On Monday, November 12, 2018 the U.S. will celebrate "Veterans' Day." The rest of the world will celebrate "Armistice Day" (on Sunday). Armistice Day is November 11, 1918, when the First World War ended, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918.
That war was "The Great War," and "The war to end all wars." And it might have been. But it was followed by the peace to guarantee future wars.
Assume, arguendo, that the Germans, who lost WW-I, deserved to be punished for losing the war. Assume that they were objectively bad, and morally bad, and earned every syllable of the punitive peace terms they were dictated. Assume that the punitive peace terms were "just", in the context of Germany's conduct.
Hold those assumptions as we reflect on what happened as a result of those punitive peace terms. Germany was driven into bankruptcy, Agricultural production decimated. Technical advances slowed or reversed. Citizens starving and dying of preventable or curable diseases. German economic collapse contributed to the collapse of other European economies, already weakened by the war. The Great Depression, a decade later was made worse by the economic turmoil forced on Europe by the desire to punish Germany.
Germany was stripped of its colonies and their sources of industrial and agricultural resources. But it still had land and a population. It needed governance. It had politicians who needed voter support. Like politicians everywhere, some of them garnered support by scapegoating. The Commies were at fault. And the Jews were causing the ruin.
Politicians are not good at saying, "Yes, we negotiated a terribly burdensome peace. Let us find solutions within what we did." They find it easier to say the Jews done it. The Commies done it. "The TPP was the worst deal ever." And having said it, they incorporate sections of the TPP verbatim, directly into the "New, much better, NAFTA deal."
The Germans weren't the only ones. The Russian Revolution happened in 1917, at the end of the First World War. Though founded on concepts of citizen rule articulated by Marx and Engels and others, the Revolution quickly devolved into partisan infighting between Bolsheviks and Mensheviks and Trotsky-ites and others. Even if they were not motivated by personal greed or lust for power, the various factions quickly gave way to insecure governance by people committed to stifling dissent, in the name of citizen freedom.
While the Russian Revolution was replacing an old family autocracy with a new one party autocracy with a friendlier name, Germany was also focusing on an increasingly strident, repressive one-party government. And the governments in each country used a military "readiness buildup" to unite the people, to get industry moving again, and to develop an economy with business profits.
By punishing Germany for a war everyone involved was part of starting, the rest of Europe guaranteed a return to militarization, contraction of diplomatic relations, and increases in scapegoating minority populations.
Shall we be punitive where we can? If"they did it to us" shall "we do it to them"?
And after the inevitable next World War, more devastating than the First World War, we repeated the pattern, by isolating and trying to economically ruin the "commie" nations, including those like China which were simply trying to break out of colonialism. Hence Korea, installing the Shah of Iran, Vietnam, the Cold War, the Congo, Overthrowing Allende, and on and on.
Politicians rile up their voters. The war profiteers collect all our "foreign aid" back here in the U.S. in the form of weapons sales. And the general population is distracted from rivers catching on fire, potholes replacing pavement, beaches washing away in ever worse floods, and healthcare never being adequate.
Then we find ourselves with a Hitler fanboy wanting voters to silence any opposing press, even with violence ("I'll pay your legal bills, you can count on me.") And we find ourselves with a blue wave which swept unprecedented numbers of women, mothers, into offices around the nation, and which saw voters in local and state races object to the fanboy's politics.
Now what? How do we want our new Congress to govern?
Shall we be punitive where we can? If "they did it to us" shall "we do it to them"?
Many people have long complained that the Democrats have been co-opted, and become too much like Republicans, entirely beholden to the wishes of the monied interests. So let's not allow that anymore. Let's force our new pols to stand firm, be rigid in their principles.
But doesn't that essentially make them the same as the "freedom caucus" Republicans, or the Mensheviks or Trotsky-ites?
We elected them to govern. We elected them to break through the partisan gridlock forced upon us by a Republican Party that first said, "We're gonna make the n*gg*r a one term President." And then said, "We're gonna punish anyone who tries to work with any Democrat who aligns with the n*gg*r President." (And yes, I do focus on President Obama's race, because I believe that race has been the central organizing principle of the Republican Party since Richard Nixon's "southern strategy" and Ronald Reagan's "welfare Cadillacs.")
I don't want our new progressive Democrats to get caught in vindictive rigidity that preceded the First World War, but was so perfected in that war's "peace terms." Those peace terms were destructive and guaranteed a future, even worse, war.
We want, and need, better than that. We want solid proposals put before Congress and the people. Real improvements in ObamaCare - including discussions of Medicare for all. Real plans for infrastructure improvements. Real discussions about gerrymandering and corruption controls. And NOT just "take it or leave it" demands on Republicans. Negotiations, lots of daylight to the processes.
I don't expect scads of Republicans to suddenly say that they want to do serious negotiations. But the Democrats, OUR Democrat public employees, public servants, should make clear that they are open to real negotiations, to real progress, to making real accomplishments for the people. Their ideas need to be articulated clearly in ways that farmers and fulfillment center workers can understand them.
And if, in that process, the voters see that Republicans are not solution oriented, unwilling to work across the aisle, more concerned about party power or corporate dollars than about solving national problems, let that realization spring from the voters' view, rather than trying to force it into their brains with commercials and push polls.
The voters have said that they want change. But that's like Republicans saying people want changes in ObamaCare. "Change" means both too much and too little. Some people want changes that improve and expand ObamaCare. Republicans want change that repeals ObamaCare. Sure, both want change. But what change.
It is time for Democrats, particularly the new ones, with potentially long productive careers ahead of them, to "be the change." The first step is to move past generic policy statements and make clear, understandable proposals for specific changes that improve life.
This will be risky. NO ONE likes actual change. People like to talk about change, but they are most comfortable in their status quo - in the life they know, rather than the change they fear. Leaders change things. Leaders put us on the path to the moon landings. We didn't colonize the moon or go to Mars. But we did end up developing computer knowledge and systems and medical knowledge that has helped all of mankind.
We need that level of leadership now. Proposing goals that may end up taking us in unforeseen directions to unforeseen destinations. There will always be people who believe that the moon landings were faked. But every person on earth has benefited from what led to those landings. And every person in the United States will benefit if young pols take the reins and take the chance on proposing that real, tangible improvements. As Bobby Kennedy said: “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself; but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total; of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”