Lent 2020 — Day 39

FILTHY, ROTTEN SYSTEM

(Quarantine Essay #17)

There was the question as to whether she said such a thing. Dorothy Day denied it. The saying, often quoted, never appeared in her writings. Dorothy even disliked it. It might be Dorothy’s most famous quote, yet according to Brian Terrell, “she probably never said it.” (“Dorothy Day’s ‘filthy, rotten system’ probably wasn’t hers at all,” National Catholic Reporter, April 16, 2012).

“Our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy, rotten system.”

The statement might still be true even if it wasn’t original with her. Our problems result not only from the system but from our acceptance of it. There is an oppressive system behind all this filth and rot. But our consent has something to do with it remaining there.

April 8, 2020.

Bernie Sanders withdraws from the Democratic Presidential primary.

“’Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,’ Auden might have said. What remains is a national election amid a pandemic. Biden vs. Trump. Like trying to break a pinata with a pool noodle.“ . . . [Y}ou will (not) get what you want, in politics or in life,” writes NYTimes columnist Elizabeth Bruenig, “Mr. Sanders did not win, after all. But he never lied, and he never pretended to like what is so clearly detestable or attempted to persuade any one of us that we ought to like it either. He was right to the end, and he refused to reconcile himself to the forces that eventually overtook him. It is hard to see him go. But there is at least some dignity in it.”

“Bernie Sanders was Right,” NYTimes, April 8, 2020

)And it is still a filthy, rotten system.

Labor organizer Jane McAlevey predicted in 2016 that Trump would win, based upon her immersion among union workers. She wrote last month:

“With no special affection for either of the older white men this contest has come down to—I’d like the chance to vote for a younger, unionized, working-class woman of color, to be clear—I also know that it’s imperative we understand why Joe Biden is a repeat of Hillary Clinton and thus will likely lose in November . . . Only one candidate can peel the needed votes from Trump and generate the high level of enthusiasm needed in November: Bernie Sanders.”

“Bernie Sander: Now More Than Ever,” The Nation, March 11, 2020

The wild card now is the pandemic. Throw out all previous polls and whatever history might have to say in this unprecedented crisis. Does Trump’s incumbency secure him votes? Does the tanking of the economy sink him? Does America vote out a “wartime President”; even though the war-like pandemic crisis has increased exponentially because of his incompetence?

What if COVID recurs next fall, and again we are all spending several weeks sheltering in place? Will the election happen according to the calendar, or will it become a mail-in election, or will it be postponed, or can Trump, the Congress, and the Supreme Court cancel it altogether? (Probably not, writes Ian Milhiser, “Can Trump cancel the November election? No”, Vox, April 7, 2020).

So this is a day for disappointment and refocus. I’ve been reading Astra Taylor’s Democracy May Not Exist, But We’ll Miss It When It’s Gone (Metropolitan Books, 2019).

“The American system was never designed to be democratic to begin with . . . The inequalities that plague us today are not an aberration nor the result of whichever party happens to be in power, but a plausible result of the political system’s very design.”

It is an 18th-century design, unwieldy, bursting-at-the-seams; a negotiated space in which we compete for our share of justice, equity, and opportunity. “It is my view that even without capitalist exploitation, democracy would remain messy and conflicted,” Taylor wrote.

It’s never been messier or more conflicted—a filthy, rotten system.

Jane McAlevey says, “The mistake is that how you win an election and how you win change are fundamentally different.”

To me, this is the clue to my disappointment and my hope. We (those who supported Sanders) lost an election. But that’s not the same as losing the change. The presidential candidacy of Sanders won the ideological battle with the Democratic Party. Things that were too radical in 2016 are now mainstream. The center has shifted (a little). There is momentum on the American left as never before.

Elizabeth Breunig writes:

“There is so little freedom in the world. Even here, now, in our celebrated liberal democracy, social mobility is incredibly limited compared with that in countries of comparable development, and there appears to be very little we can do about it. One freedom that cannot be taken from you is your freedom not to like the status quo — your freedom to be angry, disaffected, unimpressed, your refusal to be cajoled, soothed or consoled with small tokens of influence devoid of real power. Mr. Sanders, ill-tempered and impatient with pleasantries, embodied that freedom, and he offered it to you.”

We must continue to be about winning change. I’m sorely disappointed today, but all that happened was the loss of a primary. It is neither the end nor the beginning, but the messy middle. This November we face a bleak decision between Tweedle Dum and Tweedle Dummer. But in either scenario, we must struggle for justice, equity, and opportunity.

It’s a filthy, rotten system. I will not accept it.

Ric Hudgens, April 8, 2020

#QuarantineEssay #16

#BernieSanders

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