Socialism, or its less incendiary cousin, Progressivism, conjures up in the minds of some people images of dysfunctional societies doomed to decay through inefficiencies, corruption, restrictions on business, and constraints on freedom. But then when you look at the “happy socialist leaning” countries of Denmark, Norway (one of the President’s favorites), Canada, and so on, you have to wonder what’s there to be afraid of?
I’m personally more frightened that the prevailing and dominating conservative politics we have in government today is turning us into a mean, uncharitable, and violent society. Aiming to be richer and more powerful than the rest is not a way to be better than the rest. And, because it alienates and denigrates so many of our own people, neither is it a pathway to continuing prosperity.
In the United States we operate under a political dichotomy based on a left and a right, and all our social and environmental issues have to align with one of these two political poles. The center between these poles is the increasingly lonely home of the true Independent, a voter whose party allegiances, by definition, are highly susceptible to persuasion and to shifting circumstances.
In this center there are hardly any Republicans, but still some Democrats. The Republicans have all gone to the “hard right,” a place where they stand unshakable in their foundational beliefs in the blessings accruing from capitalism. From this place, they spend prodigious amounts of money to solidify their control and seduce Independents with arguments promising stability and equanimity. These are the kinds of pitches that naturally appeal to Independents, who hope for a cooperative way to govern so as to get things done. In reaction, the Democrats make the same broad appeals, but increasingly from the position of a progressive “hard left.”
But right or left, if the promises and the arguments are lies, attractively packaged and persuasively scripted, they can find easy marks among the Independents. Being less antagonistic to either side, Independents are less likely to see through to any underlying deceit. They likely won’t even detect when they could be voting against their best interests. So, if lying is effective, isn’t this the tack both parties should take? Is this the way to win political contests?
President Trump is prone to calling any information he doesn’t like “fake news” and “witch hunting.” Since he directs his barbs predominantly at left leaning journalists and news organizations, his characterization exposes his bias. So, isn’t that just politics? Isn’t that what we expect from our politicians? Maybe so. But the danger of branding every journalist who sits left of Trump as an enemy encourages those who side with him to put out a lot of “fake news” of their own.
A lot of politicking is about sucking up to power and in Trump, who thrives on being sucked up to, we have a government that has left us bereft of balance and dismissive of dissent. But fact checkers and certifiably unbiased journalists unearthed a lot of lies the Republicans pushed to win control of the Presidency, the House, and the Senate. Any lies that the Democrats may have told were not believable enough to win them the election.
The Republican campaign platform, while presenting worthwhile aspirations on their face, were only achievable through policies left unstated or lied about. Some examples: to bring coal mining jobs back to West Virginia (but only by revoking clean air legislation and raising the cost of electricity); to make every citizen wealthier (but just if those citizens were already rich); to repair our trashed roads, bridges, dams, etc. (but only if it didn’t cost the Federal government any money); to assure that every person had fabulous health care (but only if they could afford it); to bring jobs back to America from overseas (but by starting a trade war and raising costs to do business); to secure our borders (but by expelling a lot of exemplary people and splitting families); to protect the planet (but suppressing the science showing the planet is in crisis.) The Independents didn’t read the fine print on these promises.
The lying came about in how the politicians of the radical right denied or never mentioned the fine print during the campaign. In so doing, their goals seemed innocuous, even broadly beneficial. Here are a few ways they did it: funneling millions of dollars of dark money from billionaires like the Koch Brothers to buy “research” to support their positions; establishing political PACs operating as “charities” but benefiting only themselves; buying legislators to support their special interests legislatively; flooding airways and social media with propaganda telling us that the corporate thieves who have been robbing us of our prosperity for generations are now our saviors; wrapping their agenda in moral language intended to appeal to religious belief; impugning the integrity of scientific research and denigrating teachers; and always, always, always pointing the finger of blame at others for all that’s wrong in the world.
All this lying is packaged to make it attractive to Independents and to turn voters to a white light that leads not to any better world, but to the crippling of our democracy. We get only the cast-offs and hand-me-downs of the 1%.So, does the Democratic Party need to be just as unwavering and rigid in its positions to counter the right’s ideological rigidity? Does it mean that the party should take a “hard left” to counterattack? Probably yes it does. To get the seesaw balanced the end forces have to be equal.
But can Democrats lie and distort? Of course, they can, but they can’t do it as well as Republicans. Not because they have nobler instincts, necessarily, but because Democrats operate within a wider tent than Republicans. Compare the overwhelmingly white faces at the Republican convention with the rainbow of faces at the Democratic.
Messaging from the left aimed at convincing Independents necessarily has to be more honest about the fundamentals. Progressive Democratic priorities are focused on community and the good that people can do for each other. It’s an essential part of their vision that people have to work together. Union, equality, livability, survivability are not easy principles to fudge. It’s not as possible to create a fraudulent scenario in which we’re meant to believe that the rich have our best interests at heart.
Democrats can’t do that because it’s hard to trickle down wealth that you don’t have. It’s hard to deny the truth of inequality when you live in the middle of it and experience it firsthand. Democrats have to participate in their full community and that leaves little wiggle room for deception.
But unfortunately, it also makes it harder to present a positive, rousing message at campaign time. So, from the Republicans we get a chicken in every pot and a $1.50 a week as a tax benefit. From the Democrats we get the sweaty prospect of a long row to hoe. But there at the end of the row is the reality of universal health care, functioning public schools, a livable wage, an end to poverty, a sustainable environment, and a spirit of community cooperation that can transcend racism and exclusion. A better, safer country, in other words.