What Do We Want to Be? Part III — The Importance of Hope
It is hard to believe this is a controversial statement, but given the amount of shit I receive every time I say it, it sure seems to be. Yet, I’m going to keep saying it, because it’s absolutely true:
The vast majority of voters are motivated by hope.
I know, I know; some progressives are incensed by that statement. Within minutes of posting this, I will be inundated with emails, Tweets and Facebook messages telling me some variation of, “That’s not true. *I* became an activist because I was pissed off.” Forget the inherent narcissism based in that, the statement is purely ignorant. Some people have as their motto: “If you’re not pissed off, you’re not paying attention.” You know, as if being “pissed off” is some sort of virtue. Well, let me tell you a little secret.
Almost no one is motivated by anger. Not even you.
If you think “pissed off” people change the world, I would seriously suggest a gut check of your values. You might also perhaps stay the hell out of politics. Angry people do not change anything in a democracy. No one in his right mind becomes an activist out of anger. To be an effective activist, you have to address problems and fix them, which is damn near impossible when you’re Always pissed off. Expressing anger and negative emotion does nothing for anyone. Being able to recite all the problems with this country, world or government doesn’t make you an activist. I mean, seriously; anyone with half a brain and a phone or a laptop can post a half million Tweets over a decade about how pissed off they are about the state of the world; I’ve dealt with people like that before and their “activism” always comes apart upon examination. They’re legends in their own minds.
To be an actual activist, you have to get out there and try to fix things. There are many ways to do that, of course, but it does involve more than sitting on your ass and whining and being “pissed off.” For example, beginning about March of his year, I will start doing work for Democratic candidates, like writing up position papers, writing speeches and composing informative flyers and the like. Usually, I work for about 10–12, including many I have known since childhood, but this year, there are signs I could be doing it for twice as many this year. The Democrats’ recruiting class has been nothing short of incredible this time, and I look forward to helping them create a wave. And every single one of them will ask me to promote a hopeful theme because that is what works.
I am a lifelong progressive. And for a long time, I thought the way many white “progressives” think, in many ways. I would go onto message boards, Usenet and other fora and tell everyone who would listen what I thought the problems were in this country. The one area where I differed, however, was that I didn’t delude myself into believing there was a political group available to me other than the Democratic Party to get things done. Why would I? If you look at everything good that has been done in this country, it has always come from the Democratic Party.
Whereas a large number of white liberal “progressives” abandoned the Democratic Party almost 50 years ago and loudly proclaimed themselves as “independent,” and declared themselves politically superior to everyone else in the liberal space, the fact of the matter is, “independents” have never really gotten anything done in our political system. I mean, “progressive independents” always whine about the “two-party” system and proclaim it as too restrictive, but they have had nearly 50 years to build that “third party” they claim to covet, and they have not done so. There are currently 134 registered political parties in the United States right now, and the same two dominate everything and the other 132 feel fortunate to get one percent of the vote in almost every election.
Meanwhile, People of Color, immigrants, LGBTQ people and others feel at home in the Democratic Party and they work their asses off to bring hope to their people. They do this even as the same group of whiny white liberals work together to undermine everything because they seemingly believe hope is for suckers.
Well, hope is not for suckers, it is the lifeblood of any democratic system. For that matter, any liberal or progressive who is “pissed off” should really look inward far more. That is not how WE win elections. it is not how we win power and undo the damage Republicans and right wingers have been doing since at least 1980.
There is no doubt; the middle class and the working class have taken a beating over the last 50 years or so. In 1968, one adult could work at a relatively menial job and make enough to own a home and keep the family running well. People back then worked for the same company for their entire career and even unskilled labor paid enough to live on. Now, it is almost impossible for one adult to work and keep a family going. The minimum wage has not kept up with inflation and wages for most service jobs are barely sufficient to keep a single guy with no kids in his apartment and keeping up his car payments. It has become almost impossible for even one highly trained professional to raise an entire family on one salary. Just getting the education needed to become a professional can put someone in the poorhouse for a long time. I personally know lawyers who came out of law school making upwards of $125,000 per year who are still paying off their student loans 15 years later.
