“The thing about trains… it doesn’t matter where they’re going. What matters is deciding to get on.” So said the conductor played by Tom Hanks in the movie “Polar Express”.
That conductor was dead wrong. We all know that you need to check the destination before climbing aboard. Yet most of us fail to follow that obvious rule when we engage in politics. We climb aboard and root for our team and against the other without really understanding where all this is heading.
If you’re paying attention to current events, it doesn’t feel like we’re heading in a good direction. Not at all. It’s easy to feel as if our nation is descending slowly into some kind of chaos. Each side strikes out at the other. Disagreements sometimes escalate to a point where dialog seems impossible and mindless retribution seems the only course of action. Everyone’s swinging and shouting, but no one’s listening or thinking.
Whether it’s the deplorable violence by white nationalists in Charlotte, the war of words with North Korea, the visceral battle over healthcare or a myriad of other crucial issues, it’s easy to become demoralized and feel as though there’s no solution. The “sides” end up sounding like the Hatfields and McCoys, two warring factions that have been fighting for so long that they can’t remember how the fight began. As a result, many citizens give up following events altogether. They stop participating in the very politics that will shape their lives and the lives of their children and grandchildren.
That surrender is all the more tragic because the truth is that they hold an enormous amount of unrealized power. After all, one person equals one vote. And for every 1 person gaming the system in their favor, there are 99 of us regular folks. We should be winning every time. But like an insecure poker player with a royal straight flush, we fold out of fear and ignorance. Or worse yet, we fold because our party leaders, tainted by corporate donations, lie to us. They tell us we have a lousy hand and we must give in to the other side. And we believe them.
No, we’re not winning. In fact, it seems like we’re inhabiting a nation where things have devolved into an unfixable mess. All the shouting and dysfunction makes you want to give up hope. But what if that the feeling of nihilism is no accident. What if it’s a hopelessness that’s deliberately sold to us in order to discourage our participation and increase our consumerism?
And what if the “sides” aren’t as different as we’re told? What if there are alternatives to their gridlock? (alternatives that the seven corporations that own 90% of the world’s press are not telling us about).
And what if we could sort this out and untie the mess of a knot that seems to have us so stuck? What if the true destinations of various groups were revealed and we could see clearly where each would take us? We’d probably be a lot more motivated to get involved if we could look past the noise and nihilism and see an actual path to a better life for ourselves and our loved ones.
So let’s make an attempt to untie that knot. Let’s look past the propaganda, talking points and herd mentality of various groups (shouting “our side is always right!) and see if we can determine exactly where each of their trains are REALLY heading. That way we don’t hop aboard a doctrine that we think will take us where we want to go, only to find out later that we were led astray. We’ll also mix in a look at us passengers too, the ones looking for the right train.
- Libertarians – Egads. You talk in circles about hundreds of topics, but you always seem to be saying the same five things: a) selfishness is good, b) community is worthless, c) corporations must be free to pollute and do as much harm as they wish, d) the super-rich should be able to hoard as much wealth as they want (even if they have systematically bought off legislators to tilt the playing field in their favor) and 5) no one should wear motorcycle helmets.
Ayn Rand led you down a dark selfish lonely dead-end alley. You proclaim freedom at every turn, but when the rubber meets the road, what you’re really talking about is the freedom for the majority of citizens to be poor, struggle without health care and live in a polluted world. So many of your arguments prove disingenuous because you consistently ignore the fact that your personal and economic well being depends quite a bit on having good schools, roads, bridges, fire departments, police departments, public transportation and all sorts of other common infrastructure. Living in a strong dynamic community is the solution.
But there you are, armed to the teeth and full of needless fear, peering suspiciously through your blinds at your neighbor. You cling to the second amendment and claim to be so afraid of tyranny and yet you want to dismantle our government of the people and by the people, the very thing that can hold corporations in check to prevent the most powerful form of tyranny: corporatism (unseating the corporate hijackers of government is the solution, not dismantling government itself). Libertarians, you’re full of hot air so your arguments have no power to move people. Your train of short-sighted selfishness is going nowhere.
