Progressives need a single galvanizing issue

Progressives’ protests against all things Trump – his sexism, crudeness, lack of impulse control, bigotry, fondness for Putin, conflicts of interest, lying, ties to Wall Street and more – offer encouragement to the protestors but do too little to convert a critical mass of voters to progressive positions.

The protests and marches that have most notably changed the country’s direction have been dedicated to particular goals that were always kept in focus. Demonstrations against the Vietnam War were about ending the war. Civil rights demonstrations were about ending segregation.

Saturday’s women’s marches purported to be about “women’s issues,” such as reproductive rights and equal pay, but there was also an element of women taking on the whole of Trumpism. They would have been more persuasive and more likely to spread if their goals had been less diffuse. Suppose, for example, equal pay alone attracted a large following of people who were so committed that they became one-issue voters. The resulting new wave of office holders would be supportive of many related progressive issues. One has but to think of the NRA.

Not only that. I quarrel with the notion that some issues are “women’s issues,” as if they had no affect on men. If Roe v. Wade is overturned, for example, women will be affected more directly, of course. But abortions will continue, and it will be men’s sisters, mothers, wives, daughters who break the law and risk dying of sepsis. Identifying issues as purely or strongly of benefit to women (when in fact those same issues apply to all of us, albeit in different ways) risks losing the support of the half of voters who are men.

So here’s a question. If women wanted to stress the one goal that would be most effective in countering Trump’s excesses, what would it be?

Reproductive rights? If that was going to get people out in the streets in a way that would defeat the anti-choice forces and usher in a generally more progressive government, it would already have happened.

Free trade? Too little understanding of that one. Too nuanced. Too little agreement. Seemingly too remote from the daily lives of ordinary people.

Military involvement abroad? That would work if we still had a draft and children of the powerful were fighting and dying. As it is, we hire people to do the fighting, and they don’t elicit the same empathetic response that drafted soldiers do.

Grace and elegance in the use of English as a requirement for being president? I wish. But we proved with George W. Bush and now Donald Trump that too few voters value that.

“Black Lives Matter” may eventually change some things, but it hasn’t yet. “Occupy Wall Street” had its 15 minutes of fame, but that was about all.

The demonstrations against the repeal of Obamacare and messing around with Medicare and Medicaid that occurred on Jan. 15 suggest it might be such a galvanizing issue. It was important enough for the people of Saranac Lake and numerous other locations to come together, march and organize. Those efforts may slow the dismantling of existing public medical care systems. Maybe more. I fervently hope so. I doubt, though, whether saving Obamacare is the galvanizing issue that will bring enough people together to make progressivism in general a force that wins more battles than it loses.

My bet is that the most effective counter to the excesses and retrograde positions and tone of Trumpism is well-organized, well-financed, take-no-prisoners opposition centered on unfair distribution of wealth and insufficient regulation of Wall Street. Alas, Bernie has probably aged out of another campaign. I hope there is someone out there who can fill his slot before it’s too late.

In this column two weeks ago, I made the case for trying to talk with people on the opposite side as the only way to lessen our divisions. You may find this piece inconsistent with that. I don’t think so. I still believe in talking. It’s just that while doing that, the left should also be working (demonstrating, marching, thinking, running for office) to make progressivism dominant. After that happens, we’ll still be divided, and we’ll still need to talk to each other.

Paul Willcott publishes somewhat longer essays about once a month at www.geezerblockhead.com.

COMMENTS