American politics is not in disarray, at least for the small segment that control both major parties, but for progressives, politics is in dismal shape. Not because of President Trump and the GOP or even because of that vacuously evil and hypocritical conglomeration opposing him, but because while our discourse is excellent, our ability to act and impact seems nonexistent.
So, … to start with (so that we can agree that we are on the same page), just what are our progressive goals and objectives?
Peace, perhaps first and foremost; internationally and at home; civility and respect in a pluralistic political and social context. The common welfare that our Constitution was supposed to assure, including, among many other things, universal healthcare and education at all levels; equity and justice for all; and, if democracy is to function, real personal equality and access to accurate and complete current as well as historical information. There are many more specific issues and policies that unite us but the foregoing provide their general framework, at least as I understand them.
The GOP’s postures are not our postures. Mr. Trump is (or at least recently was) minimally closer to our positions than is his current Party but neither are consistent with that to which we aspire. The Democratic Party’s realities are not our realities either notwithstanding the condescending lip service we are given by its leaders, especially when they’re soliciting our hard earned money or demanding our participation in their narcissistically hypocritical rallies and demonstrations and of course, when they’re demanding our votes.
While positions we oppose are not without theoretical validity, when results do not bear out their promises despite their seeming rhetorical logic then it’s critical to reevaluate their premises and to develop alternative hypothesis. Differences of opinion and differing hypotheses are critical to our social evolution. They are healthy. Calcified hegemony is not what progressives are about.
We progressives believe our answers are the correct answers but perhaps what makes us different from liberals as well as conservatives is that we can maintain open minds and should our policies ever be implemented and fail, we’d hopefully have the capacity to admit our errors and seek alternatives. We are not about allegiance to means but about attainment of ends and the end we seek is the common welfare, the synthesis of collective and individual rights in a manner that attains the ideal posited by John Stuart Mills of the greatest good for the greatest number, hopefully within the context of a fully participative form of government.
These days are the darkest I remember during the seven decades I’ve inhabited this beautiful but very troubled planet. Still, despite the current darkness, everything is not totally depressing. The Trump administration’s actions and the Democratic Party’s reactions are permitting us to sift our wheat from our chaff. This is especially true when we contrast our conduct with the horrible “Deep State” – mass media and Democratic Party campaigns against a political administration whose policies we also reject. We do not feel compelled to invent Russiagates or other calumnies and scandals merely to grasp power. We do not need to attack our opponents’ families or character or looks or habits to make our points. We do not need to place the world on the brink of nuclear annihilation to attain our goals. We have taken the high road that others allude to but avoid like the plague. Our “decent” opposition, juxtaposed with the filthy, disgusting and despicable attempt at a soft coup by other opponents, is testing our mettle and our steel and distilling not just who we hope to become but also how we might chose to govern should our electorate ever be permitted to really choose its political leadership.
Notwithstanding the foregoing, while we can be justifiably proud of our refusal to descend to the level of the two major political parties and their allies in the media and we can hope that should we ever succeed in attaining political authority we would not be infected by the same lust for power at any cost which both Democrats and Republicans share, we must also acknowledge just how politically ineffective we currently are. If we want to effect change rather than just write about it we must find or develop our own viable national leaders (rather than relying on the faux liberals our opponents seek to place over us, e.g., tried and true hypocrites like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren), we need to somehow formally organize rather than behaving like a herd of cats, and finally, we need to spread our message rather than merely circulating it among the like-minded.
These times, as dark as they seem, are forcing us to take our social, political, economic and civic responsibilities seriously but they require us to develop strategies, tactics and reaction frameworks adequate to the tasks at hand. We need to find political leaders who reflect our values and candidates who are both progressive and electable; a daunting task in a political system as rigged as ours. But we will not attain those goals by following those responsible for the rigging, no matter how much candy and promises they shower on us or how much fear they seek to instill among us with threats of even worse leaders (the lesser evil syndrome that’s been so effective for them). No groups or political parties can be worse than those that seek to keep us stillborn.
There are obviously many people who meet our need for leadership and for candidates for political office but the mainstream media deliberately obfuscates them, maligns them, ridicules them, threatens them, calumnies them, but even more effectively, renders them invisible through what third parties in American history have referred to as the conspiracy of silence. One particular victim of the mass media’s conspiracy of silence comes to mind, Dennis Kucinich, but there have to be thousands of others. Jill Stein, for whom I voted during the last election, unfortunately also betrayed the independence we required by her unfortunate post electoral litigation in thinly disguised support of Hillary Clinton, but she had and may continue to have significant promise. On the center-right, former Senator James Webb would make a very honorable opponent and in many senses, probably a valuable ally. Ours is not the only political perspective currently marginalized, however, it is the one on which we need to focus. Perhaps our most important initial task is to overcome the mass media responsible for the foregoing; that corrupt, deceptive and thoroughly consolidated and monolithic collective which more than the GOP and the Democratic Party forms the major obstacle to our attainment of progressive goals through progressive policies implemented by progressive leaders under progressive guidelines and ethics.
In many areas the disempowered have reverted to terrorism as a tactic but to us that route is anathema. We have been consumed by responding rhetorically to what we see as the terrible wrongs that afflict our society but we need more. It may be true that our struggle will be a very long one and that our victories can only be attained one heart at a time but if we don’t seek, find and implement more effective and more promising tactics we’re not likely to stumble over them. If we don’t dare, unafraid of failure, we are never likely to succeed.
I have one suggestion as a starting point but we need many more and we need to be open to the suggestions of others. Open minds, perhaps more than anything else, are what distinguish us from others. My initial suggestion is that we find a way to convince former Congressman and former presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich to assume an organizational role rather than limiting himself to political criticism, but I hope that others suggest viable alternatives (I assume there are many). I hope we can agree on, develop and implement a code of political ethics to guide us should we ever succeed in attaining responsibility for governance and I hope that we can organize, rejecting all attempts to coopt us with candy and fear.
Sigmund Freud, a currently much discredited social genius whose ideas were groundbreaking but which required a good deal of refinement, once wrote something that has always given me hope, no matter how bad things seemed, something to the effect that in darker times there lived a one who thought as I do. That thought has enabled me to transcend time and space to reach like-minded souls I may never meet, and to draw comfort from them as I hope they too can draw comfort from me. But it’s probably way past time for those of us alive now to meet, and to act.
If you agree, please join me in spreading and adding to this message.
© Guillermo Calvo Mahé; Manizales, 2017; all rights reserved
Guillermo Calvo Mahé is a writer, political commentator and academic currently residing in the Republic of Colombia although he has primarily lived in the United States of America. Until recently he chaired the political science, government and international relations programs at the Universidad Autónoma de Manizales. He has academic degrees in political science (the Citadel), law (St. John’s University), international legal studies (New York University) and translation studies (the University of Florida’s Center for Latin American Studies) and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Much of his writing is available through his blog at www.guillermocalvo.com.