With few exceptions, every TV news channel in America livestreamed last week’s Congressional hearings in Washington D.C. on the “insurrection” of Jan. 6, 2021.
“It was domestic enemies who stormed and occupied the capitol,” Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson declared to all those watching. “Donald Trump spurred a mob of domestic enemies of the Constitution to march down to the capital and subvert American democracy.”
I don’t know anyone who wasn’t appalled by the events of that day. What happened, as I wrote then, is “hard to forgive or forget.”
And yet these hearings, I’m sorry to say, look more like theater than any serious or objective attempt to get at the truth. For starters, those in charge have barred anyone whose views contradict their own from major participation. And, far from asking probing questions regarding how a seemingly honest and legal protest turned into a bloody riot, the hearings resemble a carefully orchestrated show with a single aim in mind: to discredit Trump, permanently ending his lingering political ambitions.
Personally, I’m done with the former president and hope he steers well clear of the 2024 elections. That said, however, I can’t help but feel alarmed at the extent to which partisan activism now dominates our public life. “Radicalization is now the mainstream of American politics,” Eric Ward, an extremism expert with the Southern California Poverty Law Center, told the Los Angeles Times shortly after Jan. 6. What I find especially troubling is the extent to which it now permeates America’s governmental institutions.
Such things, of course, are often cyclical. Gerard Baker, in a thoughtful piece for the Wall Street Journal, likens the present situation in the US to the 1970s which, he says, “culminated in the unique combination of economic ruin and international humiliation that defined a one-term Democratic presidency,” namely Jimmy Carter’s. We all know, of course, what happened next: Ronald Reagan, a strong conservative, got elected to restore America’s economy and global pre-eminence. If one believes polls, something similar may happen in 2024.
Even if it does, though, political activism at the expense of bipartisan cooperation will surely still pose a problem. To some extent, I understand activism, having once been an activist myself. Back then, I stayed more focused on how things ought to be than on how they actually were. Then something changed. I got interested in understanding life rather than remaking it more to my liking. And so I took up journalism which, in those days, followed the same creed.
One reason I moved to the Philippines, frankly, was to distance myself from the partisan activism burgeoning in the US. For, while passionate political dissent certainly exists on these islands, it has historically taken a back seat between elections.
I hope that doesn’t now change. A popular columnist in the Philippine Daily Inquirer recently described Leni Robredo’s “pink” movement—which he likened to Latin America’s leftist “pink tide” that peaked in 2010—as the “beating heart of democratic struggle.”
And yet it was voters in a democratic election who soundly defeated that “beating heart.”
Even more disturbing was a piece in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily extolling activism for its own sake. “Activism is progressive, always looking forward to what may be, what ought to be,” that columnist wrote. “Let us celebrate activism.”
One of my pet peeves is how leftwing activists have appropriated the term “progressive” to define themselves and their aims. Progressive, of course, comes from the word progress, which means forward or onward movement towards something better.
Bottom line: I don’t share the notion that change, by definition, means improvement. These days, I fear, the triumph of what some call progressivism could mean just the opposite.
David Haldane’s award-winning memoir, “Nazis & Nudists,” is available on Amazon. A former Los Angeles Times staff writer, he is a journalist, author and radio broadcaster currently dividing his time between homes in Joshua Tree, California, and Northern Mindanao, Philippines, where this column appears weekly in the Mindanao Gold Star Daily.