What are you cooking these days? I’ve been continuing to work through some of the recipes in Clean Soups by Rebecca Katz. Yesterday, I made her hot and sour soup. You start with olive oil and then saute diced carrots, lots of sliced shiitake mushrooms, a bit of salt, and minced ginger. Add red pepper flakes and scallions. Then, add a bit more salt and minced cabbage (her recipe calls for napa cabbage, but I had savoy and used that). Cook until cabbage is tender. (I should have cooked mine a bit longer. No damage to the taste, but the texture would have been better.) Using about 1/2 C of her vegetable broth (which I made a few days before), deglaze the pan. Add about another 5 1/2 C of the broth. Add tamari sauce and rice wine vinegar. Once it’s boiling, scramble an egg or two and drizzle the mixture over the boiling soup. Sprinkle chopped scallions on top. It was quite good, except that I wound up adding about two or three times as much tamari sauce and vinegar as called for and, when I make it again, I’ll add lots more ginger. I may try some of my homemade fire cider in place of about half the rice wine vinegar. But overall, it was wonderful. I never imagined that I could make hot and sour soup at home. Everything in this soup has either anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, probiotic, and/or immune-enhancing properties. It’s also one of those soups that tastes even better the second day.
Meanwhile, I’m making bourbon balls, sugar plums (rose, lavender, and coffee flavored and, maybe, if I get time, orange) for Christmas Eve, and a seafood strata for Christmas morning.
You really, really, really need to read this. No, really. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse has written a clear, simple, well-reasoned battle plan for beating the right-wing nut-jobs who have taken over our government. He explains that:
Victory has traits. Victory must be organized. Organization requires strategy, preparation, tactics, training, and teamwork. Brave and able troops have been slaughtered throughout history in failures of organization.
Losing has traits, too. As Democrats, we offer better and more popular policy positions, and we have flamboyant heroes. Yet, so often, we lose. Now we have won back a foothold on power, and the question is: what do we do with it? I’m sick of losing. I’m particularly sick of our “loser traits.” It’s time we faced up to them.
Here’s his short list:
Walking Away from Fights
Our worst trait as Democrats is our willingness to lose once we’re in a fight. What do I mean? We’re the party that achieved great field position on three key issues—immigration, climate change, and dark money—and all three times we walked away and conceded defeat.
Messaging has its role before, during, and after political fights, but it shouldn’t guide strategy or policy, and it can’t replace being willing to stand and fight. If you’re walking away from fights like the ones we walked away from, messaging won’t help you. Come home with the prize, or else with a bloody nose and black eye from having given the fight your all, and there won’t be much doubt about your message. You earn the right to have a real message, and you earn it by doing your damnedest.
Senators are constantly bombarded with pollsters and political operatives telling us how we can improve our messaging. Too often, you can remove the word “message” and insert the word “excuse” in its place.
Messaging leads to a related loser trait: poll-chasing. The messaging wizards look to polling to tell us what the public wants to hear; they feed that to us to feed back to the public. That’s bullshit. Great political parties do not subsist on the receiving end of public opinion, they lead public opinion. When we persist on an issue, and fight on an issue, we will drive up its importance in public polling.
Ignoring the Adversary Institutions
On most of the issues where Democrats square off against Republicans, the Republicans are supported by a robust apparatus of dark money, science denial, propaganda, and persistent ideological conditioning through fake news. That apparatus is funded by billionaires and big-money interests who profit handsomely from Republican success on things like the reducing the estate tax and deregulation. The big-money interests hide behind front groups with phony names, and they hide for a reason. Their massive conflict of interests are a vulnerability.
I worked for a governor who survived weeks behind enemy lines after his bomber went down on a mission to disrupt the German war machine. In most conflicts, you try to identify and disrupt your adversary’s organization, supply chain, and chain of command. Not us. We have no institutional strategy for taking on this apparatus. We’ll tangle with its various tentacles, for sure, in our fights on other issues, but we don’t pursue outing and disabling the corrupt monster as a whole. I know because I’ve helped organize the few raids we’ve undertaken against this apparatus.
Being a Ridiculously Cheap Date
As we prepared for a recent budget showdown, Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) had important advice that she hammered into us: Hang together and “don’t be a cheap date.” This was excellent advice, which we overlook too often. It’s advice that pertains as well to Democratic groups. As an active environmentalist, one place I see it is in our environmental fights. It is very easy for groups constantly starved for money to seek corporate support. And there is nothing wrong with corporate support, unless pursuing it makes us a cheap date.
