Monday, October 29, 2018

Winning Against Racism in American Politics

The Role of Racism in American Politics

     In the light of the recent massacre in Pittsburgh, we should look at the role that racist and nativist groups have come to play in our political system, and we should ask ourselves what we can do to minimize the role of racism in our politics. Today’s Republican Party depends on an alliance between racist and nativist groups on the one hand and conservative, business groups on the other. That alliance was not created by President Trump, but, in his presidency, his party has exploited it very effectively.  

     From the point of view of the business conservatives, the purpose of the alliance is to mobilize racist and nativist votes for candidates who will pass legislation that is friendly to business interests. Such legislation includes tax reductions and elimination of environmental and safety regulations. From the business point of view, the alliance has been quite successful. There are now no limits on financial contributions to campaigns; environmental protections are being eliminated; and business has received a big tax cut.

President Trump's Role

     In this alliance, President Trump’s role is to keep the troops fired up. He travels the country fulminating against immigrants, Muslims, the news media and occasionally, Jews (aka “globalists”). He reminds his constituents that their problems are caused by foreigners, by people of other races and by globalists. He makes sure that his constituents do not notice that, while he claims to want to return power to the people, his party actually works for corporate America.

     I do not know whether Mr. Trump is a racist, but he knows how to communicate with people who are and how to fan their fears and hatreds while maintaining a convenient, rhetorical distance. He doesn’t advocate violence. Oh no, not he. As long as this continues to be a winning strategy, his party will continue to maintain its alliance of convenience, and racism will continue to play a big role in American politics.

How Can We Fight Racism in Our Politics?

     We who think that this strategy is abhorrent cannot win by fighting it directly. Telling people that they are racists doesn’t get us anywhere. The people who really hear what we say already agree with us, and the people who support Mr. Trump know that we have been deluded by “fake news.” We can win only by providing our own, coherent, compelling moral vision that offers people alternative ways to see their problems and alternative ways to solve them. Here is one approach to creating such a vision. Here is another approach. Here is a third approach.

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Vote For Democrats to Level the Playing Field

You Have a Lot at Stake in November

     You have a lot at stake in the election this November. If the Democrats win, we can begin to restore a level playing field for you and for everyone. We can restore an economy that benefits all of us instead of an economy that benefits the wealthy few at the expense of the rest of us.

Governments Have a Responsibility to Level the Playing Field

     Our Declaration of Independence says that “the pursuit of happiness” is an inalienable right and one of those for which “governments are instituted,” This means that our federal and state governments have a responsibility to prevent the greed of a few powerful individuals from blocking the pursuit of happiness of the vast majority of our people. It means that our government should assure that we pursue happiness on a level playing field, but recently, that field has tilted more and more.

How the Playing Field Has Been Tilted and What We Can Do About It

     As taxes have been lowered for the rich, state support for our colleges has gone down, and the colleges have had to make up the lost revenue by increasing the tuition that the students must pay. Students have to borrow money to pay the high tuition, and young people who go to school to learn a trade or profession now graduate with heavy debts. Our state government could act to reduce the cost of post-secondary education, and Democrats support such action.  They propose to increase state funding for community colleges, and they propose to allow young people to refinance their loans at lower rates. Republicans oppose those ideas. So, if you want to reduce the burden of your educational debts, vote for Democrats in November.
     On a level playing field, health care would be available to everyone at a reasonable cost. Most people would not struggle to pay for their health care, and illness would not be the most frequent cause of bankruptcy in our country. Democrats are proposing a practical plan reduce the cost of health care in Wisconsin by making Badgercare available as a public option. Republicans oppose this idea. So, if you think your health care is too expensive, vote for Democrats in November.
     A level playing field includes the opportunity for a secure retirement, and most Americans depend partly on Social Security in retirement. Republicans want to cut Social Security and Medicare. Democrats want to maintain them. So, if you think that hard-working people like you should have a secure retirement, vote for Democrats in November.

Vote For Democrats If You Want a Level Playing Field

     Our government should act to level the playing field for everyone, but under the current administration, it has done just the opposite. So, if you want a level the playing field on which we can all pursue our individual goals, vote for Democrats in November.

Friday, July 20, 2018

Working Class Women: a Natural Progressive Constituency

An Oppressed Group that American Progressives Have Not Addressed

     Working class women are among the most disadvantaged and oppressed people in America, but we progressives have failed to speak clearly and persuasively to the issues that affect them. Working class women are of all races: they are Black, Latino, Asian and White. They live in big cities, in towns and in the country. They are oppressed by an economy that is rigged against them and by the effects of racism and sexism.

