“Allow Any Execution Method”
The Death of the American Progressive Movement and Where We Go from Here
Oklahoma approved the “Allow Any Execution Method” ballot measure on Tuesday, which enshrines the death penalty in the state’s constitution. If there is a more apt description of what happened to the American progressive movement on Tuesday than “Allow Any Execution Method,” I don’t know what it is. Not only did Donald Trump become the next president of the United States, but Republicans retained control of the House and Senate and expanded their control over state governments. Out of 12 gubernatorial elections held on Tuesday, Republicans won three seats previously held by democrats (in Missouri, Vermont, and New Hampshire), potentially expanding their existing control of governor’s mansions from 31 to 34 of 50. Democrats can still neutralize one of those gains in a North Carolina race that remains too close to call, but overall, American voters rejected the left on Tuesday.
The only bright spot (depending on how you view the word bright) in the resounding rejection of the progressive movement is that Clinton won the popular election. A handful of ballot measures also seem to suggest that voters don’t reject the liberal platform entirely: Measures on marijuana won in California, Massachusetts, Florida, North Dakota, Arkansas and Nevada; and California, Washington, and Nevada voters expanded gun control in their states. Arizona, Washington, Colorado, and Maine all increased the minimum wage. To temper any sort of optimism engendered by those results, Nebraska and Oklahoma reaffirmed their commitment to the death penalty and California rejected a measure eliminating the death penalty, voting instead to expedite the deaths of the 750 inmates currently on death row in that state. Meanwhile, Washington voters rejected a carbon tax and Colorado voted against the creation of a single-payer health care system.
Let’s survey the immediate damage (in this case, defined as policy proposals the Republicans are realistically likely to follow through on, possibly as soon as day one).
Obamacare isn’t flawless, but it has insured 22 million Americans and, while it’s nearly impossible to determine how much of the reduction in healthcare cost growth is attributable to the law, the fact is that healthcare cost inflation is at its lowest rate since the government began measuring it in 1960. Since it was enacted in 2010, Republicans have pledged to eliminate Obamacare, and that time has come. Using the budget reconciliation process, Congressional Republicans can eliminate Obamacare this January, without worrying about Senate filibuster rules. This means that 22 million Americans are set to lose insurance after the end of whatever transition period is put in place, and, if Trump and the Republicans follow through on the promise to turn Medicaid into a block grant, tens of millions more could lose insurance.
The hits to healthcare just keep coming. Republicans have been trying to defund Planned Parenthood for years, attempting to hold President Obama hostage over the issue and go so far as to threaten to shut down the government. Trump has vowed to follow through on this agenda, and with no one to stand in the way, it looks like Republicans finally have the opportunity they’ve been craving to deprive Planned Parenthood access to any federal dollars. Planned Parenthood is one of the largest providers of affordable family planning services, providing preventative care and birth control to low-income Americans. The CBO estimates that defunding Planned Parenthood will cost taxpayers $130 million in the first decade. And the results in Texas, which defunded Planned Parenthood in 2013 (eliminating the family planning provider for 60% of the state’s low-income women of child-bearing age in the process), suggest that unintended pregnancies will increase, with a disproportionate effect on low-income Americans.
Congressional Republicans have been doing their best to chip away at Dodd-Frank, and Donald Trump has consistently pledged to eliminate it. Dodd-Frank aimed to reduce risk in the U.S. financial system and created the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (home of the rise of Elizabeth Warren), instituted the Volcker Rule (which limits speculative trading and eliminates proprietary trading), created rules on systemic risk, and expanded whistleblower protection. Without it, markets will become inherently riskier, taking us back to the wild west days leading up to the 2008 financial crisis.
Progressives have lost the Supreme Court for a generation. Thanks to the obstructionism of Senate Republicans, there is currently an open seat, and it seems likely that Trump will be able to fill at least one more vacancy during his term. Laws are changeable, but Supreme Court rulings are entrenched and long-lasting. Looking just at this term’s docket, there are cases on transgender rights, race-based voting districts, and the death penalty. And note that this year’s docket is conscribed by a hamstrung court that opted to put off some important cases until all nine seats were filled. Cases concerning the future of abortion access, voting rights and other civil rights, and other progressive causes will arise in the future Court. The damage that a Republican Congress and President can do together will have immediate effects, but the damage to the progressive agenda from another generation of conservative rulings will last.
How Do We Move Forward?
So what do progressives hope for? For Trump to fail so spectacularly that the country is forced to recognize that it made a mistake? Spectacular failure has real human costs, so it seems miserly and wrong to hope for that.
Further, allowing yourself to hope for that may reveal your innate privilege: For myself, as a college-educated white woman, whose family has been in America for multiple generations, I’m unlikely to face physical danger or actual persecution from my government, even if it doesn’t respect me or my bodily autonomy. It also feels like the first step towards embracing the anger and disenchantment that led the right to Trump in the first place, something I believe we must avoid at all costs.
If not to (secretly, shamefully, even for a moment) hope that Americans get exactly what they asked for in Trump, and be forced to turn to progressives with open arms, what then to hope for? That Trump isn’t as bad as they all thought?
I don’t know where the American left goes from here, but I know we must find a way to move forward. Progressives cannot languish is the anger and hatred and disenchantment that plagued the right for the last eight years. Surveying the damage that is election has done to the progressive movement, I can’t help but think this is how they must have felt. The people who thought Obama was a liar and fraud, who believed wholeheartedly that he would never represent them or their America. The people who felt disenfranchised and forgotten, left behind and ignored, are the same ones who showed up to Trump rallies in the thousands, who shouted racial slurs and wore misogynistic t-shirts, who attacked journalism, professionalism, and protesters, and, most importantly, came out to vote last night with excitement and enthusiasm.
The progressive movement cannot let itself go too far down this path. It cannot wall itself off from the other half of the country, more deeply entrenching the political poles and failing to even attempt consensus. We cannot campaign on anger, and on hate, and on an America that is for some, and not for others.
It would be easy to go down that path. As of January 20, not only does the President not represent me, but there is no one in Washington on my side. At least during the Obama years (after 2009), the Republicans had either the House or Senate to look out for them. Taking back the House continues to look like an impossible goal. The next set of Senate elections is terrible for Democrats; the Democrats will be defending 25 seats while the Republicans only defend eight. Add to that the systemic power imbalance at the state level, and it feels like the only part of America I can live in where my values are celebrated and respected are the West Coast and select states in New England and the Mid-Atlantic corridor.
So, we can’t hope for spectacular failure, and it’s hard to imagine that things won’t get bad. But, we can fund services, privately and at the local level, that the federal government will ignore. We can donate to and volunteer for organizations that fight for the rights of our most vulnerable populations (ACLU, Center for Reproductive Rights, EMILY’s List, NAACP, National Immigration Law Center, NOW, NextGen Climate Action, Southern Poverty Law Center, and many more). We can join our local party and help shape the future of the progressive movement. We can put all our energy into 2018, even in races that seem destined to fail, and begin recruiting and nurturing progressive candidates at every level of government. We can take a page from the conservative playbook and attack policy at the local and state level.
Most importantly, we must practice in our daily lives the ideals that we wish animated our government. As individuals, we can’t provide universal healthcare, or expand voting rights, or overhaul the justice system, but we can put our bodies in the streets, we can speak out when we witness racism and misogyny, we can stand up for the disadvantaged, we can be fair and empathetic, and we can choose to never sit quietly by.
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