Whatever our age or generation, the November 2020 U.S. elections will be the most consequential political decision moment of our lifetime.
Face it. Ponder on it. Believe it. Face the fear. Embrace the hope. Above all, commit to making a difference in the outcome of these elections.Don’t sit this one out. “People who agonize don’t act. People who act don’t agonize” (Pierre Sauvage, Weapons of the Spirit). “Decisions are made by those who show up” (Aaron Sorkin, The West Wing).
Don’t fall into the lazy trap of bathing passively in daily outrage at President Trump’s latest horror, or consoling yourself with the latest witty takedown of his malevolent antics by our gifted comedians. Don’t lament, complain and helplessly wring your hands. Get involved. Do your part. Engage. Act.
If this sounds like a partisan pep talk to my partisan friends and citizens on the ‘blue’ side of our political divide, it’s because it is. It’s not an attempt to reach out to undecided fence-sitters, or to woo over Trump stalwarts from their bewitchment with a pathetic, fearful and backward-looking ideological vision and an unstable, incompetent and deeply cynical leader. It’s a pep talk, above all, to myself.
The timing for this pep talk is not just the turn of the New Year, but because the voting season is no longer off in the future. It’s upon us right now!
So the first question for each of us is: am I going to show up and make a difference?
And the second question is: what, specifically, am I going to do in order to make a difference?
What’s At Stake In This Election
It’s easy to be overwhelmed by all the detail and argumentation about issues, policy ideas, political calculus, campaign strategies, fundraising targets, who-is-most-electable, voter block analysis, heartland versus the coasts, down-ballot contests, latest poll numbers. To be a truly informed Democratic voter in this election year can be a full-time job and more!
But sometimes I feel that our candidates, the debate moderators, the political pundits, the advocacy organizations, we politically engaged citizens, and the Democratic Party itself are failing to articulate the one most important thing for moving the electorate: our vision.
Our vision of government, the nation, the common good, the economy and the future. The vision that inspires all the political striving on our part. The vision that stands as a shining polar opposite of the retrograde vision that gave us the Trump presidency.
I believe we all share the fundamentals of this common vision — regardless of where we stand on the fine ‘shades of blue’ continuum that we are so fond of focusing on during this season of Democratic Party primaries.
It’s a noble vision, a vision worthy of commitment, a vision to live and work for, a vision that can ignite enthusiasm and hope. A vision which we should embrace and trumpet in this election year, a vision with which to reach the ‘better angels’ of our fellow-citizens. It’s one of our greatest strengths, and our best hope to win the elections and reverse the degrading and tragic course we’ve been on as a nation since 2016.
This vision is not about all the myriad bread-and-butter issues that need to be addressed, or about appealing strategically to each voter segment’s perceived self-interest and each region’s electoral clout. It’s not a shopping list or tactical talking points. It’s a dream, a dream about what we can be.
What we need during this campaign season is more great dreams, more poetry — ideas that can touch people’s s hearts, inspire them to believe the present state can be transcended, that a better future can be forged.
There will be plenty of time for the prose of governing once we win the election, and win it big: the Presidency, both houses of Congress, and across the land in state houses and municipalities.
The vision that animates us is the polar opposite of the backward-looking “Make America Great Again” vision, with its false promise of taking the nation back to an imaginary simplistic golden age in the past.
It’s a “Transform America for the Future” vision — a dynamic, open-ended, possibility-oriented vision, a dream of innovation, improvement, re-invention and greatness in adapting to the complexity of this tumultuous 21st century in which we live.
This vision encompasses some fundamental elements:
A sane and just economy
Instead of the extreme form of predatory capitalism and crony oligarchy under which we currently operate, moving towards a more balanced economic system, better for everyone in both the short and the long term — an economic system that simultaneously promotes the dynamism of free enterprise, wise regulation, and a robust safety net for all.
Good, strong and expert government
A resounding rejection of the ‘government itself is the problem’ lie that has been promoted by conservatives since the days of Ronald Reagan, the ‘government for private gain’ spectacle of the current administration, its injurious weakening of the institutions of government, and its devaluing of the many kinds of expertise it takes to run something as complex as the national government of a powerful and complicated country, in favor of a renaissance of the idea that government can be a force for good, that government requires special kinds of skill and expertise, and that institutions should not lightly be tampered with or destroyed.
Strengthening our democratic institutions
At a time when so many of the institutions of our self-government, forged over 250 years of experimentation and struggle, are under siege from a regime that seeks to suppress the franchise, restrict rights and destroy the wise checks and balances built into our Constitution, we favor making our democracy more viable in the only way that works — fixing the problems of democracy by more democracy, not less.
A successful pluralistic society
Overcoming today’s tribalism and intolerance for those unlike ourselves, and instead, striving to make our country become an ever expanding ‘big tent’ — in which our rich diversity of people, races, ethnicities, religions, beliefs, ideas, cultures and ways of life live together side-by-side in a community of self-respect and equality, an example to a world that struggles everywhere with this challenge.
Immigrants as one of our greatest assets
Ceasing the shameful demonizing and ill-treatment of immigrants, and recognizing that we are constantly enriched by new streams of immigration from all parts of the world, bringing us the talents and energies of these new people, whose presence makes our society ever stronger, more creative, and more vibrant, and who often understand the true meaning and value of our precious rights, freedoms and opportunities better than those of us who simply inherited them by birth.
Health care and higher education as rights
Replace the insanity of a system in which health care and higher education are considered market commodities, thereby restricting access for those with fewer financial means, which is giving us a population that is more sickly, shut out from opportunities, and less able to contribute, and instead, move towards a system that treats health care and higher education as public goods, supported by public taxation and funding, which will result in spectacular benefits for our entire society that will overwhelmingly justify the cost.
