Saving America From the Wrongs of the Right: A Six Point Plan


Now is the time for all good men, women or whatever gender-fluid term you may wish to use to come to the aid of our country. The long-term coup d’etat by conservatives, fundamentalist so-called Christian theocrats, alt-righters, rapacious capitalists and other enemies of genuine American democracy has just about reached its apotheosis, a tipping point from which there might be no return.

The election of Donald J. Trump to the presidency is its most flagrant and visible manifestation as well as enabling event. But the problem isn’t so much him, who’s as much a symptom of a widespread discontent and disappointment with government, as it is all the rest. And, yes, those of us in opposition who must admit the ways in which we have allowed this to happen.

The enemy is pretty much everywhere and deeply entrenched. To not acknowledge this and start working together – truly together – to defeat the forces of repression, greed, heartlessness and evil that manifest themselves in autocracy, theocracy, ignorance and a very dangerous and rancid American style of fascism is to lose all that the Founding Fathers hoped America could be. And transform the shining city on the hill into a dystopian hellhole.

After Trump was elected, a very well-intentioned progressive friend of mine immediately began postulating about who the Democrats should nominate to run for president in 2020. I wanted to scream at him for being so blind to the reality of what we face. And the fact that, for all of us who fall from the political center to the left, the president – if a Democrat can even win, which is by no means assured – cannot and will not make enough of a difference. Which should be obvious to anyone with even half a brain after eight years of Obama butting up against GOP Congressional obstructionism (for all that he was actually able to accomplish; really, the guy deserves some kind of medal if not nomination for sainthood).

We cannot assume that Trump will be gone by 2018 or 2020. Almost daily there’s some new revelation that has people crowing on Facebook that this is it, the key to impeachment, the bridge too far, the high crime or treason that even the congressional GOP cannot deny and will finally act to remove him from office. It’s great to hope for impeachment, a 25th Amendment solution or some deus ex machina such as a health crisis, but those are all long shots at best. We may not be rid of the man anytime soon.

The 2018 elections are rapidly approaching, time is growing perilously short, and things do not look good. Democrats have pinned their hopes and spent funds on four special Congressional elections since Trump became president and lost them all.

What is offered here are ideas for the main components of what must be done. The how, the details and specifics, are far more than what can be addressed here, although I have a few ideas. One is for the Democratic Left – which I will use here to refer to most all that is not the GOP or solidly independent – to eschew the Clintonian “Third Way” that calls itself neo-liberalism yet is anything but that. Another is to pay heed to how many votes Sanders got in the 2016 primaries and the excitement he generated even if embracing full-bore progressivism may not be all of the electoral answer. And finally, reclaiming populism, which as I write this seems to at least a good start with the Congressional Democratic “A Better Deal” agenda.

But that’s just a start, and there is much to be done, such as....

1) Set Aside Single Causes, Call Off the Circular Firing Squad, and Unite: Diversity is perhaps the biggest factor crippling the Democratic Left. Yet also its greatest potential strength. Because the Dem Left, like modern America itself, is a very big and populous tent.

For too long now too many various communities within the Dem Left have tended to focus on their causes to the exception of others and the bigger picture. The Dems and the Left have also engaged in intra-party sniping and feuding, aka the circular firing squad, and left a trail of metaphorical blood and bodies (Hillary Clinton, for starters. Flawed as she may be, she is still one of us).

We have failed to accept incrementalism in striving for our favored causes, forgetting that we are a democracy where any progress and solutions must take into account a range of interests. Too often it’s been a matter of my way or no way. Genuine progress often takes time, and this is especially true in a representative democracy.

We have also entertained the very appealing notion of a third and even fourth national party. I’ll leave aside how that might work better if we had a parliamentary system and say that as much as I have my issues with the two-party system and the one party in it whose candidates are the only ones I have ever voted for, now is, sadly, not the time. The threat to democracy is too great.

