A New Pride in Progressivism

A New Pride in Progressivism

I’ve considered myself a Progressive for a long time, even though, sadly, the label has rarely felt like something to boast about freely. Quite the opposite actually; even in a group of friendlies I find myself almost waiting for a safe word or secret handshake before offering up my thoughts on politics, like how I believe in the power of a properly run, proactive government to improve the quality of life of its citizens. I know I’m not alone in this. So many Conservatives are more than happy to tell you who they are and what they stand for, even if you hadn’t bothered to show any interest. Why can’t Progressives be just as bold? I mean, we’re not talking about praising something clearly detestable like Communism, where the government simply takes everything away from its people; we’re talking about a government investing in its people so that the citizens can reap the dividends. How is believing in the government that you participate in not something to speak about proudly? How is believing in the potential of your fellow human beings not something to declare with full voice, without hesitation or reservation?

Despite a long history of truly American success stories, Progressives have somehow been convinced that there is reason to be timid about expressing what we believe. Surely this is an intended consequence of the Conservative media machine, and their decades-long campaign against the Progressive philosophy. And that media machine has been doing what it had to do, because Conservative ideology by itself has proven to have serious flaws. Without a means of perpetual messaging (read: brainwashing), those flaws would be obvious, and Conservatism would quickly become unpopular and morally unappealing. (Which is why there has been a war on facts – because the facts about Conservatism would naturally bring about its demise.)

Did you know that traditional Conservatism relies on the principle of hierarchy? The foundation of Conservatism is based on society needing different classes of people – a hierarchy – to maintain order and function properly (basically the polar opposite of equality for all). Think of the caste system in India, but much more subtle, and held together by a propagated message of “this is the way things have always been, so that’s the way they should stay.” A system based on this way of thinking clearly runs counter to empowering people fighting to work their way up the socioeconomic ladder.

The natural extension of that reliance on hierarchy is the development of the “trickle-down” economic theory, which has become integral to Conservative and Republican agendas. Without a government-supported class of elites, this theory can’t work. (The historical data prove it doesn’t work anyway.) Here is a link to a great article by Gwynn Guilford about the flaws in “trickle-down” thinking, including its history of being conjured up by a man strong on narrative but very weak on the use of actual economic data: https://qz.com/895785/laffer-curve-everything-trump-and-republicans-get-wrong-about-trickle-down-economics-and-reaganomics/.

In order to win with such a weak hand, the Conservative strategy had to include a merciless campaign of discrediting all other philosophies, including the ones that allow for a rational, human-centered, egalitarian way to govern.

I believe the success of Conservative media has been from convincing people that there are (and have to be) social classes, and that they belong to the privileged class (if you’re watching us, you must be part of our class of elites and people in the know!). Meanwhile, those same people are still somehow suffering from a lack of opportunity, debt, health problems, etc., all problems that the true elites don’t suffer from. No wonder they’re frustrated – they feel they should be better off being part of that “privileged class”. Meanwhile, they remain totally ignorant as the politicians they have supported keep stripping away their job benefits, chipping away at their wages, making it harder to get good health care, and basically doing very anti-Progressive things that hurt them and their prospects for improving their lives.

There has been a resurgence in public activism with Progressive leanings, but my worry is that it will stay an Anti-Trump movement and not blossom into a constructive movement that can actually produce long-term positive results. To avoid that, there are a few things we, as Progressives, need to do.

First, we should see this as an opportunity to rebrand. Most progressives operate within the Democratic Party, which for some reason has been content with living with the symbol of a donkey since Andrew Jackson was happy to accept being characterized as a stubborn jackass in 1828. Really? Nothing says Conservatism like keeping things the same way for almost two hundred years for the sake of tradition. Andrew Jackson is nothing close to the standard bearer for the modern Democratic Party. New mascot anyone? How about the gray wolf? Wolves are incredibly intelligent, live in highly effective social groups and are celebrated in Native American heritage. (By the way, when is the last time you saw a free-range elephant roaming the United States? And, for the record, the American bald eagle belongs to all of us.)

