these are two very logical explanations as to how that rise happened I think..

      So instead of continuing your attempt at alienating moderates and centrists with your bashing, and your ridiculous and false narratives about how they are to blame for everything, why don’t you consider that maybe you are being counter-productive to the democratic cause, by perhaps turning some on-the-fence moderates and centrists away from the democratic party and towards the Trump-publican party, by your continual attacks on them and by blaming them for things they had nothing to do with in your posts!

      You’re hurting your own cause, because as much as you despise them, the moderate and centrist voters in the swing states represent the votes that are up-for-grabs there, and will therefore be the biggest factor in determining the outcome of the 2020 presidential election, as well as the open senate and house seats in many areas of the country – especially since the electoral college favors rural states and ignores the popular vote.

      As for your claim that moderates want to dialog more with fascists than with AOC and Warren, I think that’s just another of your fictional narratives.

      In fact, I’d say the truth is more that AOC and Warren, and you for that matter, don’t want to dialog with moderates – moderates are irrationally seen more as the ‘enemy’ to be defeated – you’re own non-stop bashing of moderates and centrists, and your blaming them for all that’s wrong, in post after post, proves that I think. Bashing and blaming is not dialoging Paul.

      And consider for example AOC’s “hit-list” (her words) of moderate democratic representatives in congress that she wants to eliminate and dispose of.

      In what world is loudly and publicly proclaiming that you have “hit-list” to get rid of moderates, an attempt to “dialog” with them?

      It’s not, in fact, just the opposite.

      And if she manages for example to eliminate a moderate democrat by supporting an ultra-liberal primary candidate in Missouri for example, democrats will probably lose control of the house, because most likely, only moderate democrats have a chance of winning in all but big-city congressional districts in these swing states and predominantly rural areas of the country! Nice strategy AOC!

      So she, like you, though you think for some reason must think that you’re somehow benefiting the liberal cause by your attacks against moderates, I think in truth are being a pretty good friend to Trump and company.

      And I would bet money that if you talked to a group of 10 seasoned, experienced and very competent republican election strategists, and asked them what they thought about AOC, representative Omar, and the ‘squad’ in general, I’m quite sure one of them would very quickly say “Oh, we love them!, they make doing our jobs SO much easier!”, and the other 9 would most likely chuckle at that and agree immediately and wholeheartedly.

      I don’t doubt that her intentions, and yours as well, are very good, but acting in a well thought-out and logical way for the good of the democratic cause, not necessarily so much, at least in my opinion..

      • Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/12/2019 - 12:11 pm.

        Thanks for the advice Henry but I’ll continue to oppose Fascism rather than seek to accommodate it.

        I’ll assume that you’re failure to comprehend my thesis is at least in part due to my poor representation. I’ll keep trying to find a better way to explain myself.

        I will say that I’m not hating on moderates, I’m just making an observation that I believe may be critical to our survival as a civilized democracy. I would think that it’s pretty clear that if I’m attacking anyone here, I’m attacking Fascists, not moderates.

        I’m simply observing that moderates have failed to keep right wing extremism in check for decades. Sure increasing right wing influence and emergence of Fox news etc. are part of the Fascist emergence in the US; my point is that the moderate response to this growing threat has been completely ineffectual. You’re continued insistence that a failed praxis is the only possible salvation is probably irrational. That’s not “hate” or a false narrative, it’s just historical analysis.

        If you guys are so good at resisting extremism, how did this crises emerge? You can blame Fox and Christian Fundamentalists but what was the “moderate” response to Fox and Christian Fundamentalists? If you had or have an effective response, why is Donald Trump in the White House? How did the extremist Republicans capture so much power? And if you don’t have an effective response, how you claim to be the only guys in the room with an effective response now?

        It looks to me like you’re confirming my observation about moderates who are more comfortable reaching out to neo-fascists than they are liberals when I read your comments about AOC. I see you complaining about AOC’s “hit list” as if Republicans are promoting moderate Democrats all over the place. I see you complaining that AOC won’t talk to you, but if that’s true, then no one is talking to you.

        Or, conversely If it turns out that Fascist are more inclined to talk to moderates than AOC, THAT begs the question as to WHY? Are you telling us that Donald Trunp, Mitch, or Emmer are more reasonable than AOC?

