Political Nihilism: Democrats Still Matter

By Don Rollins

Political nihilism has a long tradition in America. The naïve notion that all would be well if we’d just throw the scoundrels out and start from scratch may be a lousy long-term strategy for governing, but it’s an old impulse – at least as old as Washington and his disdain for the party system he thought would surely be our ruin. Turns out that giving up on the system is nothing new.

But if you’ve been looking for a reason not to throw out the Democratic baby with the Republican bathwater, consider the contrast between the current House and Senate with regard to Muslim America. It’s a case study and a reason to believe.

On the House side, Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) in March convened (with considerable mainstream media coverage) a series of subcommittee hearings regarding the threat of domestic terrorism, with particular emphasis on Islamic extremism. Under the auspices of Homeland Security, King’s hearings were advertised as a wakeup call for American Muslims to better police their own ranks for potential terrorists. This approach would have been a tad more credible were it part of a comprehensive and more sophisticated domestic antiterrorism strategy. Which it was not. But even then, by placing the onus on “the Muslim community”, Islamic teaching, practice and patriotism were once again situated in an extremist narrative. At best, this was an ill-conceived, myopic plan. At worst, this was fear mongering and political haymaking.

Meanwhile over at the other chamber, a whole ’nother reality was being played out; this one under the direction of Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.). With mainstream coverage amounting to little more than a token Fox rebuttal and CNN news crawler, the six-member committee turned on its head King’s version of the American Muslim narrative – from perpetration to victimization: a spike in hate crimes against adult Muslims, Arabs and Sikhs; increased incidents of school-age harassment of Muslim children and youth; and a rise in the number of religious discrimination cases filed by college-age Muslims. Sure, the panel’s conservatives (South Carolina’s Lindsay Graham and Arizona’s Jon Kyle) had to register requisite demurral here and there, but at least on the record even they did not deny the undeniable. And please take notice, ‘twas Democrats, certainly not Republicans, who made that stand.

What we know about American political parties is that they evolve, get co-opted or fold. Both surviving major parties are testament to this, the Republicans with their embrace of big business, the Christian right and more recently, the tea party; and the Democrats with labor, civil rights and environmentalism.

Right now – and even with possession of half of Congress and the Executive – it’s the party of Dick Durbin, not Peter King, that must evolve. On that both devoted and detached liberals can agree. But whereas disengaged progressives and political nihilists look at the scoreboard and bemoan the state of a once proud Left, the more determined look at even so flawed and weakened a party and see the best political vehicle at their disposal.

If there’s a sermon in all this, perhaps it has to do with those who have the most to lose in this House-Senate throwdown: America’s Muslims. Because if two recent polls are any indication, they are once again trending away from the GOP and toward the Dems. Evidently somebody still sees a difference between the two.

Rev. Don Rollins is a Unitarian Universalist minister in Spartanburg, S.C. Email donaldlrollins@gmail.com.

From The Progressive Populist, May 1, 2011


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