This twitter thread is a great example of “minding the gap”, that is: doing the necessary improvisational work to complete a task that has only been partially, abstractly specified. I recently learned another term for this: bricolage.
It’s easy to complain about “purity politics”. It’s easy to complain about “neoliberals” and “sellouts”. But we live in hard times, and the easy route’s not going to get us anywhere.
Here are two things that are both generally true: you need to compromise sometimes and sometimes you need to stick to your principles. This question is, which times are which?
I thought about this recently when I read, back to back, two stories. The first was about Cyrus Vance, the corrupt Manhattan DA who recently ran unopposed as a Democrat. “Get him out of office!” I thought, angrily. “Even if he gets replaced by a Republican!” Then, I read about the DFA withdrawing their endorsement of Ralph Northam because he came out against sanctuary cities. “That’s terrible,” I thought, about both Northam and the DFA. “I disagree with him on this issue but we’ve still got to get him elected.”
Whenever a Democrat does something wrong (or a Republican does something right) you will find people on the left arguing over whether or not we should support them. There’s always someone saying we need to take our allies where we can get them, and someone saying that this or that is a bridge too far.
This dynamic is especially heated right now, thanks to the Republican party. They’re fueling both groups. The compromisers say, “Look, look at the other option. We need to do all we can to resist these hateful, violent, reckless people.” And the principle-stickers say, “Look, look at what happened to Republicans when they embraced that mindset.”
So how can we figure out when to compromise, and when to stick to principle? We need to get better at articulating the specific context that’s driving our arguments, rather than falling back on statements like “We can’t sacrifice our principles!” or “We need to compromise sometimes!” Not only are those statements obviously true, they read like an attack. No one wants to be told they’re unprincipled or impractical. No one needs to be told that, either.
In that spirit, here is just a starter list of things to consider when making a specific judgment call: