The Road Ahead

I wrote earlier today about the scale and urgency of the political crisis now before us, globally and nationally. Now, I want to address how best to tackle it. There are urgent local challenges as well, both related and separate; I’ll write about that next.

First, let’s start with what I think are some extraordinarily wise words this morning from my friend and colleague Martin Longman, aka Booman:

I’d like to discourage you from engaging in widespread recriminations against people who you will now need as your allies. Some of it you might just need to get out of your system. Say it and be done with it.

There’s a lot of places to place blame, but most of the people you’d be blaming are feeling just as upset as you.

Try to have some dignity. And don’t make things worse than they have to be. Maybe look for some new voices who weren’t aggressively wrong all year long. Give others a chance to put their brains to this new set of daunting problems and challenges. Don’t let old habits and animosities blind you to the fact that you have a lot of new people on your team now who are interested in making peace at least long enough to make common cause.

Most of all, be forgiving to each other.

I would add to this that while understanding how we got to this point is essential, much of it we already know. Progressives have been pointing out the rot at the core of our body politic for years, from our public institutions to our major political parties to our economic and environmental recklessness to our corrupt corporate media. Many of us have already been under attack for years; you already step over some of the victims each day. This war already has casualties, in our cities and around the world. The problems are known.

The best ways to combat those problems? That’s where our failures lie. Already, we live in an oligarchy, not a democracy. Already, we live in a society with a serious disconnect, in issue after issue after issue, between what polls tell us the public wants and what the public officials we vote for actually enact. The reasons for that disconnect are also well known, the solutions also elusive.

The silver lining to this catastrophe is that nearly half the country voted against Donald Trump and all that he stands for. Certainly, very few people voted for Hillary Clinton, a widely disliked politician whose rise to and exercise of power almost perfectly encapsulates the institutional rot at the core of our politics. This election was a referendum on that institutional rot, and Trump won, despite his obvious flaws and dangers, because he was willing to name it. It’s his proposed solutions that are so wildly destructive (and that are the heart of his con). We have to stop him and his allies, and we have to do better. In this, we have some 150 million allies in the US, and billions more around the world. You are far from alone.

Our challenge is twofold:

1) To protect what we have. This means obstructing, in every way possible, the tsunami of bad legislation that awaits us, and the politics of hatred Trump’s election has inflamed and legitimized. It means standing with and protecting the lives of the most vulnerable among us. It means using the power we do have at the state and local level to mitigate the damage inflicted nationally. It means building and sustaining community institutions that can help mitigate the damage. It means saving lives.

2) To win back power. In this, we cannot return to the complacent politics that have failed us. The progressive candidacy of Bernie Sanders this year showed the possibilities, that tens of millions of people can be mobilized to work for a better future. Conversely, the failed campaign of the Green Party’s Jill Stein shows what happens with inadequate resources, poor organizing, and a message that doesn’t resonate. Sanders reached far more people running inside the Democratic Party – even as the party’s leadership rejected him entirely – than he would have running as an independent or with a third party. There’s a lesson there, as well as in how radical conservatives have seized unchecked political power through the Republican Party. We need to build and expand our own institutions, but that takes time. We also need to work within and supplant the leadership of the institutions, like the Democratic Party, that have failed us.

Political parties are organizing vehicles, nothing less or more. Fifty years ago, the Democratic Party was still the party of southern segregationists. It changed in character when the Democrats’ embrace of the civil rights movement caused that bloc to flee. (Moderate Republicans are now fleeing their own party due to that bloc’s spiritual descendants.) The Democrats are now facing another fundamental shift due to the near-unanimous support of the young and of people of color. Those elements control the Democratic base now, but not the leadership. Changing that would result in a far more progressive party – and one whose response to economic displacement is constructive rather than being built on corruption, corporate power, fear, and scapegoating.

Even at their best political parties are only a reflection of popular will. Our will, and our resistance to fascism and the politics of hatred and abuse, must be demonstrated in our communities and in the streets. We must practice what we preach, because that is how our ideas will be judged. Our vision must be reflected in who we are and how we act: inclusive, caring, united, trading in hope rather than nihilism. We are stronger when we work together and respect both our differences and our similarities. We are stronger when we learn from the wisdom of people who’ve been through these struggles before, and when we elevate new leaders and new ideas to carry us forward.

The popular will to resist Trump’s America is enormous, here and around the world. The resources available to create and expand progressive community and political institutions will never be greater. As I see it, here are our greatest immediate needs:

1) Organized pressure on state and local elected officials to step up, and use their public resources to protect us, where possible, from the national train wreck about to unfold;

2) Support for organized private initiatives that provide additional direct assistance to those most in need;

3) Widespread independent media that reports on and advocates for those of us who aren’t welcome in Trump’s America, and that embodies cultural as well as political resistance to it; and

4) Organizations that can turn people out in the streets and that can engage in direct actions, with messages that are clear, focused, constructive, represent our values, and reach across cultural and ideological barriers.

Protests and resistance will happen. Reagan’s 1980s, the closest modern parallel to today, had several major grass roots movements that mobilized millions and that made a difference, especially in preventing even greater abuses by the reactionary forces in power. However, Reagan was never explicit in his scapegoating of minorities and the powerless; Trump is. Reagan never had a Congress, let alone courts, controlled by his own party. Nor was there the kind of existential crisis we now face in climate change. Reagan started the expansion of income inequality, but now we have to deal with the human casualties of three decades of class warfare. And the Reagan opposition had the living memory of effective anti-war, civil rights, and even union organizing movements. The current generation has no such large scale people power memories to draw from.

In retrospect, the organizing of a generation ago was enormous, but it is now largely forgotten and its tactics ridiculed because it wasn’t enough. Its history shows us some of the logistical answers to what we need, but the scale this time must be greater and our ambitions broader. We need not only to stop abuses, but to fundamentally change our existing institutions and build creative new ones to help people survive, change societal priorities, and prevent appeals to fascism from ever taking root again.

That’s a tall order, one that’s impossible if we expect it to happen overnight. It won’t. This is the challenge of a generation, a project that is both immediate and will in some ways take years to bear fruit. We can’t get too exuberant or complacent in our victories, nor alarmed or despairing about our setbacks. The long haul awaits. People and issues will come and go; it is the values, of life and compassion and empathy and unity, that must remain in our hearts and our goals. We must represent life.

Our survival demands nothing less.

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