Global orientation and global leadership
Ending the self-destructive an irresponsible isolationism that has guided America’s relationship with the rest of the world in the past four years, and build our strength as a nation by being open to the rest of the world, working through sophisticated multilateral relationships with allies and partners, and exercising global leadership through example rather than bullying.
Mobilizing to lead in saving the planet
Instead of the current administration’s ‘war on the environment’, which seems determined to undo every environmental protection in existence and to turn away from every existing international effort to meet the climate change crisis, join and lead the world in taking seriously that the planet is burning and running out of water, that the coastal areas here and elsewhere may become uninhabitable, and that the world needs both Yankee ingenuity and the moral vision that we are capable of in the service of literally saving the earth.
Shaking Off Weariness and Re-Engaging
I confess to being one of many liberal and progressive citizens who seem to have backed off a bit on hands-on political activity in the later part of 2019.
After the excitement of the November 5 election, in which Virginia was flipped to Democratic control, a Democrat won the governorship of Kentucky, and major progressive voting reform measures were passed in in many places, many of us slowed down and became primarily spectators.
It’s been quite a spectacle to follow!
The Democratic debates with their dizzying line-up of talent competing to stand out from the pack. The inexorable and contentious road to the serious step of impeaching the President.
The non-stop high-stakes drama in Washington over the latest outrageous actions from the Trump administration. The latest revelations about the chaotic inner workings of that administration.
Issues of great portent making their way through a stacked Supreme Court. Republican obstructionism and partisan gridlock in Congress at an all-time high.
All this in the broader context of an increasingly volatile world in which the American role today is erratic at best, and where ecological catastrophe is overcoming more and more regions of the planet. And now, most recently, the prospect of another manufactured and insane war in the Middle East to detract us from the malfeasance of the President and muddy the waters of the election.
For a while, some of us have slipped into been paralyzed zombies, hooked 24/7 to the latest political news. Or we just blotted out the frightful spectacle, figuring we needed a breather, and that it would all still be there when we re-emerged from political hibernation. Or maybe we had to let the challenges, crises and opportunities of our personal lives take priority for a while.
But now it’s time to get serious again. Vacation’s over.
Being of an optimistic and hopeful cast of mind (what’s so noble about pessimistic defeatism and apocalyptic thinking masquerading under the label of ‘realism’?), I believe the ‘arc of history’ can be bent in the direction of our noble vision, if we all get to work and persevere. Persevere through the messy primaries, through the November 3 election, and beyond it, regardless of how it turns out.
How else have any of the major strides in human moral, social and political progress ever been brought about than through hope and hard work and perseverance?
Back in my politically active student days, one of my favorite thinkers was the great Chicago community activist and political theorist Saul Alinsky. It’s been interesting to see his thought making a comeback in this time of extreme polarization and anger. To quote one of the expressions most use to describe his philosophy, the “sores of discontent” are being “rubbed raw” in all areas of our common life. For Alinsky, this kind of pain has to happen before the pressure for change can gather the necessary momentum to overcome the fundamental sources of the discontent.
I believe that all the political argumentation and conflict we Americans have been engaged in during recent years, especially since the election of the preposterous Donald Trump and all the disruption that has followed from it, is indeed a great churning of our national conscience — long overdue, some would say.
The national ‘id’— all the ugly elements in our culture, society and history that have been uneasily suppressed or hidden from public awareness— has gone into full thrashing mode. And this has jolted the kinder, more thoughtful, more principled and civilized ‘superego’ of our culture into waking up and becoming a powerful countervailing force.
The mean-spirited, ignorant, self-serving and truly dangerous actions of Trump’s first term in office, his multiple offenses against the constitution, the dignity of the office, the people of this country, and plain common decency, have indeed created a tidal wave of reaction. The momentum for change has made itself felt in many ways, including the the 2018 mid-term elections, and could have an even more transformative impact this November.
If . . . and only if. . . all of us, as liberal and progressive individuals and in our communities, do the following:
- unapologetically proclaim the vision and the dream
- encourage others to drop their cynical pessimism and become engaged
- spend more time actually doing something to support the 2020 election rather than rehearsing Trump horror stories as a form of partisan entertainment
- stay informed on the progress of the election, but avoid becoming demotivated by passive binge viewing, listening or reading of political news
- stay focused on the big picture of the election and think strategically rather than being reactive to every twist, crisis and outrage
- contribute — practically, and consistently, according to our time, ability and resources: donate $ to campaigns and volunteer organizations, call and text voters, mobilize people through social media, host phone banks, write emails/postcards/letters, write blogs and op-ed pieces, hold fundraisers, canvass/knock on doors, register voters, host campaign organizers in our homes, drive to canvassing districts, attend local events/meetings/rallies, speak before groups, help with foreign language mobilization of votes, drive people to polling locations
- Select a few key political organizations and campaigns through which we seek to make an impact (volunteering, donating, etc.) — instead of being ineffectively all over the place
- Of course: vote in both the Democratic primaries and the November 3 General Election, and encourage others to vote
- Above all: once a Democratic presidential nominee has been selected, throw ourselves completely and enthusiastically into supporting that nominee, even if we had favored another in the primaries — rather than playing the purist ideological spoiler game that has cost the Democrats more than one election in the past.
Because, if there is one thing of which we can be absolutely sure, it’s that if Donald Trump gets re-elected for another four years, and the Republican influence is not diminished, at all levels, that vision and dream of ours will be farther than ever from realization for years to come.
What’s at stake is the future of our nation’s soul and trajectory.
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Karine Schomer, PhD is a writer, speaker, scholar, and a political and social commentator. She writes on Medium at https://medium.com@schomer44. In her essays, she explores the worlds of society, politics, culture, history, language, world civilizations and life lessons. You can read her writer’s philosophy in The Idea Factory.