The thing about big tents is it’s all fun and games until a gust of wind comes along and you’re crushed beneath the tent pole or buried under the fabric that leaves a rash if you’re lucky or prolonged death via suffocation if you’re not. In the case of politics, that metaphorical gust of wind can come in many forms: irreconcilable ideological divisions that flare up at the wrong time, divisive candidates (oh boy), pressure from opponents, or just a simple lack of foundation or principled purpose to keep everyone together.
There are some glaring examples of the danger and difficulty with big tents and infighting that are in the news right now and on both sides of the border. Not only do you have Jason Kenney’s almost Don-Quixotesque campaign in Alberta to “unite the right,” but you have almost a dozen people lined up on the federal Conservative stage who can barely agree on what conservative means besides saying the words “balanced budget” and “responsibility.” You have climate deniers, carbon tax proponents, social conservatives, reality TV stars, immigrant fear mongers, policy wonks, budget hawks, and immigrant success stories all sharing the stage and trying to make the case for not only leadership but that this is a party where they all belong and can work together.
Unity is a hard sell once passions and principles get involved, even more so when people feel they have been wronged or misled. It’s even more difficult in a two-party system like in the States, where the dividing centre line can be a bit nebulous but polarization and necessity drive people to share space with strange bedfellows. The struggle between Berniecrats (a resurgent progressive left who fell in behind the grassroots campaign of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders) and the establishment Democratic Party, with a closer to centrist establishment, came to a head during the race for the Democratic National Chair. On one side you had Keith Ellison, one of Bernie’s most popular surrogates and critics of the 2016 General Campaign, and on the other Tom Perez who was urged to run by Obama himself. On paper, their policies and proposals weren’t so far off, the position itself has in the past been more symbolic than a centre of systemic power, and in the aftermath of Perez’s win there was a show of unity in him making Ellison his deputy chair.
Yet while on paper there is unity, the passions underneath by the millions who saw it as a doomed compromise and not enough of a turn to the left show signs of tearing at the tent. This leads to the point where you have to start considering the value of your tent; while it might keep you out of the rain, you aren’t necessarily moving anywhere. Is it worth the energy to try and build up supports or negotiate on the fabric colour, or just strike out with your own umbrella?
I’m all for coming together, but there’s only so far you can go when you don’t share the same vision of the world. In the case of the DNC, there are fault lines along capitalism and class, on establishment and grassroots. If we developed systems that allowed for better proportional representation we could give people a greater voice and have governments that better represent the needs and wants of the people, and not the norms and traditions of political organizations and parties. You could work together where you need, but still have your energy put to proper use building towards a better world and better ideas, instead of lukewarm compromise, and energy and time wasted on infighting.