And forget being working class right now. That means working 80 hours a week just to pay the bills and having to use public transportation or figure out ways to keep your beater of a car working well enough to get you back and forth to work. It means needing SNAP (Food Stamps) just to make ends meet. It means being forced to work for assholes you don’t like and doing jobs you don’t want to do because one week without two full paychecks would spell disaster. And just for the record, those who live working class in the country are well aware of the problems they face; they don’t need college educated white liberals to tell them. Just saying…
Living in the current GOP-dominated era is not easy for anyone. We do need to solve these problems, but we can’t do that simply by being pissed off. We can’t fix these problems if everything that comes through as a “progressive message” is right out of the text of “Chicken Little.” When life is hard, people want to vote for hope. Hope is the key to everything. When you recite all of the problems of the world, you are actually making voters feel more likely to NOT want to vote.
When you’re having a difficult time paying the bills, which is more likely to attract a vote; a recitation of all their problems or a promise to fix them? The answer is easy. REALLY EASY. It’s why Bernie lost so badly in the Democratic primary in 2016; he had no solutions to anything and he didn’t sell hope. In fact, his recitation of problems was eerily similar to Donald Trump’s.
And let’s be clear about something else; the right wing Republican Party does not win because of their message. They don’t actually win at all. They don’t win, Democrats lose, in part because the progressive rhetoric turns people off and makes them not want to vote. That is the only way they can “win.” Hillary Clinton did not lose because the Republican message attracted more people, she “lost” because turnout was 47 percent, not because she was a “failed candidate.” If anything, white “progressives” failed her, the Democratic Party and the country.
Look; the root word of “progressive” is “progress,” and progress is an overwhelmingly positive concept. So, why does the white, far-left progressive message always seem so dire? We’re supposed to be the ideology of hope. Look at what we claim to want to create;
- We want to set up living wages for everyone, so that everyone who works is able to pay their bills.
- We want a minimum wage that reflects the reality of today’s economy. Some may think that’s $15, while $11 would keep us in line with the minimum in 1968. Either way, it should be higher.
- We want everyone to have access to healthcare when they need it, without having to worry about losing everything they have ever worked for.
- We want everyone to have access to the education they need to follow their dreams, whatever they are, without having to lose their home at some point down the road.
- We want everyone in this country to be treated equally, with respect and dignity.
- We want to build a system of justice in which everyone has equal rights under the law.
- We want a law enforcement system in which everyone treats everyone in the country with the proper dignity and respect and no one has to fear death by cop because of who they are.
- We want a safety net for the poor that acknowledges the realities of the capitalist system, in which some people are left out through necessity.
- We want to create a system that provides a minimum income level for everyone, reflecting the loss of jobs that is looming with automation.
- We want a system of regulation that makes the playing field equal and accessible for everyone and that places health and safety above profit.
- We want a system of labor that places everyone on an equal footing and lessens the current master-serf relationship that is developing in the employer-employee dynamic.
Where is the negativity in all that? We HOPE we can create all these things. None of that is negative, so why do we so often seem negative in our approach. Again, this is not common among all progressives, just the white, well-off, college educated ones who think they’re smarter than everyone else.
Our country was built on hope. We became the most powerful nation on the planet because of hope. After World War II, we used hope to build a society that was the envy of the world. Now, under Republican rule, we “hope” we can survive the Trump debacle. But that is still hope.
We have an example of how important hope is. His name is Barack Hussein Obama. Obama ran his two campaigns based entirely on hope and optimism, and he won both in a walk. Not only that, but Democrats gained seats both times. The 2008 and 2012 elections featured the highest turnout since 1968. His entire message was hopeful and his presidency was eternally hopeful. But instead of embracing him and the hope he stood for, the progressive movement attacked him and the Democrats incessantly, thereby handing the entire Congress and most state governments right back to the GOP.
President Obama still puts hope at the top of his wish list. This weekend, he Tweeted the following thread:
We do not live in a third world cesspool, as Trump and Bernie Sanders would like you to believe. Best of all, while there are a lot of problems, they are all fixable, as long as we don’t instigate a nuclear war. However, to get everything done, we all have to work from a perspective of hope. Hope is what motivates the most voters and, let’s face it; hope is what progressives and liberals are supposed to sell. We want to once again be a nation that all other nations look up to, and we can’t do that without hope.
Originally published at PCTC Blog.