Second, we should remind ourselves that Progressivism is steeped in a long history of improving the lives of all human beings, including Americans of all ethnicities, genders and social classes.  Progressives are responsible for:

  • establishing the constitutional right of women and minorities to vote;
  • building the vast infrastructure that has made America the one and only global superpower;
  • putting in place protections for employees and workers, including the institution of the eight-hour workday and the forty-hour work week;
  • putting in place protections against forced child labor;
  • reforming banking many times over to help small businesses and farmers, and for creating federal insurance for bank deposits;
  • creating and protecting national parks, becoming the first to be considered conservationists and environmentalists;
  • creating the social safety nets like Medicare, Medicaid, and Social Security that have protected our most vulnerable citizens;
  • the creation and protection of the Public Broadcasting System (PBS) and National Public Radio (NPR);
  • enacting provisions to help educate Americans and ensure their prosperous futures, including through programs like the G.I. Bill;
  • countless other acts of proactive patriotism, encouraging the government to invest in American citizens for the sake of producing a more perfect union.

The following link is to a BillMoyers.com article by Professor Harvey J. Kaye that illuminates the history of what FDR accomplished in equally trying times in American history:  http://billmoyers.com/story/time-to-recall-a-progressive-truly-great-first-100-days/.

The war on Progressivism will likely continue for a long time to come, but the more we find ways to cut through the meaningless distractions, and get to the debate about governing principles and views on how to treat our fellow Americans, the sooner we’ll be able to right our ship of state. And in that debate, never be too timid to bring up our proud Progressive history, because actions speak louder than words.

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What We Lost in the Fire: Keeping Track of Progress Lost in the Trump Presidency

What We Lost in the Fire: Keeping Track of Progress Lost in the Trump Presidency

The ancient Library of Alexandria is said to have been intentionally destroyed, set ablaze by those who felt the knowledge and wisdom held within were too much of a risk to their own interests to keep around. There is no way to know what we, our collective humanity, lost in that destruction. There is no way to know how advanced we would be today had we benefitted from that knowledge and wisdom, instead of having to relearn what was once already known. Even worse, there is no way to know how our development was stunted by the replacement of that knowledge and wisdom by dubious substitutes.

Two thousand years later, in the year 2017, there is a gut-level nervousness affecting the people of the United States that I believe comes from a fear of similar loss. A faction of people, driven by nothing but selfish motivation, a lack of faith in human achievement and the support of a disillusioned popular minority, now sit in the most powerful positions in human history. Their deeds and plans trend toward the destruction of an incredibly significant amount of American achievement, making that nervousness more than justifiable.

In the months and years to come, if these people have their way, entire government agencies will be gutted. Individuals and entities, the robber barons of the twenty-first century, will concentrate power, wealth and resources in places from which they will probably never be redistributed. The protections of the Supreme Court will likely be tilted away from politically unconnected human beings for generations. And most tragic of all, faith in the institutions that make up our government of, by and for the people will be reduced to near unrecoverable levels.

We will fight. We will resist. And there will be some things we can save. Other things we will have to just watch as they burn, feeling powerless, mourning progress lost. But while we watch, there is something we can do: plan our rebuild.

To do this, we need to keep an unburnable public record of those things – policies, legislation, budget priorities, global relationships, or even just the customs of civil discourse – that are being undone and taken from us. We need to establish a virtual archive of the things we stand for, from the full protections of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, to the structure of Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, to the retention of career diplomatic staff in the State Department, to the assurances of the Affordable Care Act, and so on and so on.

As a start, we can use the power of social media to keep track of these ideas by name until the momentum of effort can result in a more shepherded approach. I offer up the following hashtags to get the conversation started:

#thingswelostinthetrumpfire

#Americanprogressundone

#Americanprogressatrisk

#resistancearchive

#wewillgetthisback

Now is our time to fight. There will be losses, and we have to accept them as part of the process. But when the tide has turned, we can’t just stand there and weep at everything we’ve lost. We have to remember what we’ve been fighting for, and start working to get it back.

