The Fight for Democracy in Venezuela

Source: News Hub

As we speak, protests are underway on the streets of Caracas as pro-Guaido and pro-democracy opposition political activists and defecting soldiers are marching the streets against the draconian dictatorship of Nicolas Maduro. A potential coup is underway in Venezuela and the armed forces of Maduro are suppressing the uprising brutally. Tense for months now, this means that the conflict in the nation has finally reached the tipping point and images like these are making it clear which side is the fascist here.

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It is true that any dictator would resort to brutal measures such as this to hold on to power. But it is important to stay on the right side of history at crossroads like this. While I do not get people who support Maduro, though it’s purely out of the hate of American imperialism, the situation in Venezuela has gone too bad for too long to be able to defend the corruption of Maduro, if you are to still attach some kind of righteous heroics with the late Hugo Chavez. If that is to be believed, Maduro has certainly betrayed his legacy. This VisualPolitik video sums it up perfectly.

Juan Guaido was declared the legitimate head of state by the parliament making his claim to power legitimate. Many Western governments including the United States and Canada have recognized his regime.

The defenders of Maduro from all the regressive powers from Russia and Cuba to the resource-greedy China are targeting the United States for its interference in the country’s affairs. Apart from these countries being enough to give you an idea which side of the debate is democratic, their own vested interests are at stake with the precarious and financially corrupt authoritarian socialist dictatorship.

Removing a dictator is never easy. I always like to analogize it with pulling out a rotten molar. You have to pull it out. All we can do as democracy and liberty-loving citizens of the world can wish the people of Venezuela good luck.

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The Asad Umer Debacle

Source: Public TV News

The PTI mandate on the election date as its voters saw it seems to be falling apart. Last Thursday, the Prime Minister asked the Foreign Minister, the main star of the team, Asad Umer to step down. Asad Umer was touted as the economic solution for the country for about the last 7 to 8 years by the party. The problems started to mount when people realized that the foreign minister of the populist communitarian party that had promised “the Medina welfare state” in the manner of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto’s Islamic Socialism was too right-wing liberal for their liking. His changes, along with an aggressive anti-money laundering drive, resulted in a decline in economic growth, slow stock and real estate markets, and high inflation due to dollar appreciation.

Hungry and desperate for power, PTI promised just about everything under the sun to their voters ever since their antics during the 2014 sit-in protest. Burning power bills due to a hike in energy prices, it was no wonder that the people were not having anything from them when they applied the same policies. Always telling the people that the foreign debt was not the way to govern, PTI had little choice but to turn to the IMF for financing a bankrupt country.

Of course, PTI and Asad Umer did the right thing to turn to the IMF. They just had a hard time getting rid of a populist, anti-corruption narrative that they got elected on and which is still a big part of their campaigns targeting opposition leaders. Especially because they considered governance by foreign debt a part of corruption too. Many of their uncompromising fans, who were taught by them to be uncompromising, felt cheated.

You could argue that Asad Umer should be given the benefit of doubt. He was doing what he considered right as evident by his recent commentary. He said that PTI decided that they would not resort to populist politics and that the value of the Rupee was artificially appreciated by the PML-N foreign minister Ishaq Dar all this point. But as far as the inflation rate and fuel and power prices are concerned, people could only take so much and the deep state was not having it.

The problem is that as much the country has been right wing ever since the execution of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, it has always been keen on subsidizing the “basic necessities” for the underprivileged. Even President Ayub’s popular term was challenged due to public protests over the increase in the price of sugar which eventually led to its downfall. With such a history, the bureaucratic state in Pakistan fears to go Marie Antoinette on the Pakistan people, since they accept other modes of repression happily like curbing freedom of speech. But most people agree that this cabinet change came at a very inappropriate time, particularly Asad Umer’s position.

But does Imran Khan really lack judgment to this extent? His critics who always doubted his intelligence are not surprised. But he did have a lot of flair and sense during the early part of his political career as evident by these old clips. He used to openly criticize the role of the military and the security agencies. But in Pakistan, things change when you get to govern. But is it really his government?

