A Failure of Progressive Vision

Originally published in Dorchester People for Peace Update, December 4, 2015

Jeff Klein
Jeff Klein

What do religiously-inspired mass shooters in Colorado, California or Paris have in common with one part of the white working class supporting openly racist billionaire candidates representing Wall Street and another part literally committing suicide?  What makes massive numbers of people slipping from dreams of a middle-class life in an increasingly wealth-polarized society blame “those people” further behind on the ladder of opportunity?  Why do people grumble about the influence of big money in our politics but then watch it on TV as spectators rather than incensed citizens?  Why is a population traumatized by a generation of war so easily frightened into supporting more of the same?

Underlying all these “morbid symptoms” is the failure of progressives to promote any believable vision of an alternative future of peace, equality and shared prosperity.  Of course, the obstacles have been daunting: A corrupt political class and a mass media they dominate; the survival of easily-exploitable racism among an economically declining working class; the rising inequality and insecurity of socio-economic prospects; an electoral/propaganda system that allows no real alternative. 

In the Middle East, secular and socialist Arab nationalism was battered and defeated by the real Cold War Axis of Evil comprising the US, Israel and Saudi Arabia.  At home and abroad religion was cynically mobilized to combat “Godless Communism,” whether in the symbolism of adding “under God” to the pledge of allegiance and “In God We Trust” to our money or in the spending of billions of dollars in oil wealth to finance schools and mosques to spread the Saudi version of fundamentalist Wahhabi Islam which underlise Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

But the collective failure is also ours.  In previous generations progressives and leftists have successfully promoted a vision of resistance and optimism among “the wretched of the earth” that is mostly absent now,  whether it was socialist or anti-racist organizing, growing labor unions or a collective sense of secular progress and liberation with peace and justice

We have to rebuild that vision.  More than ever before, a livable society – or even the survival of the planet – may depend on it.

In our country, on the matter of climate change, for example, we have two major political parties dominated by Big Finance.  Among some Democratic Wall Streeters there is genuine concern for the survival of their own grandchildren in a climate-devastated world — though without a real commitment to the radical solutions that the crisis requires;  Anti-Science Republicans apparently believe that wealth can insulate their heirs from catastrophe – or that they will be raptured up to heaven long before that anyway.  (As Paul Krugman points out, our media treats these views as legitimate partisan “differences of opinion.”)