An Argument for Responsible Regulation Using… Burrito Delivery Drones

An Argument for Responsible Regulation Using… Burrito Delivery Drones

Despite my hardened optimism, and boundless faith in humanity, I believe there are times when we need to put measures in place to protect ourselves from ourselves. That may sound like an obvious premise, but we’ve elected many, many people who actively vilify and undermine laws intended to do just that in an effort to brand themselves as defenders of “freedom”. So, to push back against those people in my own way, and offer any humble support I can to those whose resistance is already underway, I’d like to paint a few scenes for you to show how freedom from regulation is not the simple formula for an ideal life.

I’ll start simply, by addressing a particular menace that could ruin our way of life if left unchecked. I’m talking, of course, about burrito delivery drones. Imagine this scene: you’re sitting at a park on a warm, bright day, enjoying the soft sunshine on your skin, listening to the birds fluttering about in the treetops. There are clusters of people around, all smiling and in various states of repose. Then, like an attack from above, a delivery drone whizzes by with the high speed whir of a giant wasp, seeking the phone linked to the order for a couple of burritos. Worse yet, it’s lunch time, and here come a swarm of those wasps in search of their targets. No one wants to leave to go get something to eat, and why would you?  Didn’t bring a picnic? No problem. They’ll bring one to you! But now you can’t even take a photo of the trees without a flock of inbound burritos blocking the view.

Let’s expand this out a bit. How about a day spent at home lounging with the window open, while the cool breeze of a changing season moves the window coverings just enough to lull your eyes closed. Then, ripping through the calm, comes a buzzing swarm of random home good deliveries right up to neighboring doorsteps. It took only minutes to get that toilet paper they needed! No more recipe substitutions – no olive oil? Ran out of limes? No problem! Drone delivery at your fingertips.

And I haven’t even mentioned the privacy issues of remote controlled cameras blending in with the more purposeful offenders.

A step further: flying cars and jetpacks. Imagine that these things were no longer science fiction. Imagine that these things were manufactured in mass to become everyday items. Seems like an exciting prospect. The ability to get up and out to wherever you want to go. But imagine the chaos that would come with it. We’re not talking about the once in a while airplane flyover; we’re talking about airborne highways without lanes like a scene out of a chaotic science fiction movie. Where could you look in the sky to take a photo of the clouds, or the sunset, or of a great building if vehicles were no longer tied to the ground? How could you watch the sun rise over a cityscape when rush hour traffic is blocking the whole view?

Those scenarios are bursting with freedom. Conveniences in abundance, satisfied by the simple principles of supply and demand. But, unless you are someone who has no affinity for wonder, those are probably not the visions you would include in your design for an ideal life.  What is needed to keep our skies from filling with swarms of unnatural beasts? Regulation. Reasonable, consensus-driven regulation steered by wisdom and the leaders who will always have our futures and our better selves in mind.

As Americans, we do have the power to engineer our ideal lives because we live under our own rule. This cannot be repeated enough: government of the people, by the people, and for the people.

The War on Drugs, and Political Enemies, Will Be Televised

Here’s a thought experiment to put the lasting legacy of the “War on Drugs” into perspective:
Imagine being back in the summer of 2015. It was one day after July 4th, a Sunday, mid-afternoon. The U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team was about to play in the World Cup final. Imagine being at a “viewing party” for that game. At least a hundred people, probably hundreds, all dressed in U.S.A. jerseys and soccer scarves and red, white and blue. All types of people were represented, and somehow everything was incredibly cohesive. Everyone was so friendly. And hopeful. Every so often you would join a chant of “U.S.A.!” Or you would fall in with the call-and-response, “I…,” “I believe…,” “I believe that we will win!” And the guys with the drums would start pounding away. And the unity made you well up in the eyes. And then the game started and the players were amazing. Goal after goal. A shocking win. An incredible performance, and for the World Cup final! U.S.A.!