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However, some people are offering some other reason why the Thursday cabinet reshuffle occurred. Some are calling it a coup. Others pointing toward a possible transition to the (Islamic) Presidential System. It could be that the cabinet reshuffle came as the eventual shift that the alleged installers of a weak administration wanted on their terms. Or it could even be a power move to remind Imran Khan not to attempt to make too many powerful decisions. Whatever may be the case, it either shows an indecisive Prime Minister unsure of his vision of governance or a toothless executive following the narrative of the deep state.

Some would argue that abandoning his stubborn and morally constipated political stance has finally earned him the position of Prime Minister and that he is finally acting like a politician as his critics had earlier wanted him to. Whatever may be true, it is evident that General Bajwa enjoys undermining his position as far as their body language in joint appearances is concerned.

What is particularly embarrassing for Imran Khan is the appointment of Brig. (R) Ijaz Shah, who now takes over Imran Khan’s Portfolio of Federal Interior Minister. Shah, whose appointment as ambassador was refused by the Australian government due to alleged terrorist group connections, He is also alleged by some to be among those responsible for the death of Benazir Bhutto. With such appointments, making the cabinet almost the mirror image of the state establishment sanctioned PPP cabinet, and raises a lot of question marks about the credibility of PTI.

Not sure if Imran Khan will reflect on the gravity of the situation, but at least the youth voters of PTI have tasted the consequences of their ballot for the first time. It has left them shaken and has induced self-doubt, if not buyer’s remorse. It did indeed cause a division in the loyal nationalist fanbase of the party.

Let’s just hope they learn to differentiate between idiotic rhetoric and the real world to make a fresh start. And also that a change in ministries doesn’t matter if the problem lies in the leadership.

New Pakistan, Old Donors

Source: PTI Official

The faux populist and communitarian ruling party PTI has been touting a narrative of piety and financial purity. Inseparably entwined with this narrative of fiscal responsibility is the age-old push to curb financial corruption. Pushing false populism has always been the weapon of the Pakistani bureaucratic establishment to fool the politically unconscious people of Punjab and the rest of urban Pakistan. In its latest term, the PTI is following similar trends that the formerly pro-establishment PML-N had been following until the very recent past. That is feeding the narrative of corruption of politicians and targeting the other political party and enabling the bureaucratic establishment to manipulate politics in the country.

PTI entered the government with high hopes of the urban middle class of the nation. Not very different to the Islamic Socialist delusion offered by Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, the PTI populism is also full of empty slogans and misdirecting promises. But I guess that is how you win elections.

The talk about the mini-budget that supposedly offers vulgar relief to potential tax evaders, considering all the hullabaloo they made on the Panama Papers and the self-righteous tweets of the Prime Minister, and the possible rise in GST, only speaks volumes about the PTI. It is reporting losses of revenue in the budget while resorting to the same old financing activities such as bail-outs from Saudi Arabia and UAE and borrowed oil shipments. So much for turning the country on the path of self-sufficiency. The gulf between their ideological rhetoric and the reality is too painful to ignore.

But before we pathologically go too hard on PTI, the good thing is that the party is made up of people who don’t actually believe in the nonsense they vow about. Just like your average Pakistani, whose actions don’t match their beliefs. Though unlike average Pakistanis, they are a bunch of profiteering opportunists not genuinely interested in democracy in Pakistan. All the best to the PTI government for doing a great job for fixing the finances of the country. I guess rechecking public spending patterns for advertising is right on principle, even the media has taken a big hit because of that and they are on the right path on tourism. However, any amount of governance effort will only disillusion the party base because they are discovering that the things they consider financial corruption are simply acts of governance.

However, the hypocrisy of creating a false narrative of financial piety can only last for so long, especially considering every political entity falls out of the establishment’s favor sooner or later in Pakistan.

RIP John McCain: The Senate Just Lost the Maverick

Source: ABC World News Tonight

War hero, Prisoner of War, an unapologetic and fierce defender of freedom, and a voice of reason and sanity in the Senate, John McCain of Arizona has finally succumbed to cancer after a recent diagnosis. He did not go down without a fight as usual but even someone like him knows when to stop wasting your energy on a lost cause. You can’t win every battle and you are not meant to.

