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Thursday, February 23, 2023

February 23, 2023: Non-favorite Trends: Circular Firing Squads

[For this year’s annual post-Valentine’s non-favorites series, I wanted to highlight some current (and in most cases longstanding) trends that really gripe my cookies. Add your non-favorites to a crowd-sourced weekend airing of grievances that’s always one of my favorite posts of the year, ironically enough!]

On the difference between debate and division, and why it matters a great deal.

The comedian Will Rogers once famously remarked, when asked about his political affiliation, “I am not a member of any organized party—I am a Democrat.” That was in the 1930s, so it’s fair to say that for at least the majority of the 20th century—and most definitely into the first couple decades of the 21st—the big tent of the Democratic Party has also been a notoriously noisy one. While some of those party members who have made the most noise have ended up rightly unable to find a home in the party—I’m thinking of the 1948 Dixiecrats in particular here, without whose blatantly racist views and white supremacist ideologies the party was distinctly better off—the vast majority have remained, constituting a political community with nearly as many internal differences and debates as external contrasts with its official adversaries.

I’m entirely good with that—a political party isn’t a religion, much less a cult, and should never demand nor require rigid or unthinking allegiance to anything or anyone (and certainly not to, I dunno, orange conmen). Moreover, I genuinely love the big tent goal, as I think we can and should debate a wide range of policy priorities and principles while still pulling together toward the goal of forming a more perfect union. Whatever their flaws and failings—and they were more than a few—the American Framers most definitely achieved that multi-layered purpose, debating famously and ceaselessly (if not quite as musically as recent representations have portrayed the process) yet eventually and consistently helping push the new nation forward. Some of my favorite arguments have been political ones with fellow lifelong Democrats—my parents very much among them—and I like to think that my hometown frenemy Thomas Jefferson would have very much approved.

But here’s the thing: debate and division might be on the same spectrum, but they are in very different locations. That’s particularly true when it comes to the “pulling together” part of the formula I articulated above—if we see ourselves as divided from someone else, we’re almost certainly not seeing them as allies in a cause, as those with whom we want or need to pull together. It seems to me that here in 2022, far too many of my fellow folks on the political left see themselves as divided from many others on the left, and indeed would define those others as opponents rather than members of a raucous big tent. I call that phenomenon the “circular firing squad,” our tendency to shoot at each other rather than at those against whom we are genuinely battling in our quest to move the nation forward. And the thing with a circular firing squad is, all of its participants end up wounded at best, destroyed at worst, and certainly not having achieved any of their goals. All of which makes this trend one of my least favorites on our political landscape.

Last non-favorite trend tomorrow,


PS. Thoughts on this non-favorite? Other non-favorites of any kind you’d share?

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