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84

Bridges to Nowhere

On liberal dreams of a more imperfect union

(missing author)

4
terms
3
notes

by Nathaniel Friedman

? (2018). Bridges to Nowhere. The Baffler, 41, pp. 84-97

(noun) unreasonable or foolhardy contempt of danger or opposition; rashness recklessness / (noun) a rash or reckless act

88

Democratic power brokers bewailed the bald temerity of a Sanders campaign

—p.88 missing author
notable
3 days, 13 hours ago

Democratic power brokers bewailed the bald temerity of a Sanders campaign

—p.88 missing author
notable
3 days, 13 hours ago
89

It turns out, in other words, that liberals aren’t just matter-of-fact or wishy-washy. They are invested in the tail-chasing politics of procedural compromise, vague and terminally uninspiring as it may be. It’s a source of identity for them. The problem isn’t just that no one has offered up anything better; it’s that liberals are really fans of the stuff. For them, the specter of elite compromise is what’s inspiring about politics—and reformist calls for social justice and diminished inequality are dangerous anathema to all that is grown-up, slow-moving, and wonky. They’re proud of their appeals to civility and an imagined time when politicians put aside their differences to really get things (like wars) done.

In this view, liberalism isn’t flawed; it’s honest about what’s possible and therefore at once more human, more trustworthy, and more intrinsically American. At a minimum, this amounts to a fatalistic devotion to policing the outer limits of acceptable principle. Liberal leaders at the national level resemble nothing so much as private school headmasters: a fitting simile, given the party’s hostility to public education and teachers’ strikes—smiting down unruly outbursts in their young charges as a symbolic reaffirmation of their justly won authority.

—p.89 missing author 3 days, 13 hours ago

It turns out, in other words, that liberals aren’t just matter-of-fact or wishy-washy. They are invested in the tail-chasing politics of procedural compromise, vague and terminally uninspiring as it may be. It’s a source of identity for them. The problem isn’t just that no one has offered up anything better; it’s that liberals are really fans of the stuff. For them, the specter of elite compromise is what’s inspiring about politics—and reformist calls for social justice and diminished inequality are dangerous anathema to all that is grown-up, slow-moving, and wonky. They’re proud of their appeals to civility and an imagined time when politicians put aside their differences to really get things (like wars) done.

In this view, liberalism isn’t flawed; it’s honest about what’s possible and therefore at once more human, more trustworthy, and more intrinsically American. At a minimum, this amounts to a fatalistic devotion to policing the outer limits of acceptable principle. Liberal leaders at the national level resemble nothing so much as private school headmasters: a fitting simile, given the party’s hostility to public education and teachers’ strikes—smiting down unruly outbursts in their young charges as a symbolic reaffirmation of their justly won authority.

—p.89 missing author 3 days, 13 hours ago

the philosophical attempt to describe things in terms of their apparent intrinsic purpose, directive principle, or goal, irrespective of human use or opinion

93

Obama’s speeches spelled out a world in shining absolutes; that was his teleological endpoint

—p.93 missing author
notable
3 days, 13 hours ago

Obama’s speeches spelled out a world in shining absolutes; that was his teleological endpoint

—p.93 missing author
notable
3 days, 13 hours ago
94

This pitch-perfect Enlightenment thinking would prove horribly out of step with a country in which reactionaries had found their footing as the self-designated guardians of a white Christian America in desperate need of restoration, and saw little value in coming together as a nation. Obama pleaded with America to reject polarization at a moment when the other side saw hardcore partisan division as the very essence of the political game. Failing to apprehend the collapse of anything resembling an honest broker among the opposition party, Obama saw fit to make concessions whenever possible—craving grand bargains, blue-ribbon commissions, and the other baubles signifying good earnest liberal compromise, while refusing to prosecute any financiers responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown (in no small part for the eminently pragmatic reason that many such malefactors of great wealth were also leading Democratic donors). Obama continually held out the inviting (to him) vision of procedural comity as a sop to both his opponents, whose concerns would at any time dictate the limits of the debate, and to the current system, which was always already on the way to its ultimate destiny and therefore could not be radically questioned or upended. Obama didn’t champion any sort of movement coalition that could bring about stark reforms or, god forbid, the revolution some accused him of trying to foment. The terms of political engagement in present-day America were to some degree already determined, and these represented the only possible way forward. The business of harnessing political power to create a new framework of engagement that was amenable to the interests of the many, not the few—the very direction suggested by his rhetoric—was never broached.

