Mom and Dad are getting divorced: A family dynamics analogy
Imagine a family, with a mother, a father and children. Mom and Dad have been married for many years, but the marriage has been increasing strained. Dad's gotten more and more distant, less kind to Mom and the kids. Recently, he's started to get downright abusive, trying to control Mom's every move and belittling her in front of the kids. It's gotten past the point where counseling will help. The parents are separating.
How do the children respond? Their whole world is falling apart. They can't imagine a life where Mom and Dad don't love each other and aren't together, where they will have to live with one parent or the other. How will they react? There are several possibilities:
1. A child may identify with the abusive father, internalizing his denigration of the mother, and choose the father's side.
2. A child desperately hold on to some hope of reconciliation, denying that the divorce is happening, going to all efforts to somehow bring about the parents' reconciliation.
3. A child may choose the side of the mother, recognizing both the father's abusiveness and the reality of the divorce.
4. A child may conclude that everything about their family's life was false, and reject all authority and belief in a family at all. They may run away from home, or turn to drugs or gangs.
So, you may ask, what does this analogy illustrate?
I base this little parable on the statement, made by philosopher Slavoj Zizek, which I have made my sigline, that "The marriage between democracy and capitalism is over." He said this back in 2011, during the Occupy protests. If it was hard to see the truth of it then, I find no way of denying it now.
So, in my analogy, Dad is capitalism, Mom is democracy, and the children are various political movements and factions. This illustrates two things that are going on now in American political life: Why are Republicans gaining politically at the expense of Democrats, and the struggle to define the fundamental stance of the Democratic party. People whose actions are based in reality will be more successful in reaching their goals than people who are living in a fantasy. The Republicans by and large are the child who has taken Dad's side. They are very clear-eyed about the divorce, they side with capitalism and they don't care about democracy. A small minority of Republicans are nihilists, but I think there is no real struggle in the party.
The Democratic leadership, on the other hand, is dominated by the fantasy that Mom and Dad aren't really splitting up. They are not effective because they are not living in reality. Voters prefer reality to fantasy and Democrats keep losing in state and national government because of it. In an ideological progression from Occupy through Elizabeth Warren through Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, another realist vision has been articulated: recognizing that capitalism and democracy have become incompatible, and choosing democracy.
The only way for Democrats to end their losing streak is to recognize reality. Stop imagining we can find some marriage counseling for Wall Street our democratic institutions. Dad won't acknowledge there is any problem and he won't go. Get it, kids: Dad's abusive, it's hurting everyone, Mom can't live with him, and there's no going back.
Progressives need to be pragmatic. Capitalism has become toxic to the fabric of democracy. A progressive vision that will engage people will say so unequivocally. That's why Bernie's campaign excited so many of us.
Sadly, the Democratic Party appears to remain dominated by the "Parent Trap" dreamers. It may be that reality will have to assert itself either through a third party or outside the political process altogether.