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It’s Important to Always Ignore Thomas Friedman

Photograph Source: Chatham House – CC BY 2.0

Whenever I read a column by the pustule called Thomas Friedman, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. To laugh at the hilarious attempts of an anthropoid carbuncle to sound vaguely human and Serious, or to cry at the fact that this abscess on the body politic is admired and deemed Serious by…all the polyps and tumors that run the media, the government, the corporate sector, the country, and the world. Even decent people who are influenced by the mass media are tricked into thinking that the incoherent ravings of an anti-human make sense! “I think Tom has made some excellent points here!” a friend of mine emails me, in reference to his recent column “Trump’s Going to Get Re-elected, Isn’t He?

Ugh, where to begin? I know I’m a little slow on the uptake regarding this latest Friedmanite obscenity—it was published on July 16—but I had refrained from reading it. “For once, be stronger than your masochism!” But I finally read it and decided it provided an opportunity to refute the fascist fallacies of the Moderates who run the Democratic Party and virtually everything else.

Now, it goes without saying that most Moderates, at least the powerful ones, are not acting in good faith. Their commitment to Moderation is less a function of their desire to unseat Trump (“The average voter is a moderate!”) than of their desire to maintain their power and avoid upsetting the status quo. When a Friedman says to Democrats, “please, spare me the revolution! It can wait. Win the presidency, hold the House and narrow the spread in the Senate, and a lot of good things still can be accomplished,” it’s clear that the bedrock of his Moderateness—which is just another word for conservatism, which is just another word for fascism—is his revulsion at the prospect of radical change. Not his pious hope to get rid of Trump.

“Dear Democrats,” little Tommy writes, as if he’s addressing his diary: “This is not complicated! Just nominate a decent, sane person [i.e., not a leftist], one committed to reunifying [?] the country and creating more good jobs [oh, you mean like Bernie Sanders?], a person who can gain the support of the independents, moderate Republicans [who don’t exist] and suburban women who abandoned Donald Trump in the midterms and thus swung the House of Representatives to the Democrats and could do the same for the presidency. And that candidate can win!

Oh, like Hillary Clinton won? That was your model moderate, moron. Remember how well she did against the Orange Blob, who should have been the most easily defeated candidate in recent history?

It would be surprising how slow some people are, if we didn’t already know it’s hard to get someone to understand something when his salary depends on his not understanding it.

But while the Friedmans of the world don’t make arguments in good faith and shouldn’t be taken seriously, there doubtless are Moderates out there who should and can be convinced of the error of their ways. Both the strategic and the moral error. Strategically, for example, one might point out that, whatever this or that poll says on this or that issue, Americans tend to respect strong, committed, proud leadership with a clear vision for the future—even if they don’t necessarily agree with every aspect of that vision. The projection of self-certainty, moral clarity, honesty, and genuine concern for ordinary people is telegenic and polls well, as attested by Bernie Sanders’ greater popularity than Trump and Clinton in 2016. A hemming and hawing, “flip-flopping,” vacillating, calculating Moderate like the Clintons and John Kerry in 2004 often evokes contempt. (Obama was an exception because of his charisma, his “symbolic” skin color, and his hopey-changey rhetoric that people were hoodwinked into believing.)

In 2016, both the Moderate Republicans (Jeb, Rubio, Christie, Kasich, etc.) and the Moderate Democrat were dismally defeated by a shouting blubbering giant orange infant racist sex abuser who knew nothing about anything. Why? Newsflash: people want change. Radical change. They’re screaming for it. Trump was change (they hoped), like Obama was change (they hoped). In 2020, guess what: people will still want change, especially those who have been disappointed or disgusted by Trump.

This desire, by the way, is one reason that the horrifyingly “radical” Medicare for All polls well, and would likely poll even better if more people understood it (e.g., the fact that Sanders’ version would eliminate premiums and deductibles and bring down overall costs).

In short, let’s put to rest the notion that the Average Voter wants Moderation. A poll here and there might suggest that, just as other polls don’t. Questions about the Average Voter’s preferences cannot be answered in any precise or scientific way, and anyone who claims he knows how people will vote is a fraud. What we do know is that the (relative) left had significant victories in 2018 and came close to winning in other races (Stacey Abrams, Andrew Gillum, Beto O’Rourke), in several instances likely losing because of Republican foul play.

