Through six months of Donald Trump the progressive resistance has been united by opposition to his policies. The good news is that we have stopped his legislative program. The bad news is that most Americans don’t understand what progressives stand for, other than opposing Trump. Now’s the time to bring forward an agenda that emphasizes safety.
During the next six months, Trump won’t change. He’ll continue to lie, bloviate, and feather his own nest. His racism and resentment will become more obvious. And congressional Republicans will careen from issue to issue without challenging Trump or accomplishing anything of significance.
This six-month period provides a golden opportunity for progressives and Democrats, in general, to tell voters what they stand for. So far, the results have been underwhelming.
Democrats have responded with “A Better Deal.” (https://democrats.senate.gov/abetterdeal/#.WZGuAHeGOE0) Washington Progressives have their own “Progressive Agenda.” (http://www.21stcenturydems.org/index/the-progressive-agenda-in-13-steps/#.WZGiCHeGOE3) Both documents are too complicated. They follow the losing HRC prescription: “when in doubt hand the voter a policy paper.”
An affective progressive agenda should contain only a handful of objectives. And, hopefully, one or two memorable phrases.
Affordable Healthcare: The obvious place for progressives to begin is with healthcare. The resistance has beaten back Republican attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Progressives believe in strengthening Obamacare and expanding Medicaid into the 19 states that do not have it.
We should aim higher. Progressives should advocate Medicare for All; a concept easy to remember. We stand for safety through the democratization of healthcare.
Economic Equality: Most Americans believe the system is rigged. 61 percent feel “the country is headed in the wrong direction.” Voters continue to rank “the economy” as the number one problem.
While the stock market is booming and total employment is at record levels, most Americans do not believe capitalism is working for them. Consumer-credit is at near-record levels; Americans carry more than $1 trillion in credit-card debt.
The Progressive Agenda offers a thirteen-point proposal “to restore an economy that works for working Americans.” While they are all good important, progressives need to identify one or two memorable ideas that differentiate them from Republicans. Two suggestions:
Feature the slogan: Give America a raise. The Progressive Agenda suggests: “Raise the federal minimum wage, so that it reaches $15/hour, while indexing it to inflation.” Republicans have shown no interest in this measure but it’s one that resonates with most voters. (A recent poll [http://thehill.com/homenews/335837-poll-bipartisan-majority-supports-raising-minimum-wage ] found that 74 percent of respondents favored raising the minimum wage.) Safety through better wages.
The second suggestion is adopt the slogan: Make Capitalism work for everyone. One of the unnoticed sections of “A Better Deal” is the section on “Cracking Down on Corporate Monopolies” (https://democrats.senate.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/A-Better-Deal-on-Competition-and-Costs-1.pdf) which states:
The extensive concentration of power in the hands of a few corporations hurts wages, undermines job growth, and threatens to squeeze out small businesses, suppliers, and new, innovative competitors… A Better Deal on competition means that we will revisit our antitrust laws to ensure that the economic freedom of all Americans—consumers, workers, and small businesses—come before big corporations that are getting even bigger.
This break up monopolies stance represents a dramatic change from previous Democratic platforms. It differentiates progressives from Republicans and is an issue that resonates with voters in general — for example, a 2015 poll found that a majority of Americans favored breaking up the largest financial institutions.
Of course there are many other issues that could be featured in a progressive agenda; among these are climate change, immigration, reproductive rights, and criminal justice to mention only a few. Rather than add another issue to the three already mentioned, it would be more productive for the progressive agenda to focus on values.
The place to start is with safety.
America is a great country but American democracy is not working for everyone. We need look no farther than the Charlottesville violence, or the number of voters that believe the country is headed in the wrong direction, to understand that Americans are not satisfied with the status quo.
Donald Trump won the presidency because his slogan, “make America great again,” resonated with more voters than did Hillary Clinton’s slogan, “stronger together.”
Trump’s slogan, “make America great again,” was interpreted by many of his supporters as, “let’s return to the fifties when America was number one in the world and white men called all the shots.” Clinton’s tepid slogan was interpreted as “let’s keep doing what Obama has been doing,” an endorsement of the status quo.
Progressives need an effective alternative to “make America great again.” Make America safe again. This reflects the reality that because of economic inequality and Donald Trump, most Americans are fearful. They fear for the future because the economy is not working for them and they do not have adequate healthcare, education, or housing. Many Americans fear for the future because of climate change.
In addition, the Charlottesville violence reminds us that many Americans are fearful because of the color of their skin, or their gender/sexual orientation, or their religion or country of origin. Donald Trump has brought bigotry and hate into the mainstream. He has legitimized the politics of resentment.
It’s time for progressives to stand up to Trump’s hate-filled conduct and proclaim to all Americans: We will make America safe again.