Why Does “The Democracy Movement” Hates Democracy?

Sometimes, you gotta love opinion-meister Jonathan Chait. He has continually been wrong about numerous issues from the Iraq War (supported it), the “political correctness” debate (supporting all the worst tropes of the soft alt-right), even finding a way to be an enemy of both Jezebel and Chapo Trap House, a truly impressive display for any liberal pundit. His self-righteous love for triangulatory centrist liberalism and inability to understand the left is legendary, such as an insistence that the “illiberal left” holds responsibility for the rise of Trump while the holders of actual political and economic power seem completely absolved of. Who knew that Tumblr posts about being PoC genderqueer members of antifa were more impactful on people’s political economic worldview than the vast disparity between the quality of life for the elite and everyone else?
Well, Chait did it again. In “Why Trump’s Assault on Democracy Doesn’t Bother The Radical Left”, he gives away the ball without even realizing it. In the piece he attempts to coin the phrase of a “Democracy Movement” in contrast to the scary “Illiberal Left.” According to Chait, the Democracy Movement is the only true cause in 2018 politics as our precious norms are degraded by the Trump organization’s expansion into Washington DC and the radical left is obfuscating by focusing their politics on things outside of these movements. According to Chait’s interpretation, those organizing for grassroots political goals like universal healthcare, attempting to combat white supremacy, and give workers more power are ignoring the more important issue at hand: Trump is bad, something pretty much every leftist knows and agrees with.
This is nothing but empty rhetoric from Chait. His idea that “the left hates democracy” may appeal to the most Trump addled centrist democrats’ id, but if anything it shows a shallowness to his definition of democracy. He speaks only of political and procedural democracy, undeniably important pillars of a more perfect union, but the struggle the left sees is the need for democratizing more than our congressional reps. It’s for democratizing the sectors of society where average people have increasingly less control over: their work, their housing, and their bodies. To use historical language, he seems supremely focused on the political question (process and procedure) without acknowledging the social question (power relationships within society). This is the natural conclusion from his limited definition of democracy, leading to a deep disconnect between the populous and the political class.
From the Arab Spring to Brexit, global populism is rising. The question is are we going to just let the right gobble up all that energy or are we going to actually attempt to reach them. By centering his politics around norms and process, Chait is making the right’s point for them, that liberals don’t give a shit about them beyond their relationship to the system.  Regardless of political worldview, to so many the system is deeply flawed and corrupted, so by emphasizing norms over results, Chait is falling into the old (like, 1830 old) liberal trap of prioritizing process while hoards of regular people suffer under that system.
For many liberal pundits like Chait, who are personally and ideologically invested in the status quo, their job is to police the left and protect the property holding class that controls mainstream opinion pages, Democratic politicians, and our workplaces. As long as he continues to blather about norms while ignoring material challenges, he will do nothing more than highlight the failure of the post cold-war American liberal project. What could be more “illiberal” than that?

Ben Udashen is a writer, podcaster, and childcare worker living in Seattle, WA. He runs Unpopular Front, a publication for left-wing political and social commentary.

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