The Reaction: Has it Started Yet?
Some historians contend that the Cold War was not inevitable; that in the years immediately following World War II, peaceful co-existence between the United States and Soviet Union was possible. These scholars argue that it was hard-line anti-communists in the State Department and OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the CIA) that interpreted raw intelligence coming in from recently liberated Eastern Europe along with their pre-conceived ideations that led to the hardening of relations. In short, George Kennan and others like him never trusted Stalin to abide by the Yalta and Potsdam agreements and viewed resistance movements within the Soviet sphere of influence as instigated by the Kremlin. Fearing what he saw as a growing Soviet influence in Europe, Kennan, acting as Truman’s diplomat abroad, authored the Long Telegram in 1946 and in 1947, “Sources of Soviet Conduct,” which had the effect of turning “mutual co-existence” into “containment,” and Cold War.
By 1948, the United States was actively supporting “counter-revolutionary” forces throughout western Europe, doing what we could to fund reactionary (read, ‘capitalist, pro-American) groups within the Soviet sphere of influence, and framing a foreign policy that would result in propping up dictators around the world; dictators responsible for horrible human rights abuses against their own people, whose support we pursued in our proxy war against the Soviet Union.
We can learn a lot from this brief period in our history: for every action, there was an equal and opposite reaction. From 1945 – 1947, nationalist, anti-colonial, and anti-imperialist movements rose up around the world; from Eastern Europe to Africa to South Asia. As the imperial order fell, partisans and popular front fighters, who had formed the resistance under the Axis occupation, turned their attention to their new or continued occupiers; British, French, and now American. Were they rising up against imperialists or were they revolutionaries in a new communist state? Once the State Department determined the latter (whether it was true or not), the United States went about ensuring a western, capitalist, world order throughout our sphere of influence and funding opposition groups within the Soviet zone.
We were not picky when it came to funding anti-Soviet para-military groups in third-world countries. The Vietnam Story is familiar to us, but do we know the details of our involvement in Iran? Overthrowing the democratically elected government and reinstating the Shah, who did not have popular support of the Iranian people, to guarantee access to their petroleum sector did little to curry favor with a population tired of colonial and imperial power intrusion into their domestic affairs. In Western Europe and Japan, the United States pumped billions of dollars through the Marshall Plan and established NATO, both seen by Moscow as a direct threat. The Soviets responded in kind with the Warsaw Pact and their own version of foreign aid and weapons programs.
Interpretation of events; action and reaction. Revolutions, spurred by the forces of change, are typically followed by counter-revolutions fueled by the forces of order. These two opposing forces are found throughout history, including our own. The Declaration of Independence espoused revolutionary ideas of liberty and equality; the Constitution codified the counter-revolution of law and order. The Bill of Rights resulted from the forces of change refusing to ratify a Constitution that did not protect minority rights. The Civil War may have started with the goal of restoration, but it turned to revolution once Lincoln realized that to save the union, the old order must be destroyed. The Gettysburg Address redefined America’s founding – it was revolutionary. Reconstruction saw change and order wrestle for dominance; change surrendered, and order restored in the form of segregation, Jim Crow, the KKK, and lynching. America’s redemption from her original sin was once again, deferred.
The sixties and seventies were decades of cultural revolution so it should come as no surprise, that order would attempt to reestablish itself. It did, starting with Nixon and later with Reagan, America tried to return to normalcy. The coalition that formed to restore traditional values and military dominance included evangelicals, economic libertarians, and neo-cons bent on using America’s war arsenal to spread democracy throughout the world. To suggest that the conservative movement failed to deliver benefits to the masses would be wrong. But to call it an overwhelming success would also be a gross overstatement. Some benefited but a lot did not. Moreover, as problems presented themselves – problems that called for a government response – conservatives doubled down on ideology: less government, lower taxes, and fewer regulations would save the day. These policies sounded so good and were so popular with the electorate that to win the presidency, a Democrat -Bill Clinton – had to run on a platform eerily similar to Eisenhower Republicanism.
As a blogger with a strong leftward bent, I am unable to render an objective assessment of the successes and failures of the forces of order, otherwise known as the current conservative movement and the Republican Party. I would encourage every reader to investigate for themselves and reach their own conclusion. While there are many factors at play, the primary cause of our current situation has been self-induced: ideology run amok and one that failed to adapt to social, cultural, political, and economic changes. Too many Americans bought into the argument that government should be defunded and shrunken in size but still expected to achieve the same service quality. Those same Americans agreed with the idea of lower taxes and deregulation and simply assumed that what we thought worked in the past would continue to be effective. And all along, too many learned to hate government, decry identity politics, and subconsciously blame the poor for being impoverished.
Where’s the reaction?
Thank God, it has started.
The evidence is all around us: the reaction to the status-quo has begun. The forces of change – liberalism and progressivism – have initiated grassroots movements based on a range of issues from gun control to economic and social justice reform. Whereas in the 1970s, the left collapsed leaving the Democratic Party splintered, today it is well funded by multiple special interest groups that have built organizations rivaling those on the right. NFL player protests, criminal justice reform, women’s marches, healthcare reform, affordable college tuition, climate change advocacy, calls for common sense gun control, and campaign finance reform, are but just a few of the issues supported by this relatively new left-leaning think tanks and interest groups.
