Decision-makers are merely fallible humans in elected positions
It would be easier to believe that humans were either good or bad. Nature has been presented as a duality across all of our means of understanding the world, from religion to literature to mere observable natural phenomenon.
The world would rather deal with a binary, because when you start talking about spectrums, things get messy. It becomes uncomfortable, contradictory, unfamiliar.
I used to think like that. Not about issues like gender fluidity or sexuality, but about people. I was not so Hobbesian to think that we would destroy one another in the quest for survival, but not so naive to think that we would realize utopia on our own, because of course history proves otherwise. People are born neutral, and then the institutions and organizations that individuals are born into shape them into being net good or net bad. Classic nature v. nurture stuff (which is, again, another example of our obsession with opposing forces and you have to wonder where it comes from, like is it baked into the very ethos of society because of ‘Adam and Eve’ or the sun and moon or living and dying. And its essence in the States is, of course, a whole other thing that likely gave rise to our two-party system).
The world would rather deal with a binary, because when you start talking about spectrums, things get messy. But I believe it is uncomfortable, contradictory, and unfamiliar because while we hope for order, we recognize the potential of our minds to span the spectrum. We recognize that we ourselves are not black and white.
The paradox of human life is never as unsettling as when it is grey.
In the last three chapters, I broke down a variety of issues to discuss why radical reform is needed in the States. I specifically avoided speaking to individual candidates, however, because there is a critical need for us to think more holistically about the big picture beyond the 2020 elections–November 2020 is just the starting point. What I will say is this: to what extent will society change if we were to elect anyone who isn’t ‘too liberal’? Like really really differ from the Obama-era days. Would we see the income inequality gap close? Would we see cleaner air, water, food for everyone? Would society be better equipped to adapt to the effects of globalization?
Neoliberal policies started prior to Obama and Clinton, were furthered by Obama, and championed by Hillary in 2016, and yet look at where we are. Hillary didn’t lose because some white, working class, slightly racist, swing state voters voted for Trump even though they voted for Obama. White people voted for Trump at about the same rates as they did for Republican candidates that came before him. But Hillary did fail to capture a significant number of people of color votes from economically impoverished regions–black voter turnout was the lowest it had been in some swing states because Hillary’s platform didn’t resonate with people. To contrast that, Obama’s wins in 2008 and 2012 were driven primarily from minority support. The Brookings Institute notes that in both elections,
“The combined minority vote gave him net advantages 21.2 million and 23.5 million over his Republican rivals, John McCain and Mitt Romney. (These countered and bested the net voting advantages of 11.7 million and 18.6 million that whites gave his rivals) And in the Electoral College, minorities were solely responsible for his winning key swing states that put him over the top—accounting for nearly one third of his total Electoral College votes each time. These included once Republican Southern states, Virginia and (in 2008) North Carolina, home to new populations of Hispanics moving into the region and blacks returning to the South; and Mountain West states including Nevada and Colorado whose voting populations continue to become more racially diverse.”43
Economic anxiety and social injustice disproportionately impact minorities. We need a candidate that recognizes and can address these ills. It’s important to acknowledge, of course, the role that racism or sexism did play in 2016 and will continue to play. But if we know that racism is literally baked into the bedrock of our nation, then what’s the best way to address that? What discourse will resonate with racists and those bearing the brunt of racism? I do think the best starting point is the economy, because that yields real, tangible benefits. It’s not illogical to assume that any set of policies that are remotely close to what the Clinton and Obama administrations implemented will just be prolonging when we get another Trump in office. Andrew Yang was one of the few candidates who was really able to pinpoint Trump as a symptom. He gained power by twisting the real failures of the Democratic party. A lot of people on the left think that he is the disease. Trump tells lies, but remove him, and the failures of our previous Democratic administrations would still be there.
My intent is not to vilify establishment Democrats for making decisions that led us to where we are today. The driving concepts behind neoliberal economic policy are deeply flawed, to be sure, but I’m not sure anyone could have predicted its unintended consequences. I’m also not sure if anyone could have anticipated how deeply undemocratic our institutions have become because of the very nature of democracy (except maybe Plato). But this all makes sense; nothing that dictates human interaction happens in a vacuum. Behind every innovation and policy and decision–big or small–is a human.
And humans are flawed. Human progress is not a charted path. Happiness is not a guarantee. Democracy is not an end goal. The way the world develops is not through a teleological process, but through human decision-making. It will constantly be changing as a result, but in the process, we should be changing with it. That’s why it is so important for every single person to be an active participant in our democracy. Without our engagement, we will continue down the paths set by those who DO care enough to raise their voices, only their interests may not be for everyone. We all hold different values, but the more people speak up, the more we may realize that we’re aligned on values that are core to all humans. In this way, we can truly realize the benefits of being a democracy.
