Debunking the Pendulum Theory

By Todd Thompson
June 09, 2017

Democrats and other anti-Trump politicos sense that their prey is in distress. There is growing optimism about the opportunities it presents for the Left. For instance, some are saying that Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement is an opportunity to seize a moment (see Joe Ware’s article in Counterpunch), that in four years, the issue of climate change could be the major topic of the 2020 presidential election, and they believe it would bode well for progressives. Others are pushing the moment to pass single payer health care because Trump has been unsuccessful in killing off Obamacare. Both would be welcome changes, but neither will happen if the Left depends entirely on the momentum of the pendulum.

Pendulum Theory

While there is reason to be optimistic as the popularity polls turn away from the sitting president, it could be disastrous for the Left to depend on the theory of the pendulum for its momentum. The theory suggests that a reaction to extreme right politics would naturally give way to a leftward swing. If people await the swing to the left and try to ride its momentum on issues dear to them, the pendulum could fall well short of the goals of progressives. If anything, under the weight of so many issues, the pendulum might not swing at all.

Hypnotic State

There is another problem with the pendulum — the tick-tock-tick-tock can also induce hypnosis.

Think about the 1960’s and the historic moments of the Civil Rights era and Vietnam.

The achievements of the Voting Rights Act and the desegregation of schools and universities were profound, bought with the blood of martyrs. The Vietnam War was ended because of the pressure of public protests and outrage over the growing number of atrocities that came to light. However, the systemic problems of racism and militarism persist in other forms that are more embedded in the culture than ever. There is an economy that is dependent on war and cheap prison labor by black citizens. There is state violence such as rampant police brutality, interference with duly elected regimes internationally, and the subtle suppression of democracy at home through gerrymandering and voter ID laws.

These persistent realities did not grow up overnight; they were borne of a public that trusted too much in the good faith of the government — the hypnotist.

Rocket Theory

There is another theory that may be more applicable to our history, the rocket theory.

Politics and economics have been on a march toward capitalistic oligarchy for many decades. Indeed, it is argued with great merit that the induction of free labor, through slavery and oppression, the U.S. blazed the trail from the beginning.

Wars are fought in the interests of natural resources and the companies that profit from them. Threats are those that would disrupt the path of capitalism, whether they be a rival state seeking the same pots of gold, or such forgotten American values as liberty and human rights.

The path of capitalism, like a rocket, is designed to take no detours.

Unlike the repetitious motion of the pendulum, rockets launch in a single direction, travel as far as their fuel or impetus allows, and then they crash and burn. The Left would be among the ashes, perhaps never earning a mention in the annals of history.

Radical Change Theory

The Left should be seeking permanent change, a revolutionary redirection of civilization.

It is well-known and accepted among Greens and others on the Left that radical change will not happen within the two-party system. While the duopolists argue back and forth about their differences and, at election times, appeal to the interests of their corporate financiers and their various identity groups, they are both addicted to the same habit, the habit of fueling the rocket of ill-fated capitalism.

Radical change does not accept the status quo as its standard for measuring success. Pulling the politics to the left, with all the kicking and screaming it would entail, might temporarily shift the status quo by a couple of hair widths, but not by much and not for long. See above discussion regarding the Civil Rights era and Vietnam.

Radical implies a “root” change, a total supplanting of the basis for the status quo. It means replacing the systemic roots of our current operating principles: capitalism, corporatism, imperialism, and oligarchy.

Failing Theories

The rocket theory is destined for destruction. There is not enough fuel for it to continue forever. Indeed, the planet will see to that. Pendulum theory may appear to be our friend because, at times, it seems to be stroking in our favor. The current rise on the right will surely reach its height, and the leftward swing will begin.

The problem with relying on the pendulum is that it travels in the same path as the rightward swing, and it covers old ground. Rather than carving out a new path, pendulum watchers are relieved to recover what they once lost. They enjoy it for awhile, doing what they can to increase the leftward rise, before ultimately falling asleep as the pendulum starts back on its rightward path. Tick-tock-tick-tock. Today’s weekend protesters and marchers must beware of the dangers of pendulum theory. Carrying signs and chanting in city streets is habit forming and can easily become sleep-inducing. What passes momentarily as activism may do nothing more than to quell the enthusiastic promise of new roots of change.

We marchers are invigorated by our own participation, and we can easily become self-satisfied. It is tempting to say, “I’ve done my part; that’s all I can do!” These are the words of pendulum riders, not the voice of radicals.

What Radicals Do

Radicals do not wait for pendulum swings. They do not settle for covering old territory whether it is moving to the right or to the left of the status quo. Radicals seek to dismantle the status quo. They expose it to the world.

They do not allow politicians to employ the rhetoric of populism and democracy without exposing their allegiances to corporate donors and previous voting records. They are not quiet about our imperialistic adventures. They know there is more to the “war on terror” than national security. They understand and fight against the demonization of state enemies on the basis of false claims of terrorism threats. Radicals do not abide abusers and despots just because they look like us and share our culture and our religion. They do not give a wink and a nod to states that besiege nations of people or encroach upon territories of weaker states. Radicals seek reform for persons who commit crimes; they do not view these persons as commodities to be shuffled around for profit. Radicals recognize police brutality as a crime, not a necessary accident of an ordered society. But, the greatest difference between the radical and pendulum riders is that the voice of the radical is never silenced, not even when the left side of the duopoly is in power, all fat and happy to have their mascot in the Oval Office, all the while continuing on the same rocket path as those on the right.

Chris Hedges said, To resist radical evil is to endure a life that by the standards of the wider society is a failure. It is to defy injustice at the cost of your career, your reputation, your financial solvency, and, at times, your life. It is to be a lifelong heretic. It is to accept that the dominant culture, even the liberal elites, will push you to the margins and attempt to discredit not only what you do, but also your character …

We have a power that terrifies our corporate masters. Any act of rebellion, no matter how few people show up, or how heavily it is censored, chips away at corporate power. Any act of rebellion keeps alive the embers for larger movements that follow us. It passes on another narrative. It will, as the state consumes itself, attract wider and wider numbers. Perhaps, this will not happen in our lifetimes, but if we persist, we will keep this possibility alive. If we do not, it will die.

Todd Thompson is a member of the Tarrant County Green Party, an affiliate of the Green Party of Texas.