        And if neither the right wing nor the left is willing to talk to moderates, then obviously the moderate claim to be the nexus of meaningful communication is somewhat daft. Again, if liberals don’t want to talk you but conservatives do… you’re not a “moderate”. And if no one wants to talk to you, you can’t claim to be the big conversationalist in the room. You can’t claim to be the guys who can talk to anyone while complaining that someone (anyone) refuses to talk to you.

        Finally you seem to trying to give me all kinds of advice now to convince people like yourself of others that they need to reject and oppose Fascism. If I or anyone else needs to “convince” you or find a more palatable way to encourage this resistance, you’re part of the problem.

        Listen, people get confused about “moderation” and “centrism” and “objectivity”. If you conclude or assume for instance that Jews and Nazis were equally responsible for the Holocaust; that’s NOT being moderate or objective. Likewise pretending that Fascists and liberals are equally responsible for the current crises isn’t a “moderate” or “centrists” position, and it’s no pathway to resolution.

        • Submitted by Matt Haas on 12/12/2019 - 10:50 pm.

          A better condensation of the point to be sure. It’s almost as if the centrists believe that by just sitting around and doing nothing, good must eventually prevail. They live in a strange, nostalgic fairy tale, seemingly believing that one simply needs to repeatedly remind folks that the “good old days” were much better and more civil than today’s climate and somehow it will rekindle that old warm fuzzy feeling in reality. Personally, I take it as a sign that they have given up all hope, resigning themselves to a future lost to forces they just haven’t the energy or strategy to oppose, preferring to ensconce themselves in a comfortable cocoon of fond remembrances of past glory, oddly devoid of any cognizance failures that occurred concurrently with that glory. Essentially they’ve adopted, in whole, the philosophy that animates the Trumpist base, the future is too complicated and scary, best to reside in the past, with all that includes, the sole distinction being their belief that THEIR nostalgia driven delusion is somehow cleaner and more healthy than that of those lot. A pity that those in charge (or desiring to be in charge) of the future left to future generations is so disdainful of the idea of a future at all.

      • Submitted by Rachel Kahler on 12/13/2019 - 09:25 am.

        I am 100% a fan of yours, now, Henry. This is spot on.

  12. Submitted by Henry Johnson on 12/12/2019 - 10:56 pm.

    Oh boy, you continue with the wild exaggerations and assumptions!
    I’ve come to believe this chat room is pretty much a big waste of time, since my impression is that except for those who have pretty much the exact point of view and social outlook even, no one convinces anyone else of anything they didn’t already believe.
    You and I are a perfect example, because although you and I probably agree on most political policies somewhere in the 80% or more range, from my point of view, you tend to fly off the handle and make these wild baseless assumptions and claims, so what’s the point?

    And of course the drank-the-kool-aid Trump folks on this board don’t believe anything you and I might say, and vice-versa, so it’s all just a big waste of time, so this is probably my last post.

    Anyway, I’ll reply to some of your statements:
    ” Thanks for the advice Henry but I’ll continue to oppose Fascism rather than seek to accommodate it. ”
    There you go – I’ve probably written at least half a dozen posts on this board in which I strongly and at length indicated my opposition to the Trump regime and it’s fascist tendencies, which I believe you read because you responded to some of them and were actively posting on the same thread as myself at the time. So I have opposed it, just as you have, and I do not “seek to accommodate it”. Wow, this is what I mean by wild fictional narratives. I am thinking about trying to win votes for the democratic side in 2020, and so I said in one of these posts about dialoging with the other side that “not everyone who voted for Trump is a fascist”. That got me called a fascist-lover by you essentially.

    But I said that because there are LOTS of people, I know some of them, many of them who for much of their lives voted democratic, who decided to give Trump a try for various reasons in 2016, or centrist republicans who voted for him.

    Now those are people that if I chatted with at a social event as was described in the articles, I might be able to help convince some to move to the democratic side in 2020.

    So in my mind when these articles where the authors have talked about dialoging between people of different political views, I think you’ve kind of jumped to this extreme interpretation of that, such that you think the articles are saying let’s all make nice with Hitler. I don’t think that was the authors intent.

    I do agree with you that there’s probably nothing to be gained by wasting time talking with a true hard-core, rabid Trumpite, but again, I believe LOTS of people who may be probably intending to vote for Trump in 2020, are actually NOT fascists, many are actually very nice people, and frankly many just don’t pay all that much attention to politics, so they simply don’t realize how bad things are with this administration.