Even though the biggest mistake the Dem Left can make is to run against Trump and Trumpism (further on this below), which to many is a, if not the key issue, what is happening on the right wing and the many things they are trying to do in national politics, policy and programs must prompt us to unite.

One encouraging ripple is that now that the GOP has the presidency and House and Senate majorities, fractures and fault lines have begun to appear (as in the Senate’s failure to replace or repeal the Affordable Care Act). Some moderate Republicans and GOP-leaning independents have become alienated by the right-wing radicalism excesses. The ever-larger bulk of mainstream independents are ripe for a fresh and inspiring national vision that can move the nation forward.

To bring enough of us underneath our big tent, we ultimately need the big tentpoles to rally around. Which brings us to:

2) Far Better Messaging: To run against Trump, Trumpism and the excesses and outrages of the GOP is to guarantee electoral failure. The Democrats and the Left need to boldly stand for something — many things in fact (which is where a daunting part of the problem arises). And effectively convey that to a majority of the electorate. It’s been an ongoing failure of the Dem Left for far too long while Republicans and conservatives have managed to motivate their base and beyond with rather clear visions of their intent (even if it may be deceptive).

Just how bad are the Dems at messaging? Case in very telling point: The opposition named the Affordable Care Act Obamacare as a slam even though what was enacted was significantly different from what Obama proposed. But then the Dems took up the name, and it has since carried the taint of the nickname’s original intent.

Yes, it is harder to craft tight and effective messaging that is inclusive of the diversity of the Dem Left yet hits the masses at the heart, as opposed to, of course, Make America Great Again. But positive messaging works in a way that oppositional negativity can’t. And we need to find messages that inspire and and, as discussed next, motivate.

3) Motivate and Activate the True Silent Majority: This is crucial to taking back America and regaining not just Dem Left leadership but democratic leadership. Gerrymandering and a range of voter suppression tactics have jiggered the electoral system in near-permanent favor of the GOP. And even worse is likely yet to come.

What’s to be done? Play the numbers game big time. Massive national voter registration drive, door-to-door, outside popular stores, on college campuses, wherever and everywhere that makes sense. Plus programs to assist those who need IDs and don’t have the proper documents obtain them and then register.

But it’s not enough to just register voters. A massive election day Dem Left turnout drive to get people to polling places is critical. And act as citizen volunteers at polling places as well as observers to help ensure the integrity of the process. We must also work if not agitate to inspire greater voting and participatory democracy not just in the presidential and congressional contests but every election.

This and the next point are a double-down and pump up on the Howard Dean 50 state strategy that Barack Obama also tried in some ways to initiate. We must somehow gather together and inspire voters nationwide, and also not give up on the areas where Republicans dominate.

The good news already is that more Americans than ever are registered to vote: just over 200 million out of some 231 million eligible to vote. But only close to 140 million voted in 2016. That leaves around 90 million who could but didn’t vote.

They are a true silent maybe not majority. But in combination with those who did vote could create a considerable and powerful majority that could override any quirks in the electoral system that led to Donald Trump becoming president.

4) Boost the Grassroots: My friend’s focus on presidential candidates is a not uncommon tunnel vision. We need leaders, and need them in places of power. But democracy is people power. And true lasting power emanates from and resides in the grassroots: states, counties and cities.

The GOP knows this, and they have used it quite effectively. There are currently 33 Republican governors, 19 Democrats and one independent. Similarly, 32 state legislatures are controlled by Republicans, 12 by Democrats and six are split.

The Dem Left must begin a full-scale national shift. And those offices and bodies are just a part of what needs to be reclaimed. There are other statewide offices, judicial positions, mayoralties, city councils, county governments and – very importantly for the future – school boards and state education authorities which must be won.

It’s what the GOP and right wing have done to great effectiveness. We have really no other choice than to now do so, and do so better than they did at not just winning but then delivering true benefits to the electorate.

