The Siege of Gondor in J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings is presented in Peter Jackson’s film adaptation as a heroic battle between good and evil, and in that medium, it is inspiring. However, in the source material, the author had the opportunity to build a fuller world in which the prior failures of the southern Númenorian kingdom and its weary leadership as the War of the Ring looms explain how Mordor was able to rise again as a power.
The analogy to contemporary American politics is likely clear to my readers, but to make sure, the Republican Party, with their allegiance to ignorance and greed under the leadership of demagogues, is an embodiment of Mordor. The Democratic Party, having given up their commitment to the New Deal and the Great Society, have become weak stewards, caring more about their image and the privileges of their donors than about the people. And they have chosen an arrogant leader who is too tired from decades of acquiescence to things as they are to promise anything but a return to the status quo ante of the Trump administration.
It is worthwhile to ask if the Democrats want to win. As the Republicans found out in the first two years following the 2016 election, power is more convenient as a goal than a realization. The majority party gets to choose what legislation will be considered and passed, rather than complaining about it, and the president has to act on such bills that become law. Bill Clinton was a master manipulator untroubled by conscience, but subsequent Democrats have found themselves unable to match his skill since, and their experience with Obamacare has made them leary of taking any stands that would require work. Even the impeachment was something they were forced into and was something for which they turned in the minimum effort that they could get away with, having left many potential charges out of the indictment — crimes committed to get into office and while as president.
The Democratic refusal to advance legislation for the benefit of the people is most pointedly illustrated by their rejection of Medicare for All, a program that, according to a recent poll, is favored by sixty-nine percent of voters — including forty-six percent of Republicans and sixty-eight percent of independents. The party opposes the obvious solution to the long-standing healthcare crisis in this country, and it is not hard to understand why. Joe Biden and Nancy Pelosi both take large contributions from people in the healthcare industry whose goal it is to continue using Americans as an exploitable resource. Pelosi also raises money on behalf of like-minded Democrats in Congress and has given a private assurance to insurance executives that their piggy bank is safe.
In this way, the Democrats are much like the National Rifle Association, an organization that they claim to oppose. The NRA identifies themselves as “America’s foremost defender of Second Amendment rights,” and yet they were actively against seeing the case that became Heller (2008) through to the Supreme Court and swooped in to try to take credit for the follow-up McDonald (2010) decision, and the group is noted among some gun rights advocates as being more in favor of keeping things as they are, so long as the money keeps flowing in.
The problem here is that progress in any direction means that the impetus to motion, especially with regard to dollars, is reduced when goals are achieved. A movement needs a destination over the horizon, and the committee to nominate members of the packing committee retain their jobs by standing still. And the Karens of suburbia, college-educated white women whose privileged view of the world makes them believe that they were born exactly where they are supposed to be, a voting bloc who are shaping the Democratic Party for the present, were terrified of what Bernie Sanders represented. No one at the country club is struggling to get healthcare, but they all shudder at the thought of electing a socialist.
And thus here we are, surrounded by orcs, beset by disease, facing months of unemployment, while Joe Biden grips his palantír — not that one — I mean his teleprompter as the world burns around him. I have heard from fellow progressives and from Democrats that we on the left viewed Bernie Sanders as a knight in shining armor, an Aragorn figure come to save us, and yes, progress does require leadership. We need headline politicians who can win the kind of publicity that Donald Trump employed on his road to the White House. But we also need people who will get the work done of building support among voters, who will run for down-ballot offices, who will advocate on blogs, in comments, in conversations with neighbors, and in a flood of messages to elected officials. And perhaps most importantly of all, in getting like-minded voters to the polls. It was not Aragorn who carried the One Ring to Mount Doom, after all.
This is to say that at present, progressivism feels stymied, but this is precisely the time when we cannot give up. Whether or not we would have chosen to live in times of resurgent fascism and a tepid establishment on the left, we have to fight in the time that has been given us. Medicare for All and the Green New Deal are solutions to problems that cost tens of thousands of lives in our nation each year or that are an existential threat to human civilization. To give up now would to hand victory to the orcs.