RESIST! Has become the mantra, the battle cry, even the very name of a progressive political group in the US. It is catchy in its brevity, emphatic in its all caps and exclamation point, and apparently commanding in its forceful tone, and tempting in the face of the political atrocities now afoot in Washington DC. Yet it has one deep flaw: it is empty rhetoric, and therefor doomed to failure. Do not lose heart though. Here are hearty ideas out there that are full of promise. They can move us forward into a bright, progressive future, once we get this RESIST! thing under control.
The problem with resistance as the core of a movement is that is reactive and lacks vision. One can be angered, but hardly inspired, by such a black cloud of gloom. Consider the Tea Party. Before it was a party, it was an idea. It began with an inspired vision: lower taxes, smaller government, fewer regulations would produce a wave of new individual freedoms that would wash over America like a tidal wave. To this end, they revived tactics that the founding fathers would have admired—running candidates for local offices and mounting grass roots campaigns to put people sympathetic to their ideas in legislatures, statehouses, and congress.
To achieve the latter in the 21st century they needed the machinery of a national party. The GOP is philosophically more closely aligned to their ideas than the Democrats are, they ran their candidates as Republicans, but campaigned for them themselves, advancing a uniform vision that eventually took over the party altogether, driving moderate Republicans into the uneasy shelter of party solidarity.
That is how things began to unravel. The party unified behind the party, but not the ideal. With a Democratic president and only a slim majority in the Senate, they did not have to power to advance their cause. They resorted to resistance, blocking out of hand any idea that carried the taint of the Democrats. Their own ideas atrophied, or, safely protected from being enacted and actually affecting people’s lives, grew ideological and often malignant.
Into this vacuum moved wealthy special interests, who were able to influence Republicans and Democrats alike, who both needed torrents of cash to keep their political heads above water in a world where even state and local campaigns were flooded with national (and perhaps international) money. SCOTUS’ Citizens United decision supercharges this flume of cash. Soon the only sharks who could swim in this roiled water were the richest ones.
The vision of the early Tea Party has washed away in the flood. The rickety structure that is left is a cartoonish representation of its founders’ ideas, shot through with holes where basic principles have been eroded by political expediency at the reed for ready cash.
All this was not lost on us. Regular American folks have watched in horror as all the power and money have been decanted for the very, very few. Suddenly the proud middle class, that built the cities and won two world wars, has become “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.” The last three presidential elections voters have demanded two things first and foremost: hope, and change. Obama promised these, but despite his substantial political gifts and oratorical power, the Obama years ended in disappointment. For whatever reasons, the government in Washington was not able to deliver much of either change or hope during those years, once the economic implosion of 2008 was repaired.
Voters arrived at the polls in 2016 carrying pitchforks and torches, ready to throw the bums out of both parties. The Democrats were offered Bernie Sanders, a populist firebrand who carried his Democratic Socialist credentials proudly. The Republicans had to contend with Donald Trump, whose populist embrace was broad enough to include anyone who blamed the ills that befell America on immigrants, non-whites, and the poor rather than wealthy oligarchs like himself.
Bernie was a pragmatic political scientist, whose campaign was fiery but intellectual. Donald was a showman, whose campaign was fueled by Hollywood dramatics, by arousing ethnic hatreds, and by the dispersion of “alternative facts.” The Democratic Party, veterans of smoke-filled rooms and party bosses, and equipped with a formidable political machine, was able to beat back Bernie’s horde, though just barely. The Republicans, weakened by its own internal ailments and hampered by low expectations, were overrun by the Visigoths of Trump.
Now the twisted, mutant trees that grew in the poisoned soil of the federal government are beginning to bear their awful fruit. The Republicans do not see it because they nursed these very trees through the long illness that began when the Tea Party emerged from its dark chrysalis so many years ago. The Democrats do not see it because they are as starved for new ideas as the Republicans are. They are too mired in the obligations of their past to see the ideals that once made them strong, and to build those ideals into the sort of future that most Americans want. It is no surprise that the dynastic party overlords thought that Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton were shoo-ins at the ballot box. Nor is it a surprise that the angry American people rejected them both.
Which brings me to why it is futile to RESIST! Because:
- It is empty of vision. Like dog chasing a truck, what does he do when he catches one?
- It is negative. Who can sustain inspiration with such a dark and empty focus?
- It discourages communication. Fixation on resistance discourages compromise.
- It is frightening. Repeal without replace. Where are we then?
- It provokes violence. Picture a logo with an upraised fist.
If not RESIST!, then what? Let me suggest a three word slogan. You may keep your all caps and exclamation marks.
First—REMOVE! If you have cancer, you get rid of it. That is job one, because it is surgically necessary, not because the tumor is hateful. There are several means to achieve this: Article 2, Amendment 25, or resignation. Impeachment is preferable, since in prohibits holding public office going forward. Pence becomes president, so the damage to Republican interests is limited.
Second—RECOVER! Restore a society where Americans can work together despite holding different faiths, cultures, and skin colors. Where diversity is celebrated, and communication and compromise are the order of the day. Where government of the people, by the people, and for the people shall not perish from the Earth.
Third—REBUILD! A lot of damage has been done to our society in the name of both parties. Once we have recovered an environment in which politicians know our collective wills, but are free to think for themselves and actually lead, it will be time to roll up our sleeves and to fix it. Together.
On the Progressive side, we are graced with some political thinkers who have well-crafted programs with which to begin the discussion. Bernie Sanders’ Democratic Socialism is a complete political structure in itself. As an experienced politician who has affected great change from outside the system, Bernie well knows that his beautiful edifice will not be imported intact, but he does us the honor of sharing it whole, that it may help shape our thinking as build our own future.
Robert Reich has a comprehensive view of the economic implications of Progressive positions, as well as experience in the Executive Branch. Nick Hanauer has strong ideas on the effects of paying workers a wage based on workers’ and society’s needs, rather than narrow stockholder imperatives, as well as entrepreneurial experience. Elizabeth Warren has knows how to use the regulatory powers of government to balance the needs of consumers and purveyors of credit, as well as experience in both the executive and legislative branches. There are many other examples. Positive, substantive programs and hard work, rather than catchy slogans, will make America great again.
For rebuilding, ideas are necessary but not sufficient. You’ve got a program, now you’ve got to make it policy. When it comes to tactics, the Tea Party got a good deal of it right. As Tip O’Neill is often quoted (though AP Washington bureau chief Byron Price had used the phrase before him): all politics is local politics. Voters are more comfortable electing new ideas to the board of selectmen or city council. As these people go on to legislatures and state houses, the new idea becomes entrenched. By the time your people burst into national prominence, people are already comfortable with your ideas.
Election reform is essential. Local elections must be locally funded and directed by local people. Gerrymandering in favor of incumbents must be eliminated. An antidote must be found for the spreading toxin of dark money in politics. Poll taxes and voter ID laws must not keep selected voters away from the ballot box. Perhaps a nonpartisan Elections Commission could monitor elections at all levels for interference and fraud, though this path is fraught with peril—there must be iron assurance that such a commission is absolutely free of party influence. At some point, the Electoral College needs to be reexamined.
So there you have it—REMOVE! RECOVER! REBUILD! A wonderful future is there for us, with a lot of spirit and hard work. Let’s get started!