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Progressive marching orders for battle in the Trump era


The emerging Trump administration represents a fundamental assault on the American Republic, on the social justice legacies of FDR, JFK, LBJ and Barack Obama, and on literally all of the institutions and policies that have brought about a more healthy, democratic, productive, and just American society over the last eight decades.

{mosads}The challenge is clear: How do we defend and build on those legacies and ensure our democratic republic survives? There is a great deal to be done.


We propose the following principles for a strategy of defense and future progress:

1) Defend the vulnerable.

Whole categories of Americans whose progress has been hard won are now personally vulnerable to hatred, violence, repression, dismissal, and prejudice — people of color, women, LGBTQ people, Muslims, immigrants and people with disabilities.

First and foremost, this step means money, organizational support, lobbying, and quite possibly putting one’s voice and body in between them and those who now feel empowered to hate.

2) Work across silos. 

Progressives must hang together or we’ll hang separately. 

Gordon Adams, co-author of this piece, is arguing among his defense-foreign policy colleagues that they need to connect with organizations working on climate change, low-income programs, educational reform and union organizing.

David Bender, the other co-author, is making a similar case to his colleagues in electoral politics: Instead of focusing on the next election cycle, they need to acknowledge that Trumpism has fundamentally changed the rules of the game. If we stay entrenched in our separate silos, each of us will remain vulnerable to the Trumpist-Russian playbook of divide and conquer.

3) The Trump administration is not “normal.” It is, in his word, “unpresidented.”

While technically the 45th American presidency, it must be viewed as a fundamental break in the historic line that began with Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison through Lincoln and both Roosevelts.

These were men with a deep belief in, and commitment to, the principles of our Republic. Trumpism is a repeated, daily, frontal assault on the majority of the American people, as evidenced by the wild cards nominated by Trump to his Cabinet — ill-informed billionaires and be-medalled advocates of global military power, the majority of whom start out with hostility to the very agencies they propose to lead.

The civilians among them, who benefitted from our porous political system and from their ability to legally corrupt politicians, will not “drain the swamp” or bring reform; they have spent decades and a lot of money making it work for them.

According to Ian Millhiser at Think Progress:

“Republicans in the House hope to cut Social Security benefits by 20–50 percent. Speaker Paul Ryan’s plan to voucherize Medicare would drive up out-of-pocket costs for seniors by about 40 percent. Then he’d cut Medicaid by between a third and a half.”

Let us call this what it is: A plutocractic American revolution led by disciples of Ayn Rand who seem to have read “Atlas Shrugged” more carefully than the Constitution.

Their stated goal is a radical dismantling of the current social safety net from healthcare, to education, to wages and worker’s rights, to women’s rights, and LGBTQ rights. This is not normal.

There are too many military officials in key positions, trained in the kinetic arts, but with little experience in diplomacy, international finance, communications — the balance of capacities that true statecraft demands.

We need to point this out regularly, giving visible attention to the violations of civil liberties, the losses of those cut off from health care, the destruction of our environment, the self-dealing, privatization-for-profit of government services, and the feckless instability that a Twitter-based foreign policy is already creating around the globe. Investigative reporting, column writing, and critical work in social media must continually emphasize that This. Is. Not. Normal.

4) The failed political infrastructure we inherited needs to change.

The establishment-favored Democratic nominee simply did not design a message that appealed to the electorate across age, class, job, gender and race. She did not touch that part of the American working class left behind by the inexorable evolution of the global economy, leaving them believing in Trump’s tempting, but empty promises.

A third party is not a solution.

The progressive path forward remains in the shell of the party that the Clintons left behind. Remaking that shell will be tough — very tough — because there are too many Democratic leaders who are prepared to treat Trumpism as a normal return to business-as-usual and start cutting deals with the — metaphorical — devil.

At the local level, where Democrats endured the worst political losses, we need renewed attention to organization-building and candidate recruitment. Above all, we need a focused effort to hold elected Democrats in Washington, D.C. accountable to an agenda of resisting the Trumpist assault on the FDR mandate to “never forget that government is ourselves and not an alien power over us.”

5) New bridges must be built in the political infrastructure.

We need to make a major effort to reach out to and include the losers of globalization and to find solutions to our problems as Americans, in a trans-partisan way.

Too many of us were slow to recognize the anger in the electorate about the impact of the global economy. Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke to that anger with optimism, while Donald Trump cynically exploited it with rage-filled rhetoric.

As the reality sets in that coal and steel jobs of the rust belt are not returning, we need to reach out directly to rural and independent voters, not with a dry policy paper, but with a proactive effort to honestly hear the pain and desperation of those whose lives have been devastatingly degraded by technology and globalization. Only then can we shape new, effective ways to empower them to build a better future for themselves and their children. 

If there is any positive take-away to be had from Trump’s demagogic rallies and Twittery of the last two years, it is that there is no place in our politics for magical thinking; the old shibboleths will not save us.

Our traditional electoral, governmental and media institutions have lost their credibility. There is nothing either brave or new about the world in which we now find ourselves. It is fear-based. The authoritarianism and plutocracy underscoring Trumpism is as old as civilization itself.

If we summon the strength to confront this moment head-on and admit to ourselves that nothing less than our fundamental liberties are now at stake, we can yet survive — and even thrive — as a newly reimagined and resurgent Republic.  

Why are we optimistic? Because demographics are with us. A post-election analysis of voters between the ages of 18-34 shows that if only their votes had been counted, Trump would have carried just eight states, with even deep-red Wyoming too-close-to-call.

The future is with us. We only need to get on the path that takes us there.

Gordon Adams is Professor Emeritus at American University, a Distinguished Fellow at the Stimson Center, and was in the Clinton White House.

David Bender is the Political Director of the Progressive Voices Network and was a senior adviser to the presidential campaign of former Governor Howard Dean.

The opinions of the authors are their own and do not reflect the views of The Hill.

Tags Barack Obama Bernie Sanders Donald Trump Paul Ryan

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