Here’s my experience in the Senate: no business interests seriously lobby on environmental issues in Congress. Not one. Many corporations have great climate policies, but they lobby Congress through trade groups and lobbying organizations that oppose environmental measures. The face of corporate America that Congress sees is the trade group, and the message that Congress receives is corporate opposition. Set aside all the polluter companies; just count the big corporations with good climate and environmental policies—and if you weigh their lobbying presence in Congress, it is overall solidly against climate and environmental policies.
We tolerate this with nary a squeak.
One of my favorites:
Being Disorganized and Incapable of Running Plays
It’s said that second-grade soccer players all run at the ball, and don’t play position or make plays. Welcome to the Democratic Party. Disorganization is a colossal loser trait of ours, going all the way back to Will Rogers’ famous epigram: “I’m not a member of any organized political party, I’m a Democrat.”
Granted, this is harder for us. We represent a diverse and sometimes squabbling array of groups and interests; few are well-funded; and many compete for funding. The other side may appear to have many groups, but most are masquerade faces of the same apparatus, so they respond much more efficiently and effectively than our big Democratic cat-herd.
The other side has been developing its command infrastructure for years and has learned from its early failures. Their billionaire donors are less propelled by rookie enthusiasms than by a cold-eyed demand for results; they play a long game, they have learned that just because they are billionaires they’re not political geniuses, and they coordinate.
When ancient tribes gathered for battle, there was at least a command tent where the leaders came together to plan for the next day: “You go left, you go right, and I’ll go around the hill and hit ’em from the side.” The ancient Hittites had better battle planning in the age of cuneiform than most Democratic groups have in the Internet era.
Our side has trouble running a play as ancient and simple as “good cop/bad cop.” When Ford and other car companies backed away from the fuel-efficiency standards they’d promised the American people when Barack Obama was president, one could imagine environmental “bad cops” picketing dealers and making a big public fuss, sending the carmakers running to other “good cop” groups to sort out their sudden public relations problem. But you would be imagining that.
Organizing for victory matters. Purity of purpose helps, but organizing brings victory.
Of relevance to modern Paganism:
Circular Firing Squads and Purity Tests
When we get grumpy about losing so often, we take our eye off the prize of winning. A loser trait that then crops up is to turn on each other—the “circular firing squad.” Competing to see who can take the purest or most extreme position; setting up show votes in Congress as tests of purity; using extreme positions as a form of “loyalty check”; counting up “scores” on votes that don’t matter—all are modes of the circular firing squad.
The Real Majority
It’s not just on issues that we lose. We lose in the power structure of American government. In recent years, we have had Republican presidents, Republican Congresses, and Republican Senates that only represented a minority of the popular vote.
Twice, in 2000 and 2016, Democrats won the popular presidential vote, saw a Republican president sworn in, and went ahead without fussing much over the legitimacy of a president who lost the popular vote. We tend to care about process and respect rules. Imagine if President Obama had lost the popular vote and been sworn in. There’d never have been an end to it.
Republicans invented BirtherGate and simply refused to work with Obama, as if he were illegitimate, when he was a popular president who had really won—by a lot.
Five Republican justices on the Supreme Court gave a 5-4 decision unleashing partisan gerrymandering on the country, and the Republican Party instantly implemented its REDMAP project. REDMAP launched a new model of gerrymandering: gerrymander the big swing states to get the biggest Republican delegation you can, not to protect individual Republican members. Ironically, that meant creating some bombproof, highly-Democratic districts. Super-saturating those few Democratic districts left a statewide voter pool that could be gerrymandered into Republican districts everywhere else. Did it work? In 2012, Democrats won more overall votes than Republicans did in Pennsylvania, but Republicans had packed those Democratic voters so heavily into five districts that Republicans won all remaining thirteen districts. Pennsylvania’s statewide vote, Democrat by a small margin; Pennsylvania’s delegation in Congress, 13-5 Republican.
And there’s this:
Lessons of Trump
There is much to despise about the Trump administration. But there are also a few things to learn. They take an extreme position and hold it. By doing so, they strengthen their position across all the territory within the battle line they have chosen. Where you choose to stake out your battle line is where the fight is, and everything behind that becomes an easier fight.
The Republicans bet that the press will tire, and that even among citizens and activists “outrage fatigue” will set in, if they simply hang together. The solidarity of Republicans behind the big polluters who fund them is a national disgrace, but when public blowback doesn’t cause them to break ranks or retreat, that resets the conversation.