     Working class women are a ready-made constituency for progressive political parties, but we have not spoken to them directly or clearly. Women are already more likely than men to identify as Democrats, but that difference is less pronounced among working class women than among college-educated women. We can change that if we focus on the needs of working class women.

The Poverty of Working Class Women                                                                                                              

     Our economy depends on the poverty of working class women. They work the check-out stands at Walmart; they clean the rooms at hotels; they wait on customers in cafes and diners; they care for old people in nursing homes. And when they leave work in the evening, they go home to fix dinner for their children.

     Why are working class women so poor? First, they are poor because – due to historic discriminatory pay policies – they have always earned less than men. In addition, their low incomes have made them especially vulnerable to our country’s recent redistribution of income from working people to the very rich. Women are far more likely than men to depend on food stamps to feed their families.

     Working class women have lost much of the social support that their families used to provide. In the past, most women lived with their parents until they married and went to live with their husbands. Many women lived on farms, where they worked with their husbands on the land. Today, most of us live in cities, and even in rural areas, the farming that used to be the basis of people’s lives has mostly disappeared. The average age of farmers in our country is 58, while the number of farms has fallen from more than 6 million in 1935 to about 2 million in 2016. Rural communities can no longer provide the social support that they once provided, and the fathers who used to lead the families in their struggles have too often disappeared leaving the women alone. 

The harsh lives of working class women have been well documented by social scientists.  

     Working class women are less likely to marry than middle or upper class women and more likely to be divorced. This exacerbates their poverty because a two-income family can generally be better off than a family with only one income.  The harshness of these women’s lives is beautifully expressed in Terri Clark’s song “She Didn’t Have Time.”  Working class women are also more likely than middle or upper class women to suffer from domestic violence, and getting out of a violent marriage requires a lot of courage, as Martina McBride tells us in “Independence Day.”

They Know They Are Suffering

     Working class women are well aware of their suffering, and they are angry about it. We can see their anger in the huge popularity of the many songs by Black and White artists that document the selfishness and unreliability of the men in their lives. The YouTube video of Jo Dee Messina’s song, “My Give a Damn’s Busted” has had more than 2 million views; Martina McBride’s “Independence Day” has had more than 7 million; Sunshine Anderson’s “Heard It All Before” more than 9 million; Rihanna’s “Take a Bow” more than 11 million; and The Dixie Chicks’ “Goodbye, Earl” has had more than 19 million views.)

     These songs show us the anger that the women feel but do not lead them to understand the ways that their suffering is increased by government policies. The songs do not show how political action could reduce the suffering.  Political action cannot make the men in their lives less violent or more reliable, but it can make the lives of the women easier by helping them to earn more, to live better and to be more secure. It is up to political progressives to make that case.

Progressives Must Speak Directly to the Concerns of Working Class Women

     Working class women of all races are a ready-made constituency for American progressives, but we have failed to speak to them directly and openly. We propose policies that have the potential to improve the lot of such women, but we do not explain why women should support those policies, and we do not link them to basic, moral imperatives.

     What should we do?

     First, we need to liberate the term “working class” from its association with White people. We should stop using the phrase “white working class” and make it clear that the working class includes people of all races and that all of them are oppressed. Some may be more oppressed than others because of the effects of racism, but all are oppressed by sexism and by an economy that is rigged against them.

     Second, we need to say loudly and clearly that:

  • It is wrong that working class women of all races should suffer and that the rest of us should pay no attention.
  • It is wrong that our economy should be based on the oppression and poverty of women.
  • It is wrong that so many children should grow up in families that – at best – struggle to provide them with things that middle class children take for granted: a good breakfast in the morning, a warm, winter coat, health care.
  • It is wrong that we as a society are wasting so much of our human potential.

     Third, we need to frame our policy prescriptions in terms of these moral principles. We should say that:

  • The minimum wage should be raised so that single women with children can earn enough to support themselves and their children.  
  • We need national health insurance so that women do not have choose between taking a child to the doctor and buying gas to get to work.
  • We should offer inexpensive daycare for small children so that their mothers can go to work.
  • We should provide more affordable housing so that working class women do not need to pay more than half their incomes for inadequate housing.
  • We should offer free tuition at community and technical colleges so that young women can pull themselves up out of poverty.
  • We should protect Roe v. Wade and broad access to sex education because unwanted pregnancies push women down into poverty.

     We need to say these things over and over and over.

     This is a program that cuts across racial lines. Both Black and White women both suffer from the oppression of women in our society, and immigrant women are among the most oppressed in the working class.  A program that raises up working class women will help people of all races.

     This program also cuts across the divide between urban and rural America. Some of our poorest women live in rural areas, and a program to help women will help them as much as their sisters in the cities.

     A political party that can appeal to and activate so broad a constituency will surely be a winner.