The progressive vision for America — to make life better for all families, not just the privileged elite at the top — has suffered setbacks. After the 2016 election, Republicans control the White House, both chambers of Congress and more than half of state governments.
Liberal hopes for free college, universal healthcare, equal opportunity, female rights, higher minimum wage, less militarism, less imprisonment and other left-wing goals seem doomed, at least for now. All that reform-minded folks can do is try to prevent losses of past social progress.
Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts is trying to rally progressives into stronger unified resistance against the conservative Trump era. Her new book, “This Fight is Our Fight: The Battle to Save America’s Middle Class,” is a blunt weapon.
From the New Deal to the 1980s, she points out, America “built the greatest middle class the world has ever known.”
“We built it ourselves, using our own hard work and the tools of government to open up more opportunities for millions of people. We used it all — tax policy, investments in public education, new infrastructure, support for research, rules that protected consumers and investors, antitrust laws — to promote and expand our middle class…. Income growth was widespread, and the people who did most of the work — the 90 percent of America — also got most of the gains.”
However, trickle-down economics under President Reagan turned the tables, giving ever-bigger favors to the rich, who used snowballing technology and their amassed wealth to corral more power.
Warren, a former Harvard professor, writes that she spent years researching the “great and terrible story” of middle-class decline. Today, college debt hobbles many families. Job insecurity grows as electronic breakthroughs wipe out more jobs. Wealth keeps amassing in hands of the 1 percent who control corporations and investments — and who stash their money in overseas shelters.
“People are angry because trade deals seem to be building jobs and opportunities for workers in other parts of the world, while leaving abandoned factories here at home,” Warren continues. “…Today, this country works great for those at the top. It works great for every corporation rich enough to hire an army of lobbyists and lawyers. It works great for every billionaire who pays taxes at lower rates than the hired help. It works great for everyone with the money to buy favors in Washington.”
She calls President Trump a man “always on the hunt for his next big con.” She urges progressives to follow the pattern of the million-member Women’s March on Washington, to mobilize resistance against conservative attempts to slash the public safety net and human rights.
Another form of resistance is citizen lawsuits to prevent new law changes from scuttling past public gains locked into statutes.
With Republicans controlling most government power, will it be possible for progressives to resist effectively? Maybe — maybe not. But at least conscientious Americans shouldn’t just surrender.
James Haught, syndicated by PeaceVoice, is editor emeritus of West Virginia’s largest newspaper, The Charleston Gazette-Mail.