- Blue collar workers, poor citizens & squeezed members of the middle class – You’re looking for a train to hop on. Examine each one carefully. You represent all colors, creeds, religions, sexual orientations and backgrounds. But you share one thing in common: You have been getting the shaft from our political leaders for decades. In many cases, they’ve promised you a better life and insisted on your vote, but then they turned around and cast votes that didn’t represent your interests at all. The super rich have grown so much richer, but the middle class has been hollowed out and real wages have remained stagnant for decades. This wasn’t the result of bad luck or “the other side”. It was the result of a deliberate choice of bought off politicians on both sides of the aisle to champion the interests of the very few at the expense of the many.
Those who ignore politics thinking they don’t matter do so to their peril. Those policies enacted by our representatives shape the landscape of our individual lives and the life of our nation. And especially during the last 20 years, those policies have tilted the playing field in a way that makes it very difficult for you to win and very easy for the most fortunate to hoard even more for themselves. 90% of the world’s media is owned by seven corporations. Unfortunately, we’ve been baited by the corporate owned media and corporate owned politicians to fight amongst ourselves. We’ve been divided into two false sides and boy has this kept us busy and distracted, so distracted that we don’t see the playing field being systemically tilted in the direction of the few. Pull yourself up by your bootstraps, they tell us. Meanwhile, 90% of the wealth in America is inherited.
But we are blind to our situation. Instead, we nip at each other’s heels to the delight of the plutocracy. All this infighting prevents us from unifying and exercising our enormous power. As described above, for every 1 super wealthy person, there are 99 of us. And one person equals one vote. Holy cow. Do the math. We should be winning every time! In a leaked memo written to its wealthiest clients, Citibank admitted that the United States (along with many other countries) had become a plutocracy (run for the benefit of the few). They went on to describe the one thing that could end the gravy train for the plutocrats: citizens weary of getting the shaft unifying and exercising their “one person one vote” electoral power.
Yep, that’s what the most powerful people in the world are afraid of. They know that once we realize we have more in common than we have separating us, we will be able to make decisions from a position of unified strength rather than making demands from a position of divided weakness. Too bad more of us don’t realize the power we hold and are instead embroiled in petty squabbles amongst each other. We’re dazzled by the political parties that claim to be working for us while they’re actually working for corporations and the wealthiest families in the nation.
- Moderate republicans – What happened to your spines? Through your silence, you have given up the reigns of your party to some seriously deluded leaders and you are thereby complicit in all that happens with this administration. Not just because you voted for that tacky dangerous fascist. But because, even if you didn’t, you haven’t spoken up for the values you have claimed to believe in all along.
- Far right republicans & white nationalists – You’re smart enough to learn all the political rhetoric of the far right and white nationalism so you should be smart enough to know better. You’re willful ignorance is deeply disturbing, terribly irresponsible and harmful to the country. Joining a prejudiced group that blames all your troubles on “the other” may give you a sense of belonging (just like 1930’s Germans), but, as you have already discovered, you have aligned with a joyless hate filled pseudo community based on lies and that’s not much fun. Living in a dynamic diverse community where we care about one another and lift each other up would be much better. You are also terribly deluded with all the promises being made to you by republican politicians. When you vote for republicans, you take them at their word that they care about your freedom. You believe them when they tell you that you will somehow benefit by deregulating industry (more pollution, less safety on the job). You believe them that giving the super-wealthy tax breaks paid for by kicking 20 million people off health care will help you. You are severely deluded. Your train is going nowhere fast.
- Democrats – Why do Republicans succeed in this ruse? Well, aside from the relentless and well-funded promotion of their message, they also succeed because we democrats do such a poor job exposing them. It’s not really incompetence. It’s the fact that most of our democratic representatives in the house and senate are taking corporate money too. They might sound different on TV, but when push comes to shove, the policies that democrats offer are really “republican-lite”.
