“What, exactly, is a Progressive?”
I was asked this in an email recently and saw it as a challenge. After giving it a few days’ consideration, this was my reply :
Wow that’s actually a very interesting question from the ‘How long is a piece of string?’ genre. I doubt many could tell you ‘exactly’ what it is but I definitely appreciate the opportunity to express what it means to me.
I only started being interested in politics & government during The West Wing years (1999-2005) and I only followed the non-fictional American version on a daily basis when Barack Obama first announced his intention to run for POTUS. Still, that’s about 20 years overall, and my fundamental beliefs have not really changed too much in that time.
For starters, I think the most basic characterisation of political thought is flawed. While pretty much every opinion can be described as ‘left’ or ‘right’ or somewhere in between, I disapprove of that framing because it falsely represents what the two sides stand for. Seemingly the further ‘right’ you go, a smaller (or richer) subset of people get ‘priority treatment’ by the government. But if we accept the directional branding, then we automatically cede half of the argument to a group of people that by definition is a ‘minority’.
What words should we use instead? Damned if I know. But if we MUST use an arbitrary two-dimensional axis, then I believe the Progressive movement should be at its true centre, or to put it another way, it represents a ‘median perspective’.
I understand it to be an approach to government that neither prioritises the corporate world nor rejects it out of hand. It is essentially in favour of policies that promote equal opportunity for all citizens. It is also for public ownership of, and government prioritisation in, key areas like health, education and first responders.
Then there’s the elections themselves. Progressives want them to be run without the influence of corporate donors and PACs because they only tend to produce corporate politicians, even in the Democrat Party.
And going back to the left/right thing, since Progressives would disagree with the so-called ‘centrist’ approaches of the likes of Obama, Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi, they get branded as the ‘radical left’, as if their opinions are extreme, even though pretty much everything about the viewpoint is based on fairness. This also suggests that they are somehow a direct alternative for those on the ‘far right’ and thus, bizarrely, an equivalent of sorts to Trump and his minions.
Of course the (mostly corporate owned) ‘mainstream’ media is complicit in all of this. Using the ‘left vs right’ paradigm and assuming the Democrat Party fully represents the ‘left’ makes it easy for them to use a boilerplate approach to covering every issue. “This is where the Dems stand, and this is where the GOP stand. Now the issue has been covered, let’s move on to the next one.”
In these times when Trump has such a stranglehold on the Republican Party with views and policies that are at best radical and at worst downright dangerous, to equate giving them coverage with somehow being ‘balanced’ can only benefit the ‘right’, and that’s before we even consider that they have their own propaganda news network which has no place for balance whatsoever.
As far as I’m concerned, even the word ‘Progressive’ itself is an unfortunate choice. We shouldn’t have to ‘progress’ to equality and fairness in society. We should already have it. Some might consider this assertion to be naive. I believe it is naive to assume it is an unattainable goal.
But the reality is that the corporate world has become ‘the establishment’ after generations of false promises, spin and despite, at times, blatant austerity and discrimination. I don’t believe the majority of people behind that world are necessarily ‘evil’, I just think they are preoccupied with looking down at the bottom line of a financial spreadsheet as opposed to looking up at the physical and social challenges faced by humanity.
If the Progressive movement can hone its message and get more people to look up, then perhaps one day we can have a new plane of political thinking led by ‘President Ocasio-Cortez’ or someone like-minded.