Donald Trump did not magically appear on the political stage; rather our forty-fifth chief executive resulted from a long history of failed policies, including the loss of the culture war. Demagogues prey on fear and anxiety. Had our public sector, and specifically the Republican Party, not purified itself of moderates willing to compromise with Democrats to pass moderate reform measures, Donald Trump would not have happened. Conversely, if Hillary Clinton had won, we would not have experienced such a reaction to his victory. As it happens, Trump’s existence in the Oval Office lit a fuse on the left; a progressive reaction that should have started years ago.
If you doubt me, consider the evidence: Black Lives Matter, Me Too, March for Our Lives, Obamacare repeal, and just this week, “Families Belong Together,” a pro-immigrant group outraged over the Trump-Sessions policy of splitting up families at the border. This grassroots activism is unlike what we have seen on the left, and perhaps most importantly, it is organized and well-funded. These groups are not directed from the top, rather the Democratic Party is following along. We’ve seen a Poor People’s Campaign resurgence, a revival from that of the 1968 movement, this one led by Reverend Dr. William Barber. Barber has picked up where Dr. King left off, championing social and criminal justice reform that lifts all people out of poverty, regardless of color or creed.
These movements are not focused on identity politics but rather, cut across race, religion, gender, and ethnicity. The left seems to have learned from mistakes made in the 1970s when we decided that poor blacks and poor whites did not have similar interests. Now, activists are crossing over; standing up for the rights of all and not just for those that look the same.
Perhaps the most significant signal that the forces of change have taken root are voter demographics. Younger Democrats are more progressive than previous generations, supporting universal healthcare and free college tuition (to name just a few). Simultaneously, Republicans are hemorrhaging white, suburban women, millennials and first-time voters. Studies have proven the old adage, “If you are not a liberal when you are young, you have no heart; if you are not a conservative when you are old, you have no head” to be blatantly false. Rather, we self-identify with an ideology in our early twenties and stick with it throughout our lives. Liberal, independent, and third-parties are likely to grow while the GOP will shrink if it does not change its message. It simply cannot survive in its current form; it is not attracting enough young members to replenish those falling off the rolls.
Republican intransigence and refusal to hold the Trump Administration accountable is just the latest in a long line of miscalculations but perhaps the most irresponsible decision was that following Mitt Romney’s loss in 2012. When the Republican Party failed to follow the advice of its famous “Autopsy” by passing comprehensive immigration reform (which would have attracted generations of Hispanic voters), it sealed its fate. Instead, the GOP doubled down on its anti-immigration, hard-right platform by nominating Donald Trump, a xenophobic white nationalist sympathizer who has equated immigrants with “shit hole countries,” violent gang members, and just recently insinuated they were simply “breeders” holed up in sanctuary cities (although the Tweet made no sense and shockingly, the White House spokesperson offered little clarity). Now the administration is prosecuting asylum seekers who present themselves at the border and removing children from their custodial care.
If Prop 187 provides any guidance, the Republican Party will not recover after alienating the fastest growing demographic in the country. And we have not even discussed African-Americans, Asian-Americans, or Muslims. The GOP has attempted to forestall the inevitable by gerrymandering congressional district maps and passing overt voter suppression laws. These are all being challenged in the courts and so far, the Republicans are not faring well. The right has overplayed its hand, which is typical of the end of a movement.
What happens next? Will progressivism take hold?
Nothing is inevitable and it is crucial that those of us on the left understand that it is a long road back. A blue wave in November is not guaranteed and so those of us who believe in progressive policies must coalesce with moderates that believe the administration must be held accountable, to win back statehouses and at least one congressional chamber. If we had our druthers, Democrats would regain the majority in the Senate as the upper chamber is responsible for confirming judges and cabinet officials. Oversight in those areas is desperately needed.
But it is not enough to win in November, rather victory in the mid-terms must be the first step in a long journey of governmental reform. We must change the way we finance campaigns and prohibit influence peddling. We must pass voter and electoral reform to increase turn out and make it easier for people to cast a ballot. We must put an end to extreme partisan gerrymandering, which when coupled with electoral and campaign finance reform will result in moderation and cooperation between parties and less extremism.
We need to pass criminal justice reform with the goal of reducing the incarceration rate of non-violent offenders; putting resources into re-entry and integration so that once a debt has been repaid and a sentence completed, the individual can resume his or her full citizenship privileges. And my God, we must pass comprehensive immigration reform; reform that addresses not only our economic needs and labor demands but provides a pathway to citizenship for those here without papers and funds proper integration and assimilation resources to ease immigrants’ transitions.
But it is not enough for Democrats to win in November; no, it is critical that Trumpism is crushed. Note that I said “Trumpism” and not Trump supporters or Republicans. The ideology must be soundly repudiated at the ballot box and to the extent possible, proven to be an empirical policy failure. This brand of Republicanism (I stop short of calling it conservative) is anti-American and dangerous. The racist, xenophobic, protectionism emanating from the White House would be bad enough, but these policies are perpetuated by a man who is unfit to step foot into the Oval Office. The unprofessionalism and corruption that is clear in this administration are unbelievable. It is critical that GOP candidates, up and down the ballot be soundly defeated, not just this year, but every election until the party makes the platform changes necessary to work in our current environment. If it does not, I fear that the party of Lincoln will become a permanent minority and will eventually go the way of the Whigs.
The forces of change are on the march, but they will only be successful if we recognize their historical significance. Republicans had a good run because they played the long game. Progressives can too if we learn from the mistakes of the past, stay vigilant, and most importantly focus on the needs of the working and middle classes.