Take the 2008 election for an example. Who could have been a more obvious . He probably would have been a sensible choice, had Senator Leiberman decided not to sabotage his campaign by pulling out. A lot can be said of course about how he handled that campaign, particularly the disastrous choice of picking Sarah Palin as the running mate. Especially with the persepective that if the popular but divisive Obama Presidency could be avoided, you could argue that things would have been a lot different in Syria today. However, even the staunchest of Democrat will attest to the dignity with which he ran the campaign. Compared to more recent politics, McCain almost sounds like a saintly figure despite being a Republican hawk.

Much is being said about the heroics of the man but few are focusing on the gulf he is leaving in the US Senate. Not only in the Senate and the GOP, but in American politics, he is leaving very big shoes to be filled in. One of the most important qualities of John McCain’s political career was his independence of views despite whatever was popular in the party. He often did not care about the party line and voted his conscience and stood up for issues when people least expected. He took a stand against torture and waterboarding as an unAmerican and inhumane treatment of prisoners of war, probably inspired by the unspeakable torture he suffered in Vietnam’s most notorious detention camps.

Lately, he stood up to the madness of President Donald Trump when very few in his party such as Governor John Kasich, at least in the elected office, had the courage to do so. His latest act of defiance came when President Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans made their only real effort for a “skinny repeal” of Obamacare or Affordable Healthcare Act put into place during the term of President Barack Obama.

Where the passing of John McCain is even more tragic is the state of politics in which he has left America. Aftter the loss of Hillary Clinton and the seat left vacant by his death, sensible centrist leaders are becoming a rarety in American politics. While you could argue that the majority of Democratic and Republican Senators and Congressmen and women are still centrist liberals, the shift toward more extreme right and left has been prominent in the recent years and it is only going to get worse. While the respective groups might have their own reasons for their ideological polarization, primarily being the deadlock of the Congress and the establishment status quo (even though they might miss the status quo when it’s gone), there are quite a few reasons why centrist liberalism in America is important.

First of all, it is important to preserve the free market enterprise in the United States without making certain sections of the economy too heavily dependent on the government. Secondly, it is important to preserve the secular state of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, which makes the United States of America such an exceptional democracy. Finally, it is important to keep the United States an interventionist power that establishes and exercises its political influence around the world and ensure to defend freedom of the citizens of the world where it is threatened.

Often accused of being a “warmonger,” Senator John McCain was the leader who was making a moral argument for the United States to take action when the Syrian Government was using chemical weapons against its own citizens. In fact, he was pushing for action against both the Assad regime and the Islamic State. All this time, President Obama chose to resist the idea of increased military conflict in the area, leading to massive losses suffered by the Kurds and Yazidis in the North and the failure of the Free Syrian Army to find any major breakthroughs. Obviously, it was not a priority for either President Obama or his Democratic base, or even the Republicans for that matter. Perhaps blame it on the lethargy caused by the two-term war-torn Bush Presidency and that was probably what also led to the comprehensive defeat of McCain in the 2008 election with Obama’s landmark campaign of Hope and Change.

Since President Obama’s term, and especially during the current scandal-infested term of President Donald Trump, American moral leadership around the world has significantly weakened. Unfortunately, even the American public has never been more unenthusiastic about the affairs around the globe and we have recently been seeing more isolationist turns taken in the popular politics. The rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump are a part of this trend in a time when China and Russia are coming back strongly in terms of establishing their hegemony on a global level. This only tells of much darker times ahead with these totalitarian powers gaining greater political influence.

The problem is that there is no other leader in sight who could take up a stand like this again. There is no other leader who could defend the idea of the American Empire like this. And that is what we mourn today more than the death of a towering figure in not only American, but both liberal and conservative, politics.

Liberalism in Crisis in Pakistan

Source: Awami Workers Party facebook page (The slogan on banner reads: Progressives Unite!)

With the death of Asma Jahangir, you can find a sense of panic amid the circles of liberals in Pakistan. In a state of social conservatives, where we see the religious fundamentalists with more impunity than ever, liberals seem to be on the retreat.

This probably happens on the death of every prominent Pakistani liberal figure. And there is a good reason for that.

Liberals in Pakistan are in such small numbers that even the departure of a single person can create such a massive blackhole which might not even be filled in a generation. Though it depends on the liberal that has passed. And sadly in the case of Asma Jahangir, it is unusually massive.