Consider that the Affordable Care Act was a republican free market solution to health care that was originated by Mitt Romney. Why did democrats give in to that when single payer is a much better option? (Warren Buffett and the majority of Americans favor single payer – including 40% of republicans according to the Washington Post). Why on earth wouldn’t democrats build on that momentum and put a health care system in place that controlled costs and didn’t leave 20 million Americans uninsured like the ACA does? Answer: huge donations to democratic lawmakers from the insurance industry.
Dodd-Frank regulation of the financial markets was more industry friendly than we were told (once again, follow the money). The biggest banks are bigger than ever and more “too big to fail” than ever before. The stock market is at record heights, yet American real wages are stagnant. Thanks to congress being awash in corporate cash, the playing field is tilted so that all the marbles are rolling into the pockets of a few.
The democratic party promises Americans they’re the solution for this increasing suffering. But the democratic party’s credibility is tarnished due to their track record of voting for policies that favor the wealthiest Americans and corporations rather than main street Americans. This is one of the big reasons Donald Trump found a path to victory in the 2016 election. So many blue collar workers had been getting the shaft by the democrats during the last 20 years that they were ripe for the picking.
Think about it. We democrats paid attention to Wall Street (our big donors) and paid lip service to Main Street (our voters) for two decades. We alienated much of our base by supporting NAFTA (shipping millions of blue collar jobs overseas while being patted on the head by big corporate donors). Our neoliberal behavior has damaged our party’s credibility with key constituencies and we are now seeing the results. By selling out one key part of our base, we left the door open for a strong man like Trump to win them over. That’s right. We put Trump in office. And the sooner we admit it, the sooner we can change course.
We championed the dismantling of Glass Steagall which many respected economists agree set the stage for the devastating 2008 financial crisis (thereby alienating even more poor and middle class voters of all backgrounds).
We democrats in our triangulation helped champion mass incarceration (a move that hit African American families particularly hard). Many centrist democrats voted for the disastrous war in Iraq which cost thousands of precious lives (and mostly not the lives of the privileged). That war also maimed tens of thousands and cost over a trillion dollars, money that could have been invested in education, affordable housing and infrastructure here at home.
As a result of the tilted playing field, wealth inequality has reached a staggering level. 20 individuals now have as much wealth as 150 million poorest Americans. That is both astounding and intolerable.
Now, today we democrats are having a big debate — many centrist democrats look at that list and say to progressives “oh, you’re just being picky. These are small differences. You’re being too pure.” I would suggest they tell that to the millions of families who lost their homes, jobs and savings in the 2008 financial crisis, the thousands of families who lost loved ones in the war in Iraq, the millions of families with kids in inadequate schools because (partly thanks to the votes of corporate democrats) we invested in a useless corporate war overseas instead of investing in the education of our children. I would suggest they tell that to the millions of African American and Latino individuals and families who suffered due to the policy of mass incarceration championed under a democratic administration. I would also suggest they talk to the 150 million poorest Americans who are tired of a rigged system where the playing field is so tilted that 20 people in the U.S. have as much wealth as all of them combined.
Exactly how many times do we democrats think we can kick our poor and middle class supporters in the teeth and still receive their vote? By assuming the votes of their constituents could be demanded (instead of realizing those votes need to be earned) many centrist democrats alienated a huge portion our the democratic party’s base and therefore made Trump possible. And now these same folks are scolding progressives and others for not getting in line behind them? When you look at it in context, it’s a pretty audacious demand. You can only play the corporate bait and switch on your people so many times before they catch on.
Like junkies, many centrist democrats keep insisting that this will be the last time they take corporate money — then they’ll get rid of citizens united. They just need one more fix.
We all know how that story ends. We saw it in 2016 with our centrists candidates awash in an ocean of corporate cash and defeated because they undermined the very principles they claimed to stand for. “Let’s just win first. Then we’ll worry about what we stand for” could be the motto of some centrists. It’s about the party first for them. And it’s about winning even if you undermine the very values and constituents you claim to support.