    So while you’re imagining these articles talking about being nicey-nice with hard-core Hitler-like fascists, because my main concern is democrats winning in 2020, I I have been seeing them as an opportunity to potentially influence those that are open-minded at least a little, to see what you and I to some extent when we look at Trump and the Trump-publicans and perhaps win a vote or two for the democratic side. That is not “accommodating fascists”, it’s more like trying to turn them away from it.

    Now you keep bringing up this charge that moderates want to dialog more with fascists than liberals, but since my outlook is how can I convince people to vote democratic, well I assumed that liberals would already be voting democratic in 2020!

    Although maybe that’s not a good assumption, maybe you didn’t vote for HIllary Clinton in 2016 (and that’s a problem I would argue if that’s true).

    For me, I will be voting for any candidate that the democratic party puts forward, as I did in 2016, although I really disliked HIllary Clinton (she actually WAS crooked IMO) and she was the lesser of two evils clearly to me (and yes, I too fault the party machine for favoring her in the primaries)

    As for your charge, and sorry it really is ridiculous, that moderates are responsible for the rise of extremism and Trumpism, I still fail to see any sound logic supporting that.

    You reluctantly acknowledge that the meteoric rise of Fox news and the other right wing media juggernauts as if that was no big dieal, but come on now – that’s played a HUGE role and is a very logical explanation.

    And you say “you guys failed to stop the rise of extremism”, regarding moderates.

    To which I reply “you guys” (ultra-liberals) failed to stop it too!!

    It’s a free country, neither liberal democrats or moderate democrats have the ability to stop the large block of right-wing inclined folks in this country from deciding to tune in every night to Fox news or Rush Limbaugh, and get their brains washed with nonsense conspiracy theories, some coming from Moscow like the Ukraine hacked the DNC nonsense, every night.

    How were moderates supposed to “oppose” that? Crash into peoples houses and say “hey!, turn that off!”.

    Why aren’t you as a liberal stopping that? And once these right-wing media outlets had a large and devoted following, they started winning elections for candidates, like Trump, who are actually part and parcel of that media movement.

    Another factor, I’ve read on the internet stories from quite a few liberals that they didn’t vote for HRC, they didn’t like her, and refused to vote for her. Maybe you didn’t even? Alrighty then!

    Yet, we moderates who did vote for her, are the ones who “failed to stop the rise of extremism”?? Come on, I think it might be more logical to say liberals failed to stop the rise, based on their failure to vote.

    I’ve pointed this out numerous times, but you keep pointedly ignoring it – the electoral college and our senate system, which gives the same representation to Utah as New York, FAVORS, those who tend to be either republicans, or centrists.

    If you are claiming “you guys failed to stop the rise of extremism” because too many elections were lost to them, I think you’re very flawed assumption is that moderates had been more liberal, that more elections would have been won.

    But you have ZERO logical basis for that assumption. You might claim that Al Gore lost for example because he wasn’t liberal enough.

    However, I would argue two things regarding that – one, he almost certainly would have won if the 3% of ultra-liberals who voted for Ralph Nader had voted for Gore instead – Florida was lost by 500 votes and 98,000 voted for Nader! They knew Nader had no chance of winning, but they decided they’d rather ‘make a statement’ by voting for Nader, rather than vote for some actually far more in alignment with their political views. So I would argue, I think with more logic on my side, that liberals cost that election, NOT moderates.

    Secondly, since the swing states that decide presidential election are by definition centrist, it’s possible that Gore lost because he was TOO liberal in the views he presented. The truth is we don’t know for sure one way or the other, but if you’re honest at all, I think you’d have to agree that there’s no real basis to claim with any certainty at all that those swing states would have been won if he’d been more liberal.

    Another fact against you’re I believe irrationally blaming moderates for the rise of republican extremism is just the fact that the DECK IS STACKED quite a bit in the republicans favor in our national elections.

    The house allocates it’s seats by population, but the senate has equal representation for each state (bad for democrats, good for republicans).

    Similarly, the presidential election limits the influence of any one state, so again, this favors the rural republican states.