This is less a character trait of individual Republicans than it is a function of centralized funding by a few big Republican interests who have made looting the public treasury their business model, and who demand political service for funds rendered; but that foul motive does not diminish the effect. If they can do that for polluters, ought we not do it for the public we represent?
The Trump cabal gets so far out there that they are effectively trolling or gaslighting reality. Ultimately, we will all pay a terrible price for their corruption and ignorance. But in the short run, they have figured out that whatever they do, there will be outrage, so seize as much for your backers as you can for whatever price you will pay in outrage.
We Democrats shrink from outrage, even from phony “faux outrage” like the kind cooked up by the right-wing’s outrage-manufacturing machine. No Democrat has ever set out with a strategy of persisting through outrage until outrage fatigue sets in. We seek common ground, and try to do things their way.
Please read the entire (not very long) post. It’s really important.
I’ve noted this before, but I’m going to repeat. There are several things going on at this time of year and one of the problems that we have is imprecise language for those different things. (As Witches, we know that words have power.)
First, at this time of year, a number of religions have religious holidays. Hence, we Pagans celebrate Yule (although sometimes Christians will use “Yule” for their religious holiday) or the Winter Solstice. Jews celebrate Chanukah. Hindus celebrate Maker Sankranti. Christians celebrate the birth of their male child born of a virgin at the Solstice, or, as they like to call it, Christmas. There are others.
And there’s an entire corpus of religious music to go with these holidays, especially the Christian religious holiday of Christmas. Think Handel’s Messiah, Silent Night, the Holly and the Ivy, the Little Drummer Boy, Children Go Where I Send Thee, and In the Bleak Midwinter.
Second, there are also a number of non-religious holidays: Boxing Day, Hogmanay, Hogfather’s Night, Kwanzaa, New Year’s Eve, and Watchnight, for example.
And, then, third, there’s a general secular holiday, celebrated in (at least) North America and Europe, between about Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. That holiday season involves, inter alia, sending cards to friends, giving gifts, baking special treats, going to parties, feasting, and decorating — with mistletoe, candy canes, snow men and snow women, reindeer, bright lights, Santa Claus, and giant blow-up figures of the Grinch, sleighs, and evergreen wreaths — but not necessarily with religious symbols.
There’s another entire corpus of secular music to go with this holiday. Think of Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, Let It Snow, Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer, Santa Baby, All I Want for Christmas, and We Are the World. Not to mention the music from The Nutcracker.
(And there are movies. Think of Scrooge’s Christmas Carol, It’s a Wonderful Life, Miracle on 34th Street, and Home Alone. (What are your favorites?))
But also think of Blue Christmas, White Christmas, and Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas. Those songs use the word for the Christian religious holiday — Christmas — for the general Winter secular holiday. And it’s the blending/overlap of the Christian religious holiday with the general secular Winter holiday that creates a lot of the confusion.
Hence, it used to be that wishing anyone a “Merry Christmas” was both a way of saying, generally, have a nice secular holiday season and, also, have a nice religious holiday. But, today, Christians aren’t the only people who get noticed. Hence, a few years ago, merchants began instructing clerks to wish people a “Happy Holiday,” which covered everything. That made a minority of Christians angry (and gave some Christians a way to make money off of that anger) because their religious holiday wasn’t the only one getting recognized. Hence, the one-sided “War on Christmas.”
Look. I have deeply religious Christian friends and if they say “Have a Merry Christmas” to me, I’m happy to say, “And, you,” or “You, too,” or even “Merry Christmas!” Of course I want them to enjoy their religious holiday. One of my dearest friends from law school still says “Merry Christmas” to me and my wishes for her religious holiday are very sincere. Similarly, there are lots of folks who send me cards saying “Merry Christmas” or something similar and I assume we’re discussing the secular holiday and I am happy to wish them a wonderful winter holiday, as well. I love reading their holiday letters about what they, their (now grown) children, and their (now) grandchildren are doing. I’m happy to go to their parties, eat their cookies, drink their eggnog, look at their lovely lights, and to listen to them sing. If the overworked clerk at the grocery store hands me my bag and says “Have a blessed Christmas,” I’m perfectly willing to accept her wishes as I assume they’re given and say, “Thanks. You, too.”
Of course, we’ve all be on the receiving end of those “Have a merry CHRISTmas!!!!!” wishes that are meant aggressively. I tend to say, “Bless you,” go outside, ground, wish the blessings of the Winter Solstice upon that person, and to go home, pleased that I have no need to enforce my joy at this season on anyone else.
May it be so for you.