COMMENTARY: Having administered a progressive Facebook page for nearly two years, and having actively responded to material and comments that appear on that and on my personal page, I have found an amazing consistency in the position of those who oppose and criticize the analysis and solutions put forward by real progressives — not liberals — to reverse the awful decline of our nation and its people over the last 40 years.
Those of you who are middle-class do not have to be told of the steep drop in your family’s standard of living and total wealth, and that your children are likely to be worse off, not better, than you are. You are living the nightmare.
Those of you who are poor do not have to be told that there are now many more of you and that your chances of breaking out of poverty are far worse than previously. It is as plain to you as your daily struggle.
Most of you are keenly aware that your congressional representatives do not represent you; that streets, roads and bridges are falling apart; that violence, bigotry and hatred have increased; that police departments have become militarized and cops are often out of control and lawless.
Progressives point to the historical reality that, save for a very few decades in the life of our nation, the United States has actually been run by and for the ultra-wealthy and corporations. By connecting the dots, anyone can understand that the central problems we face — economic, social, political and environmental — stem directly from the policies put in place by these unelected rulers, policies they designed to enrich themselves and their shareholders at the direct expense of vast majority of Americans.
The historical record shows that each time the people rose up and pushed the Robber Barons, Economic Royalists, 1 percent — whatever their label at the time — out of power, those wealthy elite immediately and successfully clawed their way back to the top, distorting and damaging democracy in the process.
Given this pattern, the logical solution is to create an economic and political order that breaks the cycle and prevents the capitalists from seizing power ever again. We must restructure our systems such that they permanently serve regular citizens, the people who make everything in the country run.
Be you liberals, establishment Democrats, Republicans, or independent Trump supporters, you who oppose the progressive vision on social media appear to operate narrowly out of a place of destructive criticism. You label, tear down, demonize, reject, make fun of and vilify the vision and its proponents. Some voice support for the failed status quo offered by the Republican or Democratic Parties; otherwise, you opponents make no constructive criticism. You offer no alternative solutions. You lash out without feeling any responsibility to support your argument. It is hard to tell whether you are defending the current indefensible system or are responding reflexively without making the effort to truly understand what we progressives are putting forward.
Even when directly asked how you would solve an identified problem, you respond only with further vilification, or do not respond at all.
I fully appreciate the frustration that exists out there. The Democrats offered up an unpalatable, status-quo candidate. Trump impersonated a populist during the campaign, only to do a swift about-face once in office. Once Bernie Sanders was eliminated in the Democratic primary, there was no desirable choice for president for an aggrieved American populace. Your frustration and disappointment intensified.
None of us likes to be wrong. I was dead wrong throughout 2016 when I held the position that Trump could not possibly win. Some of you were dead wrong believing Clinton was a shoo in. Others of you were dead wrong in thinking Trump would really do great things for the people.
I immediately sought to understand how I went wrong, and when I figured out what I had missed in my certainty about a Trump loss, I stopped being so down on myself. I didn’t try to blame anyone for my misjudgment. I did not vote for Clinton or Trump, but many of you Clinton voters instantly sought someone or something to blame for her loss. Many of you still blame Bernie Sanders and his supporters, rather than asking the tough questions that will guide you to the truth behind Hillary’s failure. It is quite likely that some of the unreasoned rejection of progressivism that I observe online comes from the ongoing misplaced anger of Clinton voters.
As for you Trump voters who cannot yet admit that you made a mistake, blindly defending him solves nothing. Trashing anything that is not Trump does not help your family. He is trying very hard to do real damage real fast to our country in support of his 1 percent buddies. We can all choose to use our anger and frustration to motivate action toward positive change, or we can let it eat at us and ruin our health and mood.
People prefer progressive policies
From where I sit, it seems obvious that over the 40-year gradual shift of political and economic power to the 1 percent there has been a concomitant increase in the experience of powerlessness and hopelessness among the American people.
It can be seen in the marked loss of faith in government, politicians and the electoral system. People hate Congress and realize their representatives have stood by as their once-satisfactory standard of living was stolen from them. Many are apathetic, refusing to vote because they learned that their vote does not really matter. Many others vote reactively. The party in power did not deliver for them, so they vote for the other party in desperation.
Here is a curious fact. In repeated surveys of the public, people consistently tell pollsters that on issues of concern to them they overwhelmingly prefer progressive policies and solutions. A functional definition of “progressive” would be policies and systems of government aimed at advancing the well-being of the public at large.
Why, if the public, by large margins, voices support for progressive policies, do we not see more such policies being implemented by lawmakers at every level of government? The answer is straightforward. What are progressive policies for the people are regressive policies for big business. Our economic system pits the interests of corporations and the wealthy against the interests of the rest of the people. And since the 1 percent is usually in charge as an unelected power, they reject and roll back progressive policies whenever they can.
Our duopoly party system in Washington plays a significant role in perpetuating the conflict. A few years ago, William Greider, writing in The Nation magazine, put it this way: “The Republicans are a wholly owned subsidiary of the business-finance machine, the Democrats are rented.” To spell it out, Republicans are totally in the bag for the 1 percent, do their bidding 100 percent, so we can expect zero support from them for progressive policies. The Democrats can count on two hands the number of serious progressives in both the House and Senate — Jeff Merkley in the Senate being the only one of the caliber of independent Bernie Sanders.
Bottom line, the Democrats have largely sold out to the 1 percent as well. Hence, lawmaking and policymaking largely represents the desires of the 1 percent, not those of the people.
Keeping us fighting among ourselves
America is a culture that worships teams: baseball teams, football teams, basketball teams, hockey teams, etc. We pray for our teams to win, we turn out for championship parades in greater numbers that we do for far more momentous matters such as protests to save democracy. We also treat politics as a team sport. We are Republicans or Democrats (in steadily decreasing numbers) and are committed to our team with a fierce loyalty regardless of its performance. We hate the other team, often simply because they are the other team, not because they are so different from our own. Since the 1980s, when the Democratic Party abandoned its long identification with working people, the two parties have increasingly come to resemble one another.
If you accept the premise that both parties are beholden to the 1 percent (and here again, I invite people to offer evidence to refute this well-documented conclusion), then it is only a logical step to acknowledge that inter-party rivalry exists at the grassroots level but not really so much at the level of the party leadership. And from here it easy to understand why the 1 percent welcomes and does what it can to encourage grassroots party rivalry as another one of their divide-and-conquer strategies: To find as many ways as they can to keep us hating each other and fighting among ourselves works to keep our focus off them so we do not become wise enough to turn on them.
It should be recognized that the U.S. Constitution was quite a progressive document for its time. It set out admirable principles of equality and justice that still have not been fully realized in our country. In the years since its signing, gradual progress toward achieving those ideals has been made. All that progress was accomplished by aggrieved groups and their supporters making steady and powerful demands on their government.
Attitude change always follows social and political change. One hundred years ago women in the United States were winning the right to vote against a majority who were not in favor. After the victory, attitudes soon changed to the positive. In this century, gays and lesbians won the right to marry after a protracted struggle. Again, majority opinion was against their cause, but changed rapidly during the final years.
It seems that we need regularly to be reminded of the Preamble to the Constitution, especially of these phrases describing its purpose: “establish justice,” and “promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity…” Progress toward fulfilling those goals must be seen as good things. Progressives seek the rapid and full achievement of economic, social, political and environmental justice for all Americans, pure and simple. There is not now, nor has there ever been, a justification for any American to wait on their “unalienable rights.”
Progressive policies are pro-people policies. Join us to fight for the true fulfillment of our nation’s promise.
Max Mastellone is a long-time activist and a Las Cruces resident.