    As you know we’ve had several elections now where the republican candidate won, when in fact the democratic candidate WON THE POPULAR VOTE. That’s in fact one reason why we have Trump, and the tragic Iraq war too!

    So there is in fact a bias favoring republicans and so while your irrationally blaming moderates for those losses, in truth the democratic party as a whole is fighting an uphill battle anyway because of our election system.

    It’s not necessarily either moderates or liberals FAULT that more elections aren’t won for democrats, so I see no need for the blame-game you’re playing – the electoral system itself is setup to make it an uphill battle, and sorry to say, much of this country is republican leaning, so with that electoral bias, it is a tough fight.

    My larger point is that I’m not sure what you think your achieving for the party by blaming moderates for this that and the other thing, that does NOT in my opinion make moderates want to become liberals, if that’s what you’re thinking. But if they were on-the-fence anyway it might lead them to say “well to hell with you liberal, I’m going to vote republican!”, just because they are pissed off at being blamed for something they had nothing to do with (the rise of Trumpism).

    Anyway, end of useless rant, maybe none of this will make any sense to you, since I’ve said much of it before. Let’s hope our side wins in 2020. I continue to believe the liberal wing would benefit by placing more stock in carefully considering the realities of our convoluted and rural-area-biased system, and doing election strategizing based on that, but maybe it will turn out okay, I hope so.

    I agree completely with your assessment that our democracy is under grave threat, and that’s why my bias is more towards just WINNING in 2020, rather than winning with a liberal candidate promoting every liberal policy under the sun, polices that might turn-off voters in those swing state and rural areas we need to win based on that systemic bias.

    I will continue to try to influence those I know in real life who seem open to being convinced, to vote democratic, but as for the board, again, it’s seeming like it’s kind of a time waster, so this may be my last post.


  13. Submitted by Paul Udstrand on 12/13/2019 - 12:31 pm.

    Henry, if you’re ready to fight Fascism let’s get together and do it. I’d stop worrying about AOC’s alleged hit list and worry more about the Republican hit list if I was you.

    We’re not talking the 2016 election or vote, we’re way past that.

    “But I said that because there are LOTS of people, I know some of them, many of them who for much of their lives voted democratic, who decided to give Trump a try for various reasons in 2016, or centrist republicans who voted for him.

    Now those are people that if I chatted with at a social event as was described in the articles, I might be able to help convince some to move to the democratic side in 2020.”

    My point is simple, anyone who hasn’t already arrived at this conclusion and would still consider voting Trump isn’t a “moderate” or a “centrist” of any kind and will not be swayed by a veneer of civility. It’s not like Trump’s presidency has been a secret of any kind. Moderates are chasing votes they’ll never get instead of working with the majority that already wants to vote for someone other than Trump.

    If you want join forces with liberals and put a stop to this crises no one is stopping you, let me be the first to say: “Welcome”. But you want to dictate the terms of the discourse, restrict it to some narrow range of failed policies, and marginalize liberals, a lot of us are going take a pass on that. If you want to talk we can talk, but if you want to dictate… not so much.

    The only other comment I’ll add, and it’s basically echo of Mr. Haas: You’re moderation seems to permeated with defeatism. In a variety of ways you basically blame moderate failures and defeats on the “system” or human nature, or whatever as if you COULDN’T have won. Well, why would let a bunch of who don’t think they can win control the “Party”? But really the flaw in your logic is that you’re assuming that if you can’t or couldn’t defeat fascism no one can defeat Fascism. THAT’S a false narrative. All I’m saying is that we don’t need moderate apologists, we need liberal champions.

    To put a finer point on it, I’m talking about a moderate/centrist delusion of infallibility. The logical and intellectual error in moderate and “centrist” thinking is that by avoiding “extremes” they can’t be wrong. The “best” path is always the middle path. The truth is that if you trying to a particular destination you have choose the RIGHT path, you don’t split the difference and wander around Iowa looking for Chicago. This is how moderates end up handing power to Neo-Fascist. By continually rejecting the BEST policies in favor of those Republicans will agree with, they have’t brought us to the middle of the of road, we’ve taken the off ramp to the right.

    But again, if you guys want to join forces and put an end to this crises, we stand ready to work you. However if Obama want ‘s to sit around contemplate attacks on Bernie Sanders, that’s NOT working with us. These attacks on Omar and AOC are not examples of cooperation.

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