This is my final essay on deeper issues within the cultural ramifications on the Donald Trump Presidency. The first four essays focus on the underlying fascism of “make American great again,” and to some degree the people carrying this flag forward. This final essay focuses on aspects of left wing culture that helped to enable the rise of Donald Trump in national politics.
In my estimation, the left’s agenda should all cycle back to one focus: win elections. It sounds trite, but the challenges at hand seem obvious and the situation is dire. No one really has the time for excuses, denials or self-righteous posturing. Progressives need to get real about how certain go-to tendencies like virtue signaling, identity politics and precious hyper-vigilance are a massive turn-off amongst the general population.
The problem is clear enough: We have Donald Trump for POTUS. In addition, we have a right wing Republican House and Senate. It’s a Republican high tide; their dominance extends throughout many state governments. Conversely, the progressive left has very little on the scoreboard of political representation. In response to this criticism, many on the left complain that the system is broken, which many be true, but in a democracy, elections have to be won to effect change. There is so little representation that one could wonder if the progressive left is a real coalition or just a group of reactionaries bonding over narrow self-interests that fade away once election season is over.
The left needs to refocus the mission to include real electoral force. The most important factor towards achieving this goal – above all else – is to build durable coalitions of various interest groups that are capable of holding together despite differences of opinion. To each their own pet issues, but politics and personal ideals do not - and should not - always run parallel. The left needs to get out of the habit of killing its own.
As evidenced by the last election cycle, many self-identifying progressives seem more comfortable with attacking potential allies rather than taking the battle to actual ideological adversaries. It was virtue signaling, identity politics and precious hyper-vigilance exemplified at its worst. These so-called progressives were given plenty of unchecked leeway to compulsively bash the Democratic Party and it’s presidential candidate, often times using unsubstantiated arguments that mirrored pro-Trump sentiments. Indeed, many on the left still seem almost satisfied by the results of this past election. This sort of toxic logic should be exorcised from the movement.
But for all the heated rhetoric, where are the victories for the progressive left? Where are the success stories – the examples that lead people to actually respond in meaningful ways? Where is Joe Citizen discussing progressive matters in conscious deferral to the influence of a movement? Where is this undeniable political base evidenced in everyday civic engagement? And if civic engagement isn’t the endgame, what are we even talking about?
Ideally, everyone should have ideas to effect positive change, and we don’t have to always agree. Recent progressive victories (gains in gender equity and LGTBQ rights) and defeats (an inability to protect reforms in education, the prison system, policing policies and to fight regulation roll backs impacting the environment and Wall Street) need a stronger Election Day identity to effect sympathetic representation. The progressive brand is badly damaged by not turning up consistently at the polls to coalesce behind the candidate that best matches up with the progressive agenda.
The deeper problem for progressives is that despite having many things to say – perhaps too many things to say – they just don’t have much say in things that matter. There are no moral victories really. If progressives really want to understand and change this world for the better, they need a meaningful but succinct set of principals that can be shared with a broad coalition of diverse people. Strength in numbers is vital.