Sunday, November 4, 2018

When they go low, we pursue justice

The Alt-Right Playbook: You Go High, We Go Low

This was a very challenging video to watch as a liberal, and I encourage all of my friends to watch it and consider. It challenges some deeply held liberal ideals, and that's a good thing. The summary: liberals have come to idolize process over policy. "When they go low, we go high." But instead of defining "going high" as pursuing just and good policies, we've defined it as following the rules and norms that have been summarily smashed and disregarded by Republicans. In doing so, we tell ourselves we're trying to prevent a rulebreaking arms race that will lead to the collapse of the whole system of governance we've relied on lo these many years. That speaks to some deep liberal moral insticts: people are basically good, the good ideas always win out eventually, it would be hypocritical to do what we criticize others for doing, and that maintaining decorum is an end in itself. As Obama frequently liked to quote, "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice" But the universe doesn't bend towards justice unaided. It must be bent, and often quite forcefully. Hitler's defeat was not inevitable. The abolition of slavery in the US required a civil war. The right to vote is contested to this day (see voter suppression in red states/precincts across the country). We as liberals have come to believe that it's a moral victory in and of itself to point at the norm-breaker in chief and say "YOU CAN'T DO THAT!" For this week's example: When Trump announced his intent to eliminate birthright citizenship by EO, the response on the left was almost universally "well he can't, the rules say he can't," whereas the response on the right ranged from "hey, that's a good idea; finally someone is doing something about these illegal babies" to the more tepid "it's a fine idea, but you can't legally do it that way." Note that no where on either side of that discussion does anyone say "It's wrong to want to abolish birthright citizenship." The left has largely abstained on the moral argument over the POLICY, in favor of dismissing the issue as outside the PROCESS. Conversely on the right, we likewise see no moral debate over the topic, because that ground has been ceded by the left so they've internally assumed victory in the policy argument, leaving them only to debate how best to go about doing it. That's not to say no one on the left or right is an outlier bucking these trends or that the left generally doesn't think the policy proposal is immoral. The point here is that by leading with the counter that "it's against the rules" rather than "it's wrong," we are unilaterally disarming in the fight over the policy itself. The Republicans have shown us they don't care about the process, they only care about the policy. While we scream at them for the hypocrisy of denying Merrick Garland his SCOTUS seat, they only cared about denying Obama another supreme court pick so they could populate the court with Justices more amenable to their policies. They likewise stole hundreds of lower federal court seats, for the same reasons. If the Democrats' idea of how to fix this is to shame Republicans for breaking the rules, that will fail. Even in the case of the hypothetical EO overturning the 14th amendment, it's within the rules as written for the Supreme Court to outright declare that the President can do that even when it's blatantly obvious that he can't according to the rules. After all, according to the rules, the Supreme Court gets to decide what "according to the rules" means. Continuing to argue about the fairness of the process isn't going to change the policy. Instead, we need to stop letting the GOP pick the high ground we die on for us. Instead of defining following the rules as the moral high ground, define pursuing just policies as the high ground. We shouldn't ignore the rulebreaking entirely, but it also shouldn't be our primary argument against it. To the extend we can use the fact they broke the rules to prevent the bad policy from being implemented, we should. Sue on procedural grounds if that's what will stop the policy from taking effect, but remember that the end goal is stopping the policy not enforcing the rules. Trump went through several drafts of his Muslim ban before it got through the courts, but he still got his Muslim ban in the end. Victory is when we have immigration reform that makes it easier for people to integrate into our society legally and is welcoming of diversity, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free. When a GOP secretary of state purges the voter rolls a couple weeks before the election, instead of just suing to force him to let the people vote on the grounds he can't do that, campaign on automatic voter registration that would prevent the possibility in the first place. When the president tries to ban trans people from serving in the military, don't just sue under the equal protections clause, make the argument for why trans people deserve to be treated equally. The constitution, the courts, and the process are means, not ends. We must never lose sight of the ends, because those ends are things like access to healthcare, kids being gunned down in schools, minorities being shot in their own back yards by police, LGBT people being able to marry the ones they love and not be discriminated against in employment or society more generally. Following the process is only as important as the policy outcomes it leads to. That doesn't mean that all means are justified by the ends, but likewise good means don't justify bad ends.

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