Opinion | The Gerontocracy of the Democratic Party Doesn’t Understand That We’re at the Brink – The New York Times

Credit…Desiree Rios for The New York Times

If you want a sense of what separates much of the leadership of the Democratic Party from many of its supporters — of what illustrates their profound disconnect from younger cohorts of liberal and progressive voters — you could do much worse than to read this recent statement from Senator Dianne Feinstein of California.

“Some things take longer than others, and you can only do what you can do at a given time,” she said in an interview with Rebecca Traister of New York magazine. “That does not mean you can’t do it at another time,” she continued, “and so one of the things you develop is a certain kind of memory for progress: when you can do something in terms of legislation and have a chance of getting it through, and when the odds are against it, meaning the votes and that kind of thing.”

“So,” Feinstein concluded, “I’m very optimistic about the future of our country.”

This entire comment was, in Traister’s analysis, a damning example of the sanguine complacency that seems to mark much of the gerontocratic leadership of the Democratic Party.

I agree.

What’s missing from party leaders, an absence that is endlessly frustrating to younger liberals, is any sense of urgency and crisis — any sense that our system is on the brink. Despite mounting threats to the right to vote, the right to an abortion and the ability of the federal government to act proactively in the public interest, senior Democrats continue to act as if American politics is back to business as usual.

Earlier this year at the National Prayer Breakfast, to give another example, President Biden praised Senator Mitch McConnell, the minority leader, as a “man of your word” and a “man of honor.”

“Thank you for being my friend,” Biden said to a man who is almost singularly responsible for the destruction of the Senate as a functional lawmaking body and whose chief accomplishment in public life is the creation of a far-right Supreme Court majority that is now poised to roll American jurisprudence back to the 19th century.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is similarly enamored of this rhetoric of bipartisan comity in the face of a Republican Party whose members are caught in the grip of a cult of personality marked by conspiratorial thinking and an open contempt for electoral democracy.

“It might come as a surprise to some of you that the president I quote most often is President Reagan,” Pelosi said at the ribbon-cutting for the Washington branch of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Foundation and Institute. “The good humor of our president was really a tonic for the nation, the gentleman that he was.”

And last month, she told an audience in Miami that she wants a “strong Republican Party” that can return to where it was when it “cared about a woman’s right to choose” and “cared about the environment.” Of course, the ideologically moderate Republican Party that Pelosi seems to want resurrected was largely dead by the time she entered national politics in the late 1970s, bludgeoned into submission with the notable help of Ronald Reagan, among other figures.

As I reflect on this attitude among Democratic leaders, I’m reminded of the historian Jefferson Cowie’s argument about the New Deal’s relationship to the American political order. In “The Great Exception: The New Deal and the Limits of American Politics,” Cowie argues for an interpretation of the United States in the 20th century that treats the New Deal era, from the administration of Franklin Roosevelt to the 1970s, as a “sustained deviation from some of the main contours of American political practice, economic structure, and cultural outlook.”

The Great Depression and World War II may have “forced clear realignments of American politics and class relations,” Cowie writes, “but those changes were less the linear triumph of the welfare state than the product of very specific, and short-lived, historical circumstances.”

If this is true — if the New Deal was the product of highly contingent circumstances unlikely to be repeated either now or in the future — then the challenge for those committed to the notion of a government that protects and expands the collective economic rights of the American people is to forge a new vision for what that might be. “The path forward is not clear,” Cowie writes, “but whatever successful incarnation of a liberal ‘social imaginary’ might follow will not look like the New Deal, and it might be best to free ourselves from the notion that it will.”

I think you can apply a similar “great exception” analysis to the decades of institutional stability and orderly partisan competition that shaped the current generation of Democratic leaders, including the president and many of his closest allies.

They came into national politics in an age of bipartisan consensus and centrist policymaking, at a time when the parties and their coalitions were less ideological and more geographically varied. But this, too, was a historical aberration, the result of political and social dynamics — such as the broad prosperity of the industrial economic order at home — that were already well in decline by the time that Biden, Pelosi, Feinstein and others first took office.

American politics since then has reverted to an earlier state of heightened division, partisanship and fierce electoral competition. Even the authoritarianism on display in the Republican Party has antecedents in the behavior of Southern political elites at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th.

Millions of Democratic voters can see and feel that American politics has changed in profound ways since at least the 1990s, and they want their leaders to act, and react, accordingly.

Standing in the way of this demand, unfortunately, is the stubborn — and ultimately ruinous — optimism of some of the most powerful people in the Democratic Party.