Now, imagine that the viewing party was in downtown Los Angeles. You had taken the metro rail line because you knew parking would be a nightmare. So you took the train, and you shared it with dozens of other red, white and blue passengers. High fives all around. Everyone was all smiles. All types of people. This was Los Angeles, remember.

An announcement came over the loudspeaker that there was an issue with the track down the line, so everyone must exit the train at the next platform. At the platform you obliged. After a few minutes, the crowd around you dispersed, leaving you alone, surrounded by graffiti-covered walls and sidewalks littered with dirt and refuse. You could feel territorial stares from the dark corners all around. The sign at the platform told you that you were in a place you’ve only heard about in gangster rap songs. You were in the heart of gangland. This place did exist, and it was far more wretched than its reputation suggested.

What if, while you were standing there, doing your best to look street-wise and fearless despite your escalating heart rate, you learned that someone could have kept horrible places like this from ever existing. What if you learned that someone created public policy that not only ignored ways to prevent this, but that this was actually part of their desired outcome.  That their governing philosophy wasn’t based on that unified feeling you had just a short time before, but actually required repression of some of the people around you and relegation of those people to slums like this. What if you learned that the someone who helped create this reality was a United States president, freely elected by the people of this country.

Who we vote for matters.

The April 2016 issue of Harper’s Magazine includes an article by author Dan Baum called “Legalize It All,” with the purpose of making a case for drug legalization. He makes a moving case at that; however, it’s not the main premise that is so jaw-dropping. Contained in the opening background story is an account of Baum’s interview with John Ehrlichman, a former top aide to Richard Nixon, regarding the origin of the “War on Drugs.” Ehrlichman explained to Baum that the war on drugs wasn’t really about drugs; it was actually just a way to undermine two sets of people opposed to his agenda: “the antiwar left and black people.” The need arose in their 1968 presidential campaign, and their solution to dealing with those troublesome groups was to associate the antiwar left with pot-smoking hippies and blacks with heroin users. They could then “vilify them night after night on the evening news,” says Ehrlichman. This strategy apparently carried on into the Nixon administration as a way of managing domestic policy issues.

Mass incarceration and the modern disenfranchisement of African American communities were the direct result.

CNN’s Tom LoBianco described Baum’s revelation as “the first time the war on drugs has been plainly characterized as a political assault designed to help Nixon win, and keep, the White House.” In other words, the War on Drugs wasn’t about protecting the health of Americans; it was about controlling people the president didn’t like.

In case you find this hard to believe, writer Andrew Gripp has a thoughtful analysis posted on the Independent Voter Project website ivn.us (link to it here) in which he examines Nixon’s motives. Maybe Nixon wasn’t explicitly out to banish African Americans to poor, destitute neighborhoods like the ones in south central Los Angeles. Or maybe he was. He certainly didn’t try to raise them up, or help them prosper after the Civil Rights Act was passed a few years before.

There is something else you should know, while you’re standing out on that graffiti-ridden train platform in your red, white and blue. How we get our information matters.

Dan Baum’s account of the War on Drugs should be read in conjunction with an equally startling article written by John Cook for Gawker in 2011 called “Roger Ailes’ Secret Nixon-Era Blueprint for Fox News,” in which he describes documents obtained from the Nixon presidential library that reveal plans to develop “pro-administration” and “pro-GOP” news programming to bolster their agenda on the nightly news. Those plans were nurtured by Nixon’s media consultant, one Roger Ailes, who we know today through the success of his media powerhouse Fox News. Here is one of the most chilling quotes from the Nixon memos described in Cook’s article:

Today television news is watched more often than people read newspapers, than people listen to the radio, than people read or gather any other form of communication. The reason: People are lazy. With television you just sit—watch—listen. The thinking is done for you.