When everyone is aware and playing an active role in our democracy, we can begin to realize institutions that work for us instead of against us. To bring back our boy Marx for the third (and final) time, recall that the base informs the superstructure. In other words, our current production and consumption system is what shapes society. The way our economy is set up–with the ‘free-market’ ideals and profit maximization–informs who we are as people and how we develop. Unfortunately, our current system has made all aspects of our society transactional. We’ve come to see life as a zero-sum-game with clear winners and losers because our economic system only measures value in one way.
If, however, we reverse the direction, we see a radically different picture. We see an economy that is accountable and responsive to social needs. The slow march of progress doesn’t have to be unidirectional, but it must be good. It must be for the people, not for the 1%.
As the people, we not only need to take back power but also empower those that have been historically marginalized
Politics tends to tip toward either money or power. The two have been so synonymous for the last 40 years that we’ve almost forgotten that people power matters too, but it’s not too late to tip the meter back. We’ve taken democracy for granted for too long, and it’s not getting better on its own. So we need to get into the fight ourselves. We need to get progressive politicians into elected positions so that we can begin to have the right conversations.
But more important than leaders who envision a just society is securing more citizen participation in our democracy. Without our active stewardship, we run the risk of prolonging when we get another Trump in office.
And that brings me to the radical change that is needed today.
Progressive policies are defining how government and society should look in the 21st century
Progressives are right to call out that we only have one political party in the States, and that’s the party of money. But unlike even 2016, more and more people are now recognizing what Thomas Ferguson calls the investment theory of party competition, which outlines how business interests trumps voter preferences when it comes to determining the trajectory of a party. The proliferation of youth groups like Sunrise Movement and NextGen America and the DSA’s increase in membership is a direct response to tackle those special interests working within the Democratic Party. Progressive policies like the Green Stimulus, Green New Deal, and Medicare For All aren’t necessarily promoting big government–just a smarter one.
We can’t go back in time and change how we got here, but when more voices are calling for change and more people getting into office, we can begin to address globalization, automation, and the climate emergency in a smart and productive manner that results in higher returns for the American people. We can trust that conversations about our future will not be confined to D.C., but rather distributed across the country.
The extent to which a politician can appeal to our pathos is indicative of something much more permanent than campaign platforms. I wholeheartedly believe in Bernie as a person. He has fought for the same principles since he was my age. Because of him, I, along with everyone who’s felt the Bern, am hopeful for the kind of change that we can now envision. Bernie is what politics can represent. He is the change that we want to see. Call us ambitious, call us optimistic, but don’t call his platform naive and don’t call it idealistic. Rooted in ideology as it is, naivety in today’s world is believing that nothing else but tepid compromise can be achieved, and forgetting that every revolution starts with someone vocalizing their thoughts. For a nation that is fewer than 250 years old, the United States has not yet achieved the maximum threshold for achieving widespread political change for the better. It would be a damn shame if we ever settle for complacency.
There is a way out of our climate emergency, our health epidemic, our public school education failings, our gulf of income inequality, and that’s by carrying forward the banner that Bernie held for so long. We must move forward as a society, together. There is no neoliberal-lite. There is no planet B. This is our reality—one of the last electoral cycles before we go beyond the tipping point—and there is a way forward.
If you recognize your privilege, I believe it’s impossible not to be a radical. It’s impossible to turn away from a world that works for all–one that begins to guarantee justice for all. If we turn away, “the future will point… to the one terrible flaw of our lives today: the discrepancy between what we are able to accomplish by objective honesty in the material world and what we fail to do in the world of behavior and attitude because we will not treat them with any sort of honesty of objectivity whatsoever.”44 Today, and every day—not just within the confines of election cycles—we need to fight for what’s right. We give what we can with what we have. Every vote; every dollar; every protest; every rebuttal; every decision. We do what we can in our own way. Because to see the injustice in our world and choose to turn away is the greatest injustice.
Imagine a world where we didn’t need to pay insurance premiums, where college were free, where our economy were more human-centred because all consumers had a choice in where to put their money, maybe with the UBI that everyone were allocated, where we accounted for globalization and automation and climate change in a smart and productive manner. In this Maslow’s hierarchy, your physiological and safety needs would be met, and you would be free to pursue your dreams.
What could you do, then? What could you achieve?
If this is radical, then America has succumbed to the crippling contradictions presented by democracy and no longer concerns herself with securing individual liberty.
I cannot imagine something more core to the United States than putting everyone on the path to securing life, liberty, and happiness.
(Artwork by Laci Jordan)
43. William H. Frey, “Voting rights, minority turnout, and the next election,” The Brookings Institute, published on 03 August 2015, https://www.brookings.edu/blog/the-avenue/2015/08/03/voting-rights-minority-turnout-and-the-next-election/.
44. Philip Wylie, Generation of Vipers (New York: Rinehart & Company, 1955), 32.