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Source: Opinion | The Gerontocracy of the Democratic Party Doesn’t Understand That We’re at the Brink – The New York Times

Opinion | First They Came for the Migrants – The New York Times

The sci-fi writer William Gibson once said, “The future has arrived — it’s just not evenly distributed yet.” In America in 2018, the same could be said of authoritarianism.

Since Donald Trump was elected, there’s been a boom in best-selling books about the fragility of liberal democracy, including Madeleine Albright’s “Fascism: A Warning,” and Timothy Snyder’s “On Tyranny.” Many have noted that the president’s rhetoric abounds in classic fascist tropes, including the demonization of minorities and attempts to paint the press as treasonous. Trump is obviously more comfortable with despots like Russia’s Vladimir Putin than democrats like Canada’s Justin Trudeau.

We still talk about American fascism as a looming threat, something that could happen if we’re not vigilant. But for undocumented immigrants, it’s already here.

There are countless horror stories about what’s happening to immigrants under Trump. Just last week, we learned that a teenager from Iowa who had lived in America since he was 3 was killed shortly after his forced return to Mexico. This month, an Ecuadorean immigrant with an American citizen wife and a pending green card application was detained at a Brooklyn military base where he’d gone to deliver a pizza; a judge has temporarily halted his deportation, but he remains locked up. Immigration officers are boarding trains and buses and demanding that passengers show them their papers. On Monday, Attorney General Jeff Sessions decreed that most people fleeing domestic abuse or gang violence would no longer be eligible for asylum.

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Keilyn Enamorada Matute, from Honduras, sitting with her four-year old son, as they surrender themselves to Border Patrol agents after crossing the Rio Grande from Mexico to the United States on June 8.CreditLynsey Addario for The New York Times

But what really makes Trump’s America feel like a rogue state is the administration’s policy of taking children from migrants caught crossing the border unlawfully, even if the parents immediately present themselves to the authorities to make asylum claims. “This is as bad as I’ve ever seen in 25 years of doing this work,” Lee Gelernt, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.’s Immigrants’ Rights Project, told me. “The little kids are literally being terrorized.”

Family separations began last year — immigrant advocates aren’t sure exactly when — and have ramped up with the administration’s new “zero tolerance” policy of prosecuting everyone who crosses the border without authorization. Over two weeks in May, more than 650 children were snatched from their parents.

The human consequences have been horrific. Last week, The New York Times described a 5-year-old boy from Honduras who had been separated from his father and cried himself to sleep at night with a stick-figure drawing of his family under his pillow. The Washington Post reported that Marco Antonio Muñoz, a 39-year-old who is also from Honduras, killed himself in a padded cell after his 3-year-old was wrenched from his arms.

We will never know what torments besieged Muñoz when he took his own life. But Pramila Jayapal, a Democratic congresswoman from Washington State, recently met with migrant women being held in a federal prison, many of whom, she said, were forcibly separated from children as young as 1. Some had their kids physically torn from them. Others were told that they had to go have their photograph taken; when they returned, their children were gone.

In some cases, Jayapal said, the women could hear their kids screaming in the next room. “Many of them were told by Border Patrol that they would never see their children again,” she told me.

America’s immigration system was capricious and cruel before Trump. Senator Jeff Merkley, Democrat of Oregon, recently visited an immigrant processing center in McAllen, Tex. Describing how men, women, boys and girls were separated and kept in chain-linked enclosures, he emphasized that the site wasn’t new: “It’s essentially the same construction that was there during Obama,” he said. The difference is that, until recently, the kids’ section held older children who had crossed the border on their own. Now, he told me, the youngest was 4 or 5.

These kids are being used as pawns to persuade parents to give up their asylum claims and to warn others against coming to America. The administration, Merkley told me, has “decided that treating kids in this fashion would influence the adults not to seek asylum. They would hurt children to influence the parents.”

There are still mechanisms in American government that can stop this evil. Last Friday, Senator Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, proposed a bill that would keep most families detained at the border together. The A.C.L.U. has filed a lawsuit on behalf of parents whose children were taken from them and is asking a federal court for a nationwide injunction to stop family separations.

But for now, what is happening is the sort of moral enormity that once seemed unthinkable in contemporary America, the kind captured in the Martin Niemöller poem that’s repeated so often it’s become a cliché: “First they came …” There is no reason to believe that undocumented immigrants will be the last group of people deemed beyond the law’s protection.

Senator Merkley told me he asked people working in the detention center if they were concerned about the impact that family separation would have on the children who had been put under their authority. The answer, he said, was, “We simply follow the orders from above.”

 

 

Source: Opinion | First They Came for the Migrants – The New York Times