5) Build, Share & Smartly Target Resources: If you’re like me and have maybe given money to a left-leaning political candidate or subscribe to leftist or political publications or even get their email bulletins, you’ve also likely found yourself getting regular multiple emails and snail mail begging for money. It can feel irritatingly excessive. The Left shares such information (as an income source).

Bernie Sanders proved that a political movement can be built on small donations. But at the same time, the plethora of hands extended for contributions can dissipate impact both in what is raised and how and where it is spent.

For a while, seemed to be building a centralized fundraising and activism organization for progressive causes, but as of late it seems to have lost some of its potency. In an ideal world, something akin to what the United Way does in charitable giving would be ideal at the center of the resistance: a centralized effort to raise and distribute funds.

The Democratic National Committee must radically improve its fundraising and find better (and less politicized) ways to allocate its resources and efforts. It is presently being far outpaced by the GOP in contributions in spite of the fact that Trump is a historically unpopular president (and maybe in part because he is embattled).

And average citizens, we the people, must also give like never before.

A balance must also be found between utilizing fiscal resources on a nationwide scale while at the same time concentrating them where they can make a critical difference.

The GOP and right wing have managed to excel in the money game. Now the Dem Left needs to considerably step up its game in this realm. It may be the biggest challenge, perhaps aside from:

6) Reclaim The High Ground: As cognitive linguist George Lakoff and other experts have pointed out, Americans vote their values even over their interests.

This knotty notion puzzles progressives likely more than anything else. We have evangelical and conservative “Christians” defying the scriptural messages of the gospels of Jesus to support Trump, a man whose godlessness and lack of any morality should be obvious to any rational person who does the due diligence on who he is. We have middle and lower class voters supporting a Republican party that favors the rich over them.

The GOP and the right have positioned themselves as the party of traditional American morals and values. But they are not.

The Dem Left needs to somehow lead on values, morals and ethics. One big factor I see that would help make this shift happen would be for mainstream Christians to reassert the true values of their faith, and embrace activism. In recent years, as I read Taylor Branch’s trilogy on the civil rights movement and Martin Luther King Jr., I noted the central role that mainstream churches of that era played in that movement. It needs to happen again.

We must also reclaim morals and ethics, economic values that favor the working and middle classes, and a sense that to be American is to not be embroiled in an us vs. them battle but rather a shared sense of community. Lakoff came up with a good prescription just after last November’s election:

“A strong American Majority movement is necessary, and its backbone has to be a citizens’ communication system – or systems – run through the Internet, framing American values accurately and systemically day after day, telling truths framed by American majority moral values – and appealing honestly and forthrightly to those in-group nurturant values in small towns across America. The idea that must be brought across is empathy for those in your in-group, your town. This is basic progressive thought: citizens care about citizens and provide public resources for all, maximizing freedom.”

We also need to get the message through that Franklin Delano Roosevelt did in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression: “So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself – nameless, unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts to convert retreat into advance.”

Modern Americans face many fears, and the knee-jerk fear reaction of retreat has been far too prevalent since the traumatic events of 9/11. It is critical for the Dem Left to acknowledge and address those fears in a fashion that is transformational, and leads to greater solidarity.

The Time for Action is Now!

As I write this, the 2018 elections are a mere 15 months away. And there seems very little movement towards any of what is spelled out above and more that must happen to shift the nation back onto the right track

Lastly, just as the Dem Left must not run against Trump but rather for a compelling version of what modern America can be – great in new ways rather than the “again” of exceptionalism and other archaic notions – we must now also set aside any pipe dreams of converting core Trump voters. All indications are that they will continue for now to cling to their illusions.

I still contend that the mainstream of America tends to lean on most matters at least slightly to the left of center. The Dem Left must create, support, agitate and work damned long and hard to bring the nation behind a new center. We have no choice. To not do so spells the doom of our democracy.

Rob Patterson is a music and entertainment writer in Austin, Texas. Email

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2017

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