We should care more about the American people than we do the party. The party will STRENGTHEN if those democratic political leaders stand for actual principles instead of just standing for “winning”. And I think centrist leaders should take responsibility for the fact that their neoliberal policies are what made Trump possible. Their approach is what brought the awful results we saw in 2016. The building was rotting for 20 years. It fell in 2016.
We want to WIN and the way we can do it is to have the integrity to stand for something to represent the interests of our constituents and follow through. We have seen that you don’t need Wall Street money to mount a competitive campaign. The Sanders campaign proved that “one last fix” isn’t necessary.
Also, alienating and losing a portion of our base and then disparaging them, calling them deplorable is widely considered to be one of the more politically unwise moves in recent political history.
I think right now is a time for unity. The center needs to considering fall in line behind the younger half of the party (which is the future of the party). Those centrist purity tests (heading up to the Hamptons and making sure a candidate will serve and receive money from corporations and ultra-rich donors) just aren’t serving us well. I think they’re divisive. If we are going to be successful in 2018 and 2020, what we need now is unity.
The claims of progressives being racist because they don’t support certain candidates, seems rather unfair when you look at the facts. There are certainly racists out there in all political parties and factions, but it is completely untrue that progressives won’t vote for people of all backgrounds, genders, races etc. https://ourrevolution.com/election-2016/
We democrats seem to want a bit too much credit for speaking up about issues of race, gender and sexual orientation. Defending people with words is good. Working to protect them against discrimination is important and necessary. But it’s not sufficient. It only goes so far. What underrepresented and oppressed people ALSO want is to compete on a level playing field instead of being stuck in a rigged game. Representatives on both sides of the aisle who are awash in corporate cash are responsible for helping to tilt the playing field in the first place.
So the republicans proclamations about protecting freedom and the democrats proclamations about protecting identity both fall on deaf ears. They’re both all talk and no action as far as our interests are concerned because they’re too busy voting in the best interests of their corporate benefactors.
The result is that communities of color bear a disproportionate burden of the harm created by these corporate owned politicians. Those communities suffer with inferior schools, more polluted communities, dramatically more police violence, racial profiling, higher rates of incarceration, longer sentences for the same crime, higher unemployment, etc. And let’s not forget that mass incarceration and so called “welfare reform” began under President Bill Clinton and his strategy of triangulation.
So if we’re going to talk about protecting against discrimination, let’s make sure we understand the full breadth and depth of discrimination before we start patting ourselves on the back. Those corporate policies that democrats and republicans are championing are causing real harm.
I really hope the democratic party can unify. It’s so important right now. But for that to happen, I think centrist democrats may have to do some soul searching and ask themselves the question many people around the country are asking: “If we hate Donald Trump so much, why would we keep pursuing the same strategy that got him elected in the first place?”
- Our Revolution & DSA – Don’t know who those two groups are? You might want to check them out. They might not be the answer in and of themselves (and certainly they have flaws). But they’re both growing leaps and bounds since Trump’s election and they might point the way towards an authentic movement that puts people first instead of consistently caving to the very narrow interests of huge corporations and the 300,000 wealthiest people in the country.
You might notice that “Our Revolution” and DSA address many of issues that corporate democrats and corporate republicans have deliberately ignored. Maybe Steve Wozniak (co-founder of Apple), Cornel West and 20% of the voters in the U.S. know something. If 20 million American citizens support something, maybe it’s worth researching. Don’t take my word for it. Do some digging. Dive in and learn more. You might be surprised. That’s the whole point. Once we spend time really studying the options beyond those offered by corporations and their minions, we may discover that there is a path and that we do have unrealized power.
Too often we just meander along like sheep, believing what corporate own candidates and corporate owned media outlets tell us, feeling hopeless. Isn’t it about time we stop hopping on trains without knowing where they’re going? Look where that recklessness, mindlessness and mob mentality have gotten us. It’s so ridiculous that we keep caving and losing when we hold all the cards.
It’s time to stand up and put our power to good use for the benefit of our families, our communities and our country. This is our moment to shine. Are we going to seize it. Or let it slip away?
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