The pundits were wrong in 2016, and there’s no reason to believe they’re right this time around.

Even more important than electoral strategy is something that the Friedman anthropoid has little knowledge of: morality. “I was shocked,” he writes, quivering in righteous indignation, “that so many [in the June Democratic presidential debates] were ready to decriminalize illegal entry into our country. I think people should have to ring the doorbell before they enter my house or my country.” The usual nuanced analysis.

“I was shocked,” he continues, bewailing the injustice of the world, “at all those hands raised in support of providing comprehensive health coverage to undocumented immigrants. I think promises we’ve made to our fellow Americans should take priority, like to veterans in need of better health care.” How noble of you. Too bad you haven’t explained why the two goals are mutually exclusive.

This lack of concern for the downtrodden exposes the hollowness of the characteristic appeal to radicals to “wait.” “You’re going too fast!” the Moderate says. “You’re going to screw everything up if you don’t learn to be patient. Be reasonable! Act like the 1960s’ white liberals whom Martin Luther King Jr. excoriated in his Letter from a—oh, wait. Um… No. Yes. Act like them: he was wrong and they were right.”

The Moderate is either unaware or doesn’t care that every worthy political goal has been achieved only because “radicals” were clamoring for a revolution (or at least a mild Sanders-type “political revolution”). American independence? Those despised radicals Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and the rest—and even more so the ordinary farmers, artisans, sailors, laborers, and women—got fed up with “patience” and severed their ties with the imperial power, heedless of the sage counsel of conservatives.

White male suffrage? Agitators in the mode of Thomas Skidmore and Thomas Wilson Dorr demanded that it be granted. Patience and politeness would have got them nothing.

The end of slavery? Fiery abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, Frederick Douglass, and John Brown had the courage to ignore the Thomas Friedmans of their day and finally, after decades of struggle, stirred a nation to action.

Women’s suffrage? The Elizabeth Cady Stantons and Susan B. Anthonys, the Emmeline Pankhursts and Carrie Chapman Catts, organized and organized until the powerful could no longer ignore them.

The birth of the U.S. welfare state? Millions of unemployed in the Great Depression marched in the streets, resisted evictions, terrified authorities, demanded action, until the ruling class consented to the Social Security Act as a necessary concession to forestall revolution.

The civil rights movement? You can imagine what would have happened if activists had agreed to “wait”: Jim Crow would still exist today.

And so it goes, time and time again, always and forever. Feudalism collapsed not “automatically” from the spread of capitalism but because millions of peasants and urban workers resisted it and fought against it, from the 17th to the 20th centuries, until it was gone.

Today, if activists and political figures don’t talk ceaselessly and heedlessly about Medicare for All, a $15 national minimum wage, the abolition of ICE, abolition of student debt, free education for all, radical action to tackle global warming, demilitarization of the U.S. budget, and a dozen other urgent issues, nothing good will happen. The status quo will continue, and society will, in the end, collapse. Wild misery and injustice will only spread and consume the country and the world.

In order to “normalize” “radical” ideas, you have to talk about them. Wherever and whenever you can. The more you talk about them, the more likely it is that people will understand them, accept them, and eventually demand them. They’ll always be “too radical” if you put them on the back burner and focus on more “immediate” goals that are supposedly—but not really—in conflict with them.

Both strategically and morally, it is imperative for Democrats to move to the left, much further than they have. The more of them adopt the policies of “the Squad” (or rather more left-wing policies than the Squad’s), the more hope there is for the country. Ultimately, of course, the Democratic Party will likely remain “history’s second-most enthusiastic capitalist party,” but individual Democrats at least can try to break the mold and galvanize resistance.

As for little Tommy Friedman (he’s still learning how to write) and his Moderate pundit playmates, I’d only say to them: your grotesque amorality is rivaled only by your intellectual immaturity. Had you been writing in the 1850s, you’d be shameful little “compromise”-obsessed historical footnotes. As, indeed, you will undoubtedly be seen decades from now.

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Chris Wright has a Ph.D. in U.S. history from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and is the author of Notes of an Underground HumanistWorker Cooperatives and Revolution: History and Possibilities in the United States, and Finding Our Compass: Reflections on a World in Crisis. His website is www.wrightswriting.com.

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