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Letter to the editor: The progressive predicament

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Joe Biden talking to voters at Indian Creek Nature Center in Cedar Rapids, Sept. 20, 2019. — Zak Neumann/Little Village

By Chad Cooper, Cedar Rapids

Joe Biden will be the Democratic Party nominee for president. This is now as clear as it’s been since the first candidates started pandering to Iowans on hay bales in town halls more than a year ago.

As Biden has surged — and racked up states, delegates and endorsements in the process — I’ve noticed more and more moderate Democrats who seem perplexed as to why progressive Democrats are so forlorn at the prospect. When subsequent arguments are made espousing the virtues of Bernie Sanders and the need for a progressive platform, the reaction from moderates is one of incredulousness. The puzzled expression is usually accompanied by this question: “Don’t you want to beat Trump?”

This letter isn’t about Donald Trump. In fact, it isn’t even about Joe Biden. Or Bernie Sanders. This is focused on a profound disappointment in the stunted potential of America.

Progressive Democrats possess a certain brand of idealism that borders on mysticism to many; the same brand that purportedly helped give root to the very idea of a United States of America and inspired the liberties so many people hold so close to their patriotic hearts. That ideal, put as simply as possible within this framework, is that America can and should lead the way as an example of freedom, humanity, and peace.

America’s recurrent problem, though, has been this:

We are arguably the greatest nation in world history at articulating ideals, but we are perpetually dysfunctional at bringing those ideals to fruition. This creates a sort of revolving hypocrisy that spirals toward inaction and inequality.

The above summation is why progressives frequently show reverence for the acronyms FDR, JFK, LBJ, MLK. These figures, to an extent, showed progressivism in action; the tangible application of ideals. It’s a core reason why Bernie Sanders resonates with so many progressives.

The tangible application of ideals in politics is something we’re seeing less and less these days, unless you’re the Republican Party using evangelical ideals in an attempt to outlaw a woman’s right to choose and demonize members of the LGBTQ community.

What happened to the Democratic Party that touted itself as a pillar to true progress? We now hear lectures casting single-payer healthcare, comprehensive prison reform, and immediate climate change action as “radical ideas.” We’re repeatedly told that compromise gets things done, but does it get enough done? Many people see dire issues that don’t have time to wait for compromise to lumber toward a watered-down solution. Doesn’t true change come from an approach where you continue to push until you force the door open? It seems like we need less moderation and, in the words of Malcolm X, more “by any means necessary.”

Another troubling sign is the prevailing argument from moderates against Bernie Sanders; that he’s too steadfast, consistent and willing to stand up and out — an argument that often fuels the discussion of electability. This implies a sort of voter conditioning, where people look for the best politician rather than the most sincere leader. This conditioning degenerates the nomination process and reduces the potential for advancement.

The truth, in 2020, is that many progressives find themselves in the same place they were in 2016: forced to support a banal candidate in order to hopefully avoid the election of an explicitly dangerous candidate. That forced support in the face of an abhorrent alternative is why the Democratic Party continues to default to moderate, establishment candidates; they’re banking on the conscience of progressives to eventually come around to the “lesser of two evils.”

The “lesser of two evils” is a tortuous predicament. It’s maddeningly frustrating, far from ideal, and anything but progressive. Progressives have made the climb with the hope of uncovering the “city upon a hill,” only to find a picked-over rummage sale. Don’t be surprised when they’re not excited by the discovery.

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This letter was originally published in Little Village issue 281, and submitted on March 11.


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