By Susan Stevens
We at Social Democrats USA are elated at the victory of our endorsee (and member) Carolyn Delvecchio Hoffman in her race for a seat on the Monroe County Legislature, and grieved at the shocking loss suffered by our equally compassionate and hardworking endorsee India Walton, who defeated the incumbent Byron Brown in the Democratic primary for Mayor of Buffalo, only to be pushed out in the general election by his write-in campaign.
Prior to her death in 2006, radical feminist and leftist writer and activist Ellen Willis had been pondering the deeper reasons why so many Americans kept voting against their own well-being and happiness. Out of this concentrated study and research, a book was emerging titled “The Cultural Unconscious in American Politics: Why We Need a Freudian Left,” selections from which her daughter Nona Willis Aronowitz placed at the end of a book of her mother’s writings she edited, titled “The Essential Ellen Willis.” Willis asserted that the radical right has been more in tune than the radical left with the human unconconscious and its continual grappling with the drive to pursue joy and pleasure on the one hand, and the repressive fear of the excesses of that pursuit on the other.
This ties in with something I learned from Marianne Williamson’s book “A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles” — that every emotion is really just an expression of love or fear, and fear is nothing but a lack of awareness of love’s presence. Our natural gravitation towards pleasure is our natural gravitation towards love. When we have a delicious feast, there’s nothing naturally pleasurable about taking it to a park in the poorest part of the city, and eating it while children and homeless people hungrily look on. Joy comes from experiencing life’s pleasures in communion with one another.
Fearmongers, who see promoting a scarcity-culture as their path to personal gain, try to sell the masses on the self-righteous pseudo-pleasure illustrated in Aesop’s fable The Ant and the Grasshopper. After working hard all summer to store up resources for the winter while the carefree, lazy grasshopper pursued pleasure and laughed at her for slaving away, the ant relaxes comfortably in her warm house with a full pantry, smugly lecturing the now cold and hungry grasshopper, who shivers on the other side of her locked door begging for mercy.
The radical right, lacking trust in ordinary people, fears the growth of democracy because of how it leads to a more and more equal distribution of power and the ability of all people to pursue their own idea of happiness. Thus the Right has, through the ages, busted up every movement towards working class unity by playing on our fear-based drive to find someone beneath us to dismiss as an undeserving grasshopper. However, as power becomes increasingly concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people (which also happened in pre-WWII Germany), those who define themselves as full-on hardworking ant are finding that they’re just one major medical expense, job loss, or other hardship away from waking up just as cold and hungry as those they disdain. Donald Trump has, like Adolf Hitler had, a knack for playing people by playing on their fears, and persuading them that a particular marginalized group — yesterday the Jews, today undocumented immigrants — has caused their poverty by swarming in like grasshoppers, taking over their house and raiding their pantry.
Willis argued that the Left made a wrong turn by abandoning its original embrace of progressivism, and the sharing of wealth, as a happier way to live. We reacted to the reactionary right by deciding that we couldn’t let them claim the moral high ground. We had to become every bit as moralistic and repressive. As Willis pointed out, the Right doesn’t share our rational compulsion for moral consistency. They can be Biblical Christians one moment, and crack racist jokes the next. This freedom from the need to be morally consistent also frees them to be more inclusive towards anyone they feel like including. Anyone who spends much time on the Internet is probably familiar with the tales of former progressives being driven by so-called cancel culture into the surprisingly warm and accepting embrace of the Right.
While we shouldn’t fall for the hype around this “culture”, those who’ve joined together around the cause of loving humanity and freeing every human to live joyously must get better about staying a family through thick and thin. A friend recently messaged me about my friend and SDUSA endorsee (and member) Kansas House Rep. Aaron Coleman. She said Aaron had the right message but was the wrong person to give it — that because of the personal issues he had to deal with, he was damaging the message. My response here is that rather than the question being, “Is this the right person?”, the answer that holds up to all questioning is that WE are the right people, and NOW is the right time. Aaron’s the right person because he got up off his couch, knocked doors, ran for office and got busy serving his constituents.
This is our path forward, into a successful future for social democracy: refusing to fearfully repress our natural drive towards the joy of loving, accepting and believing in one another; without forgetting that love’s inseparable from justice and accountability. We hold each other up and rejoice at the growth we see. And from there, we win.
Susan Stevens is the Chair of the Kansas City, Kansas chapter of Social Democrats USA.