In Search of the Marianne Mindset

I often tell students that politics, like life in general, swings this way and that, but it’s never a simple pendulum that predictably goes an equal distance each way. It’s easy to see that American political culture has tilted back and forth from the left to right, right to left over time. For instance, the Progressive Era of the early 1900s was followed by a conservative counterreaction that exploded in the crucible of World War I and stretched into the 1920s, as radicals were rounded up, immigrants banned, and Protestant Kiwanis Club hayseed normalcy ruled. The stuffy age of 1950s Cold War conformity whipsawed into the political activism and counterculture of the 1960s, which in turn conjured the Leviathan of the New Right.

But change doesn’t happen metronomically. The New Deal was a pretty significant swing to the left, which semi-permanently shifted the center of gravity of American politics; likewise, the Reagan revolution of the 1980s was a sharp turn to the right, the effects of which we are still living with. Things never swung all the way back in the other direction.

Those of us on the Left should, probably, have realized that the social progress of the Obama years would generate its own counterreaction. Some saw it coming, but likely few could have imagined it would have been as ugly, cruel, and epically stupid as what we see with Trump.

Today we behold a confusing prospect: energized social movements have emerged in opposition to the Trumpian beast, sometimes achieving remarkable gains that would have been difficult to imagine just a few years ago, such as the tenant reforms just passed in the state of New York. Socialism and industrial policy are back in the argot of politics after being completely verboten for decades. The most diverse presidential candidates in US history are taking hold of the national discussion as the Democratic primary debate begins to unfold.

At the same time, vicious nativism is enjoying its day in the sun, with the torture of defenseless children and deportation of scientists doing invaluable research, for the sake of sheer cruelty on one hand and stupidity on the other. A college can be successfully sued for the free speech activities of its students, and the conservative quest to render democracy fundamentally meaningless proceeds apace.

Best-of-times, worst-of-times stuff.

And sometimes strange things happen. Trump was an unforecasted force that bulldozed through the conventional wisdom of the political and media elite on both sides; and now self-help guru Marianne Williamson promises to do the same for the Democrats. Who would have thought four, eight, ten years ago that a New Age candidate would stand on the debate stage and promise to use the power of love to defeat evil? Marianne could very well be the Democratic Trump — a joke candidate, laughed at until it was too late to laugh.

In any case, we’re praying for a Williamson-Huey Lewis unity ticket.

This week we have a variety of fascinating pieces in our Best-Of round-up, including two by our own contributors: Carribean on the life of writer and activist Raul Ruiz, and friend-of-the-blog Marni Davis, whose epic Georgia Avenue project was featured in these very pages and subsequently covered by Curbed.

Author: Alex Sayf Cummings

Alex Sayf Cummings is an associate professor of history at Georgia State University, whose work deals with technology, law, public policy, and the political culture of the modern United States. Alex's writing has appeared in Salon, the Brooklyn Rail, the Journal of American History, the Journal of Urban History, Al Jazeera, and Southern Cultures, among other publications, and the book Democracy of Sound was published by Oxford University Press in 2013 (paperback, 2017). Alex can be followed on Twitter at @akbarjenkins.

One thought

  1. This is really cool! I love the humor and especially love the vocabulary. Maybe it’s because I’m like so many academics who spend the majority of their time reading that I can appreciate the artful and creative use of words. “Metronomically” was just swell because it references a metronome. Do a lot of non-musicians know what this is? Let’s do a rim shot for that one! And as someone who grew up in the 1980s and even saw Huey Lewis play the lawyer in a rendition of Chicago, performed at the Orpheum Theater in San Francisco, I love the call for the Williamson-Huey Lewis ticket. And fantastic to see that Tropics of Meta will be showcasing and amplifying some interesting work coming up.

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