One person's thoughts may change the world
A wise but troubled friend once challenged me in the heat of an argument: “why do you keep trying to convince me of all the ways I hurt you? Don’t you think I’m smart enough to understand the consequences of MY actions?” My first reaction was stunned silence. Eventually, I a developed better understanding of power relations between the aggressor and the aggrieved.
Aggressors act and aggrieved grieve against real or imagined offenses. An aggressor will lie, cheat, and verbally harass while their powerless counterpart documents every transgression, cries, complains, and demands change. But the aggressor will not relinquish power on those terms. Every accusation will be met with a counter-accusation, a dodge, parry, and doubling down of initial maltreatment. The complaining spouse will be cast as a nag, a shrew, and a ballbuster and her protest will justify more cheating, lying, and abuse. Black activists will be called, themselves, racist and their protests will justify violence, job loss, and legal harm. Aggressors seek not only to control their subjects, but also their speech and perceived reality – to control truth itself and to manipulate facts to their power advantage.
Donald Trump is an aggressor president and the GOP an aggressor party seeking to rollback race relations, gender equality, and a century of hard fought but underfunded efforts at economic equality; indeed every socio-economic gain in the 20th century. Democrats, progressives and our political allies are aggrieved at every turn, by collusion with Russia, our bankrupt tax policy, the incompetence of appointees, Trumpian self-dealing, political hypocrisy, and racist, sexist, xenophobic leadership. We retweet and post memes and quotes denouncing our aggressor government, we e-sign impotent petitions demanding changes we know will not occur, we join in shared and delightful mockery of the sheer horribleness of Trump and his minions. But we remain aggrieved and therefore powerless, playing right into their small and dirtied hands. In turn, they work overtly and covertly to silence our protests by challenging free speech, threatening media outlets with lawsuits and regulatory action, purchasing media outlets, pushing for the termination of outspoken journalists, and challenging the value of news itself, federal law enforcement, and other institutions that challenge their chosen reality and present independent facts.
Although we have legitimate grievances, we are not destined to act aggrieved. We can step into the shoes of aggressors and fight back and act with both power and focus. In fact we need to act aggressively with the fierce urgency of now and prepare ourselves for the 2018 mid-term elections, preparing to take back the US Senate and House, governorships, state legislatures, state attorney general offices and every other democratically elected power structure in our reach. This fight will not be informed by Trump’s worldview or that of the GOP. It will not be informed by Trump’s deficiencies or that of the GOP. Our fight needs to be informed by the needs, hopes and dreams of the people we love and represent and that “people” we love and represent needs to be inclusive, intentional, and broad.
We have become a nation of renters, the wealth gap is broadening, hunger is increasing, and growing numbers of Americans live outside of the legitimate workforce. These people are White, Black, Hispanic, Asian, urban, rural and suburban. Water scarcity is increasing and water quality is eroded by an aging infrastructure and a paucity of laws and practices that protect our most basic natural resource. Drug abuse is epidemic at every level and has shortened the lifespan of some Americans, mass incarcerated other Americans, and impacted the health and wellbeing of children across race and geography. Our criminal justice system is broken at every level – from police abuse, to inadequate criminal defense and overuse of plea bargains, to unconstitutional asset forfeiture, to case law privileging corporations over people.
In 1933 President Franklin launched the New Deal and in 1965 President Lyndon Johnson launched the Great Society – both of which were comprehensive programs designed to bolster the domestic economy, strengthen the middle class, reduce inequality, redress poverty, and stimulate growth. These programs have been attacked since their inception and there has been no comprehensive vision for renewal introduced at the national level for over 52 years, despite evident and growing need. Poverty has returned to pre-Great Society levels. Home ownership, especially among Black Americans has receded to earlier levels. Between 2008 and 2010, 10 million American households were displaced by a mortgage crisis that decimated the wealth of those impacted, especially Black Americans, damaged their creditworthiness, and destabilized the rental housing market for lower income Americans who are increasingly displaced by former homeowners.
Democrats, progressives and our allies have a responsibility to begin listening to Americans of all stripes about their needs and experiences and to use our creative brains to craft a new policy framework for a new millennium that advances values of fairness, justice, and economic opportunity. We need to aggressively use our best brainpower, our best creativity, our best selves, and our best efforts to reunite willing Americans under a renewed vision for our future. The answer to “Make America Great Again” is not “America is Already Great” like some Democrats, including Hilary Rodham Clinton proclaimed in her campaign for presidency. The answer is to Make America Great for All People, not MAGA but MAGAP, an aspirational goal that will only be achieved if we stop being aggrieved and act aggressively.