As Cook shows with hand-written notes from Ailes himself, the origins of the modern Fox News Network are in this statement. This is important to know because Nixon’s lasting success in suppressing an entire race of people owes a great deal to Roger Ailes and the power of the media.

It would be unfair to continue comparing the patriotic fervor of a sporting event to the disappointment in how our political system has failed some of our fellow Americans, and how it continues to do so today.  But despite that disappointment, and the gut-wrenching frustration, we must keep faith in our system.

We are on the verge of selecting the next president of our country, the person who will represent us and guide us into our collective future. We have a responsibility to question the information we are presented, and to learn as much as we can so that we can make the best choice for our shared wellbeing. We must keep reminding ourselves that this is government of the people, by the people and for the people. Of us, by us and for us. All of us.

The Trump Candidacy in the Time of the Cyberbully and the Superhero

President Obama is a Nazi. And a Muslim. And has big ears. Regardless of how legitimate these claims are, or their relevance in public policy discourse, they demonstrate a vulnerability of President Obama: just like almost every other human being, he is subject to the verbal slings and arrows of ill-intended people, now easily magnified at the speed of light for the similarly ill-intended, or worse yet, for those who hadn’t bothered with their own critical thinking to form an opinion. As the first black president, Mr. Obama has taken a high road approach, and been inspiring to anyone paying attention. Haters will hate; let the arc of American history be the true judge.

None of this anti-Obama rhetoric should be surprising, especially because we are living in the age of the cyberbully, and the internet troll, and the poorly spelled and even more poorly punctuated hate speech blasted from megaphones that can reach the hand-held device of every citizen of the United States, and beyond. No one is safe from criticism that can achieve critical mass momentarily. Many feel the brunt of this force on a personal level, with direct threats to personal safety. Others are no doubt aware of this looming shadow and its effect on others. Support him or not, when the president of your country is ridiculed for being something, or not something, or painted to be the obviously false but everyone is talking about it, the vulnerability is clear. And vulnerability is a difficult state to maintain.

Enter Donald Trump. Resilient to all attacks. Hardened by a brutal business and ready to take on all comers. When a personal attack is launched against him, he launches one right back. A challenger goes low, he goes lower, and dirtier (reference the hands-to-manhood relationship mentioned in a presidential debate). There is no high road approach here, and for the masses who are tired of listening to someone tell them what the high road should look like, this is their hero. This is their superhero, the character with the back story they’ve always wanted and the superpowers they’ve always needed. If I had those superpowers, no one could ever mess with me.

If my president had those superpowers, no one would mess with my president. My president. And my country. No more photos of my president’s face superimposed on the body of a monkey for people to laugh at. No more sitting on the sidelines “leading from behind” in some peace-prize deserving foreign policy re-think too groundbreaking and brilliant for me to understand but I hear makes us look weak. I want a president who will ignore treaties and pacts agreed to by the dumb people of the past and go unleash hell on the bad guys like they deserve, to prove that no one messes with my president. And my country. That’s how it should be done, at least that’s how it was done in all those movies starring Governor Schwarzenegger (a character cut from a similar cloth…).

The premise that Donald Trump is harnessing the anger of a hurting and underappreciated constituency is reported so often that it is now taken for common knowledge. However, what seems to be left out of the discussion is that the undercurrent of discontent may be somewhat manufactured, or at least embellished. Sure, there are people in serious need, and things could be better. However, positive reporting on positive change doesn’t make for good ratings. Small legislative victories that will help in incremental ways over many years of American history don’t offer enough immediate gratification to make the true “main stream media”. And there has been positive change, but acknowledging it doesn’t speak to the desired narrative. A voice of optimism is unfortunately drowned out by many shouts of negativity, especially when negativity pays more.

There is some anger in the constituency. Some of it is justified. But for constituents who care little for public policy specifics, a candidate who gets away with speaking in generalities is their perfect candidate. Especially one who can’t be made fun of. And has superpowers.