Douglas Rushkoff, whose work I usually like, recently published an essay in which he argues that the counter culture — by which he means the hippies, the feminists, the Civil Rights activists, the gay rights movement, and the left generally, going back to the 1960s when we started using that term — won. We are now the establishment, he says, and should stop being sore winners and reach out to our frightened enemies, who are now the counter culture.
I think he’s right that the values of the counter culture and political movements going back to the Sixties (and with roots farther back than that) have had a powerful effect on the United States. The fact that we still have a long way to go in addressing racism, misogyny, homophobia, and bad foreign policy does not mean that we haven’t made progress or that a lot of that progress wasn’t made by people changing the way they lived and did things. That is, we created a new culture and it took hold.
But I think it’s a little early to declare victory, given the fact that the political system in this country is now very much in the hands of those who hate every change that’s come along. A lot of the victories he’s discussing were cemented because we were able to get better laws passed and because the courts made some important decisions that expanded rights. Right now those things aren’t possible and some of those laws and decisions are under major attack.
While many of us counter culture types, along with more mainstream folks and even a few decent conservatives who share our disgust with what’s happening right now, are hoping the part of the system that supposedly plays by the rules will help us fight those who are corrupting it and trying to destroy our advances, the truth is we have good reason to suspect they don’t see us as the good people, much less as the establishment. I mean, the Justice Department is in the hands of a white supremacist and the FBI is still more likely to go after Black activists than after all-white militias.
Watching the senators who put Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court, I realized something important: those people — the Mitch McConnells, the Lindsey Grahams, and even the ones who talk but still fall in line like Jeff Flake — are willing to destroy our democracy rather than allow anyone but rich white men to run things.
I hope we can save the country and make it into the place it could be, the place it has been becoming, the place the counter culture worked to make happen. But that’s far from a sure thing right now.
Further, I completely reject Rushkoff’s argument that we should be reaching out to the losers, who, as near as I can tell, are those powerful, wealthy white men who just rammed Kavanaugh through the Senate. They’re scared, he said.
Reach out a hand to someone like that and get it chopped off. They may be scared — they probably are and well they should be — but they’re still very dangerous. It’s like reaching out to crocodiles. In fact, I suspect crocodiles have better ethics.
We don’t need to reach out to the rich and powerful white men or to the women who back them up. We need to defeat those people. We need to root them out of power and keep them out of it.
Those of us who feel some connection to the counter culture ideal need to be reaching out to the people who’ve been passed over by the changes, the poor, the immigrants, the workers who are being screwed economically by the technological future and the destruction of unions, labor protections, and the like. And we need to be listening to, and following, the activists who are doing the good work. Black women are leading the charge. The immigration activists are showing us the way. Transgender and nonbinary folks are upending our conceptions of gender.
We won’t be the establishment until we get the old establishment out of the way. And they have a scorched earth policy for fighting us, maybe because they figure the rich can always buy themselves safety even if there’s nothing left for the rest of us. Or maybe they don’t really care about anyone but themselves in the here and now.
The counter culture may have won a lot of hearts and minds, but we’ve got more fights on our hands if we want to salvage the mess that’s being made of both the U.S. and the world right now. Charles M. Blow has a very scary recent column on the subject. He says:
Kavanaugh is just one part of a much larger plan by conservatives to fundamentally change the American political structure so that it enshrines and protects white male power even after America’s changing demographics and mores move away from that power.
This, for them, is not simply a game about political passion and political principles. This is a game of power, pure and simple, and it’s about whether the people who have long held that power will be able to retain it.
Me, I’m tired of having wealthy white men make the rules. We don’t get to stop fighting after the November elections, even if we vote a lot of good people in. The people who oppose us aren’t going away.
To that end, I recommend this piece by George Lakey on finding the opportunity to create real change in the legitimacy crisis created by putting Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court. He says:
What they don’t see is that the legitimacy crisis is an opportunity. It’s a truism in political science that when regimes lose their legitimacy, major change — even revolution — becomes a possibility. After all, that’s when the Swedish and Norwegian movements made their move, and pushed their economic elites out of dominance.
Get angry. And organize.