—p.94 missing author 3 days, 13 hours ago

This pitch-perfect Enlightenment thinking would prove horribly out of step with a country in which reactionaries had found their footing as the self-designated guardians of a white Christian America in desperate need of restoration, and saw little value in coming together as a nation. Obama pleaded with America to reject polarization at a moment when the other side saw hardcore partisan division as the very essence of the political game. Failing to apprehend the collapse of anything resembling an honest broker among the opposition party, Obama saw fit to make concessions whenever possible—craving grand bargains, blue-ribbon commissions, and the other baubles signifying good earnest liberal compromise, while refusing to prosecute any financiers responsible for the 2008 economic meltdown (in no small part for the eminently pragmatic reason that many such malefactors of great wealth were also leading Democratic donors). Obama continually held out the inviting (to him) vision of procedural comity as a sop to both his opponents, whose concerns would at any time dictate the limits of the debate, and to the current system, which was always already on the way to its ultimate destiny and therefore could not be radically questioned or upended. Obama didn’t champion any sort of movement coalition that could bring about stark reforms or, god forbid, the revolution some accused him of trying to foment. The terms of political engagement in present-day America were to some degree already determined, and these represented the only possible way forward. The business of harnessing political power to create a new framework of engagement that was amenable to the interests of the many, not the few—the very direction suggested by his rhetoric—was never broached.

—p.94 missing author 3 days, 13 hours ago

a recurrent theme throughout a musical or literary composition, associated with a particular person, idea, or situation

94

identification with Obama’s perceived wounds would become the leitmotif of the party’s politics

—p.94 missing author
notable
3 days, 13 hours ago

identification with Obama’s perceived wounds would become the leitmotif of the party’s politics

—p.94 missing author
notable
3 days, 13 hours ago
95

Viewed against this fatalist backdrop, Obama’s presidency supposedly became a grimly instructive parable about what it feels like to come up short of your own lofty goals. There was a learned helplessness there, as well, as Obama—like Clinton—lamented the bad faith conduct of his would-be interlocutors in the Republican Congress as an alibi of first resort, permitting him to sidestep questions about the dissonance between supposedly idealistic thinking and actions that failed to sync up.

This is liberalism’s self-serving playbook, not to mention the de facto guiding principle of today’s Democratic Party, and it’s rooted in an attachment to Obama’s perceived suffering—the idea that compromise is not only every citizen’s burden to bear but somehow at the very root of realizing (and defining the limits of) a better nation. Democrats also duped voters the into believing that helplessness was just part of the process, that hewing to the “long arc” was the real battle—a fantasy that rationalized their own shortcomings while protecting them against any future demands that they alter their positions or their electoral strategies.

—p.95 missing author 3 days, 13 hours ago

Viewed against this fatalist backdrop, Obama’s presidency supposedly became a grimly instructive parable about what it feels like to come up short of your own lofty goals. There was a learned helplessness there, as well, as Obama—like Clinton—lamented the bad faith conduct of his would-be interlocutors in the Republican Congress as an alibi of first resort, permitting him to sidestep questions about the dissonance between supposedly idealistic thinking and actions that failed to sync up.

This is liberalism’s self-serving playbook, not to mention the de facto guiding principle of today’s Democratic Party, and it’s rooted in an attachment to Obama’s perceived suffering—the idea that compromise is not only every citizen’s burden to bear but somehow at the very root of realizing (and defining the limits of) a better nation. Democrats also duped voters the into believing that helplessness was just part of the process, that hewing to the “long arc” was the real battle—a fantasy that rationalized their own shortcomings while protecting them against any future demands that they alter their positions or their electoral strategies.

—p.95 missing author 3 days, 13 hours ago

(noun) (among some North American Indian peoples) a chief.

96

Liberal sachems all along the think tank world

—p.96 missing author
confirm
3 days, 13 hours ago

Liberal sachems all along the think tank world

—p.96 missing author
confirm
3 days, 13 hours ago