Some of my friends such as @BenignDirector are beginning to worry about the future of liberalism in Pakistan and call on all liberals to come together. This, of course, led him to explain the troubling definition of liberalism in Pakistan. He also reflected on the meaning of the word in Pakistan, including the “lifestyle liberals” who would otherwise remain distant from political activism and disapproved of interference from religious social conservatives. It is complicated but I agree with his larger point.

The trouble is that in countries with medieval tribal societies such as Pakistan, just about anyone who thinks about something for themselves can possibly qualify. Now that is a good thing. But considering the conventions of the orthodoxy among nationalist social conservatives, this trait is a dangerous adventure. It is not really as rare as you would like to believe, but considering the conservative “masses,” this small minority becomes a precious perversion to celebrate and one which obviously needs better protection. Outspoken folks like Raza Rumi should remain miles away from the borders of this country.

But liberalism is truly in crisis in Pakistan, no matter the rays of hope would like to identify themselves as liberals or not. To my mind, it has been on a constant decline since the creation of Pakistan among the society that had been manufactured in the new nation state. A great deal of this decline can be attributed to the enlightened higher-ups in the ruling class who preferred separate rules for their echelons and different for the peasants, laborers, and especially those vulnerable at the hands of clerics. These criminals allowed the country to become a constitutional theocracy and eliminated any chance of a functioning electorate.

The 1971 civil war was the only and first major battle for the soul of a liberal democracy in Pakistan. It resulted in the loss of the then larger chunk of the country’s population with the humiliation of our countrymen allying with archenemies India against the immaculately great cause of the creation of a separate homeland for Muslims. Well, wouldn’t you say Pakistan would have been a logical consequence of that? As much as people would like to make it a Bengali-Punjabi-Pashtun-Hindustani war, it was more about secular democracy against a morally bankrupt theocratic authoritarian oligarchy.

Ever since the Pakistani liberals have been cornered, let’s hope not forever, so that another uprising like Mujeeb’s does not show its face. The Rawalpindi conspiracy case being another instance when they could have come close. But the leftists that had emerged in 1950s, perhaps as a reaction to the pro-American autocratic elite, had been completely displaced from their original form. Especially with the ban on the Communist party. Probably a blessing in disguise for liberal scum like myself who have always been dumbfounded by the extreme political choices between the reds and the Jamaatiye (members of the Islamist Jamaat-e-Islami or Pakistani affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood) but no such option is acceptable when Jamaat-e-Islami roams free. How can they contest elections in a democracy? Then what is the choice but to be a leftist?

Or you could be a “liberal” like the intellectual bureaucracy of Pakistan that fashioned its lifestyle in the manner of Jinnah but asked everybody else to follow Maududi, a Jamaat-e-Islami cleric who was behind the worst Islamic clauses of the atrocious 1973 constitution. These enlightened ones, as mentioned before, would raise toasts in private parties and will ask women of their countries to cover their heads. They fed the elaborate visions of Quranic Apocalypse in Ghazwa-e-Hind to prepare an entire generation of Jehadi soldiers which they had no intention to recruit among their ranks to keep and expand the influence of the state. There really is no end to this disaster which carries on in just like evolution and natural selection.

The crisis in liberalism in Pakistan is that we consider the Jamaat-e-Islami as the solution to offer Islamists an opportunity to participate in mainstream politics so they don’t start blowing themselves and others up. The crisis is that we think that Tehreek Labaik Ya Rasool Allah contesting the elections is an improvement from their ridiculous antics in the sit-in protest. The crisis is that raging mullahs can set cities on fire to get what they want but the liberals, whether leaning conservative or progressive, can’t even imagine doing that. The crisis is that we keep confusing Bahria Town with free market capitalism. The crisis is that we think a separate nation state for a single community was a good idea.

So in these state of affairs, yes, I really don’t care about the various political and economic positions as long as they stand for secularism. I will attend the February 24 tribute to Asma Jahangir by the leftist Awami Workers Party, a party that you will find standing for the right issues more often than not, just like I have joined them to protest the killing of Sabeen and Mashaal Khan. I will stand by their side and endure slogans targeted at me for being a traitor-friend of the United States of America. I will still not join it but will cheer for their passionate volunteers and wonder about our dark future and pointless, wasted lives in that surreal moment and what toilets in Pakistani jails would look like.

