Does the U.S. Make Meaningful Stands Any More?
Putting partisan struggles in a context of greater ones
Expanding partisanship in the United States is occurring in the context of larger historical struggles. The prevailing gridlock and lack of leadership (especially federal but in many cases state and local as well) hurt progress in each. This is a feature for politicians prioritizing short-term wealth or power over all else. We must elect and hold leaders accountable for re-engaging effectively or give up touting our system as an exemplar for others to follow. Below is a sliding scale depiction of four long-term struggles we’ve contributed to as a nation, followed by lists of ongoing areas of concern.
Rule of law and representation vs. minority rule by force
- Authoritarian power grabs or extensions in Poland, Brazil, the Philippines, and Russia
- The rise of Chinese global power via the Belt and Road Initiative
- Our own President trying to use the Justice Department as his personal defense team and legal enforcers
- Attempts to block legal voting and undercount groups through the Census
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Environmental justice vs. injustice and exploitation
- Lack of leadership in developing policies for mitigating and preventing damage from “natural” disasters exacerbated by hotter air and water
- Inconsistent access to clean air and water and healthy food
- Demographic and air pollution-mediated COVID-19 impacts disproportionately harming communities of color
- Lack of consideration of resource needs of future generations in policies
The use of science and expertise vs. dogma and conspiracy-mongering
- Epidemiologists having limited influence on pandemic response policies
- Non-contrarian climatologists having minimal input on energy, housing, transportation, and other policies related to climate
- Sociologists and criminologists having limited roles in influencing policing and overall social justice reform policies
Social justice vs. different treatment by ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, etc.
- Lack of a representative epistemology and equitable distribution of wealth, opportunities, and privileges
- Persistent stereotypes and systemic forms of discrimination against people based on religion, class, sexuality, etc. permeating institutions and governmental policies
- Disparities in women’s access to contraception and control over their own bodies
- Black Americans having less access to voting, credit, quality housing, and fair treatment by the legal system (e.g., suffering from disproportionate drug arrests and the “school to prison pipeline”)
- Violence against LGBTQ+ people based on sexuality or identity
- Asylum-seekers and immigrants being detained in inhumane conditions or having reduced opportunities to contribute to the economy and society
The modern political parties appear to be working opposite each other in each of these areas. While perceptions may vary for where we currently are or should be on the sliding scales in the lead graphic, the Democrats’ 2020 platform favors staying or shifting further to the left. Examples (with page numbers) include:
- Expanded voting access such as by restoring the Voting Rights Act (6) [rule of law/representation]
- Creating jobs while transforming the energy economy by expanding use of less-polluting sources (51) [environmental justice]
- Incorporating climate science in policies (6) and supporting continued research (80), plus listening to public health experts (10) [science and expertise]
- Policing reform (36) and ending for-profit prisons (38) and “The War on Drugs” (36) [social justice]
On the other hand, Republicans chose not to make a 2020 platform. The party’s policies reflecting inward-looking “America First” and backward-looking “Make America Great AGAIN” ideas tend to move us to the right of each item in the sliding scale. Examples include:
- Purging voter rolls and restricting Census counts [minority rule]
- Supporting violent suppression of peaceful forms of dissent [rule by force]
- Rolling over for Big Oil/Coal/Chemical lobby demands [environmental injustice]
- Promoting conspiracy theories over peer-reviewed research on topics like the COVID-19 pandemic [dogma and conspiracy-mongering]
- Banning transgendered people from serving in the military and fighting efforts to end workplace discrimination by sexuality [different treatment by ethnicity, religion, class, sexuality, etc.]
This nation was founded on principles like liberty and justice for all. We fought multiple world wars against believers in rule by force. While our history is far from unblemished, Reagan’s image of us being a “shining city upon a hill” requires continually standing and working for things bigger than ourselves. Otherwise our claims to being a world leader ring hollow in our own and others’ ears.
Will we continue to build on those legacies or abandon them? The GOP was once “The Party of Lincoln” and literally fought to end slavery. We formed a multilateral alliance to dictators trying to expand autocracy in World War II. And Richard Nixon (R) created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the 1970 Clean Air Act. How many partisans will choose to surrender in these greater struggles in order to maintain short-term party power?
Party platforms evolve over time. Today the Democrats’ incorporates recent climate and justice understandings, some learned through past mistakes like mass incarceration measures in the 1994 crime bill. The supposedly conservative GOP’s “platform” tragically fails in those regards and conserves little beyond short-term corporate profits and one man’s power. Such zero-sum cynicism stands in opposition to the idea of American greatness. Would it not betray the sacrifices of The Greatest Generation to cede international leadership roles to dictators like Xi Jinping? And does it not dishonor past generations and doom future ones to continue to squander natural resources and undermine a hospitable environment?
Our local and national election choices have broader consequences. Even so, they are but one in a series of needed civic action steps. Regardless of platforms and promises, elected officials require support and pressure to implement policies that can further the larger struggles for liberty and justice. Platitudes and incrementalism are insufficient in the face of pandemics and climate crises. May we join the many who’ve sacrificed for them in the past as well as those carrying the torch today.