Anybody who is for secularism is an ally. In Pakistan, you could argue all of them are liberals. Sorry, if you don’t like the label.

An Opportunity for Globalist Centrist Liberalism

Source: National Review

The world may appear to be sharply divided among the far left and the far right on the social media, and even on the mainstream media these days. However, you could make the case that with the election of Emmanuel Macron as the French President, some hope has been revived in centrism and globalist liberalism. Because the polls in late April were nothing less than a scare with Marine Le Pen ending up neck-a-neck.

One of the features of the shifts to far left and far right camps in public discourse has been the cynicism toward centrism and pragmatism. Candidates such as Hillary Clinton have been condemned as “neo-liberal” by progressive and leftist activists, who could have prevented the Trump Presidency by turning out in greater numbers for her favor. The shift toward absolutism might sound romantic to some in a twisted way, but it has given us politicians such as Nigel Farage, Marine Le Pen and perhaps even Trump on the right and Jeremy Corbyn and Tulsi Gabbard on the left. Of course, each honest in their own dangerous way. I am deliberately not mentioning Bernie Sanders in this list, whose proposals of single payer healthcare is anything but an extreme view for a centrist liberal, but he has a rather unhealthy obsession with the Wall Street.

While still both the left and right in the West are variants of liberalism, relatively speaking, but both have seemed to lose the essence of its ideals of late. The left continues to demonize the idea of private property while the right frequently compromises the liberties of people who either look different or are less fortunate. And another group simply refuses to pay for just about anything. Did I mention Ron Paul in the list?

Since when have these ideas become abominations to the people?

There is no wonder even today a majority of the population might agree on centrist ideas and fortunately that is still what a lot of voting pattern around the world follows. Though that voting pattern has been consistently shifting rightward, evident in Turkey, India, and Israel. Common sense, yes, you hear this expression very frequently in the campaigns of more conservative politicians in the West. But actually, you would rather associate this term with more centrist and pragmatic liberals beyond party lines.

The disillusionment and cynicism of the recent years have particularly been on the rise as a “people’s awakening” of sorts. This has been generally true for the attitude toward the United Nations but the precarious unity of the EU has particularly brought it into light. Blame it on the operational and bureaucratic flaws of these globalist bodies but there is no reason why the ideals behind them should be targeted without anyone putting up a reasonable defense for them.

On the other hand, there is really nothing about centrism or economic liberalism that necessitates apathy toward those who are less fortunate in the society. This ideological direction does not necessarily eliminate a social democracy. It is not as if most of the moderate British conservatives would be effectively killing the NHS, despite their fiscal conservatism. Certainly, not the Liberal Democrats. I guess centrist liberals would only be more respectful of private property and freedom for businesses than obsessing over bringing the budget into surplus too much.

Most moderate Republicans would not dare criticize late night host Jimmy Kimmel making a case for healthcare safety nets by bringing up his sick child. It is precisely the mindset that attacked him for it that a centrist liberal would discourage. Long story short, centrist liberals are more likely to side with a pragmatic, practical direction, keeping a balance between the bleeding heart and the facts of the world. Most of them would at least entertain the idea of a single payer healthcare approach while respecting private caregivers for humanitarian reasons, despite the controversy around its ideological correctness.

Another reason why globalist and centrist liberals are important is their interventionism, another point that gets under the skin of people on both extreme left and right. While there is no point getting behind a warmonger, an isolationist progressive or libertarian would be as caustic to world peace as a relentless hawk.

As much as we would like to hate President Bill Clinton and President George H. W. Bush, their timely humanitarian action in Bosnia and Kuwait goes unappreciated. It is amazing how the critics of American imperialism completely fail to recognize how the intervention has saved the freedom for the people of South Korea and West Germany. Furthermore, globalist liberals would be all for aid and accepting refugees and intervening to prevent a genocide, while an isolationist nationalist or an apathetic progressive could prove to be a humanitarian disaster. But enough of what they might mean for a government.

Despite the apparent lack of enthusiasm, the ideological polarity itself ironically presents an opportunity to the third way liberalism to bring people from left and right together. At least as a practical electoral alliance holding your nose. In a way, the rise of Donald Trump represents that possibility as opposed to someone like Sen. Ted Cruz who could become the President too. Although some could argue the same about Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton.

The person of Donald Trump has always appeared to be pragmatic and centrist, even liberal, in his approach to things but it is unfortunate that he relied on more far right policies and people to run his campaign. Perhaps that was the only way he could win this election. The policies he is enacting are not any more encouraging either. But who knows, that might change with time as he is beginning to figure out the realities of the political world and governance. And say, if Jared and Ivanka do not stay too far. Hanging on to a thread, are we not?

But don’t get too depressed. The world may still give sanity a chance.

It’s not too late.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.

The Absurdity of Ideological Radicalism

Source: youthlinemedia,org – EPA/NOAH BERGER

As I continue to age, I have learned something very important about politics. A lot of our ridiculous, unwavering, uncompromising political positions come out of ignorance and being completely out of touch.

This is something that has made me appreciate people evolving politically over the years and that is why changing parties is not such a cardinal sin in my eyes.

I cannot possibly even come close to talking down to anyone reading these lines as I have held many of these extreme positions in the past myself, and possibly I am also holding quite a few at this point in time. It is easy to dismiss your rival political position as ignorant and condemn your opponents as unintelligent and immoral, but as we go closer, the many shades of gray reveal themselves out of the black and white.

My absolute ignorance of the legalized trophy hunting economics helped me realize how a distant observer fails to see its contribution. Even though I still morally oppose hunting wildlife. However, a trip to Gilgit-Baltistan and speaking to the WWF officials who facilitate legal trophy hunting in the area would shed light on how the local communities benefit from it. And how the activity helps preserve certain species, contrary to the impression of the knee-jerk activist. You just can’t ignore the facts.

I have only recently become more appreciative of military interventionism of the United States, despite obvious disasters such as the Vietnam War and the 2003 Iraq War. And even bypassing the United Nations Security Council in some cases because in humanitarian disasters such as Bosnia, Darfur, Kuwait, and Mosul, when engaging with bureaucracy and particularly the Chinese and Russian votes at the Security Council could cost lives. At the same time, I can tell what a disaster being a blind hawk with neighbors such as India and Afghanistan can prove to be in an underdeveloped region constantly under the threat of a nuclear accident and in desperate need of free trade. And this by no means implies that cutting defense budgets would be any wiser.

I have learned over the years through the wisdom of my friends and by trying to stand in the shoes of struggling families, despite having a similar background, that safety nets matter. I have learned that you don’t exactly run a government like a business and oftentimes debt and stimulus are a necessity for economic sustenance. It cannot be emphasized how vital quality public education with critical reasoning is and how necessary an effective healthcare system is to the people. However, it is also important to recognize how the private sector can add value to both these spheres of social economy, especially medical research.

Flying routes that nobody else would fly has offered me an insight that perhaps having a national flag carrier is not a bad idea after all. But I do not have any doubts about private professionals managing it in a much more efficient manner. And that it is important to raise the alarm when far right partisans make efforts to either privatize or liquidate necessary government services such as public libraries and prisons. At the same time realizing that privatization of certain corporations unrelated to the government would be a better idea, as in the case of power supply companies and other for-profit corporations. I have also come to appreciate how arts and media education require close financial and promotional patronage from the government to thrive. Believe me, artists earn it.

It is important to weigh the facts of the world before becoming a Marxist revolutionary or a Libertarian anarcho-capitalist troll supporting the gold standard. Before completely condemning capitalism and the current global financial system as pure evil, we must consider the global prosperity and the technological advancement this economic model has brought about. It has made the rich richer alright but has significantly improved freedom of access and quality of life for more people than ever before. At the same time, we must never drop our watch of the shady practices in the business and industrial world and make all the strict measures and regulations to protect the environment, the consumer and the workforce rights.

The fact of the matter is that we live in a world that is far more complex than any ideology could possibly encompass. There is little use in investing ourselves in radical ideas and extremes so much that our idealism and passion turn into venomous cynicism and defeatism. College students are particularly prone to nonsense in their earlier years of high passion and idealism. While time corrects your course over the years, a consideration of more pragmatic options over what makes you feel good could always lead to a balanced and more productive worldview. And above all, cements your faith in democracy.

We need to see through ideological radicalism for its absurdity. This might help us build more bridges between people while getting things done.

The post was originally published in The Nation blogs.