Not the Progressives I Know!

This post is in response to Casey Dorman’s Essay “It’s the Cost of Gas and Food and Rent, Stupid” in Lost Coast Review: December 11, 2018.  Casey is the publisher of “Lost Coast Review,” a member of OC Writers, and a prolific novelist.  The response below addresses a few of the points in Casey’s recent political blog post.


Unlike Casey Dorman’s view that the recent protests in France are unlikely to occur in the US, I predict that within the next two years, possibly much sooner, ideas from France will influence Americans to take to the streets as well. In the 60s the protests for labor rights in France preceded the most violent of the US protests regarding Vietnam in the late ’60s. Even more significant was the linkage between the American and French philosophers and great thinkers who affected the American Revolution and the French Revolution. During this period of the Enlightenment, Locke, Paine, and Thomas Jefferson had great influence on Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu, and others. The back and forth acceptance of ideas and search for ways to view society has historically existed between France and the United States, and I believe the French protesters will have an effect on America. 

The Zeitgeist

My favorite word lately is “zeitgeist.” Inventions, for example, tend to be in the zeitgeist (Edison’s development of the phonograph, according to some, was invented AFTER a French inventor’s development of the phonograph. Edison was able to register the patent first as I remember.  Thus the same idea existed across the ocean). So too, creative ideas and new philosophies seem to always float in the zeitgeist no matter the level of sophistication in communication.  It seems that some kind of revolution has to be the inevitable outcome of the vast disparity of wealth not only in the US but throughout the world. The pressure created by that kind of disparity cannot be contained forever.

Who are the Progressives? 

The other point mentioned in Casey’s article is the view that progressive leadership has failed to understand the plight of the working class.  The term “progressive” in general usage seems to have taken on some kind of connection with “the elite” recently.  Progressivism is in the DNA of Wisconsin and Minnesota.  From Governor LaFollette to Eugene McCarthy, these two states have been at the forefront of progressive thought. “The Progressive” magazine, for heaven’s sakes is published in Madison! It is the breaking up of unions during the Reagan administration, I believe, that is one of the major factors that allowed factories in Milwaukee, for example, to be so shortsighted as to make no responsible plans for the retraining of workers in industries they knew were dying.

The only way I can speak about “liberal progressives” is to talk about those in my world whom I consider holding this political bent.  Those who I know personally as long-time Progressives live in the Midwest and are from very humble backgrounds.  They live within modest means and they are mostly Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Their interest has always been in the relationship of the economy to sociological conditions. 
Most of my friends from Wisconsin and Minnesota come from families who were farmers or laborers. They are all presently activists in a number of movements. One of my friends is a diversity counselor at a Community College, another is the Director of TRIO’s Student Support Services at the same college. They are not part of the Washington “elite”, yet they are very progressive thinkers. The Student Support Service Program that my friend directs was legislated years ago to help first generation, low income, and special needs students retrain succeed in college. Many of the students came from the industrial sector for retraining of lost jobs. For decades that Federally funded program has understood the connection between the economy and sociological development. Dedication to leveling the playing field has always been and will always be the progressive goal of friends I know. Former and present members of the so-called Democratic “elite” or old guard such as Ted Kennedy and John Lewis have always been the biggest supporters of Student Support Services, Upward Bound, and the MacNair Foundation.  The problem historically has been the fight for funding from the Republican party year after year in spite of statistical evidence that these programs have a significant economic impact.   The fact that a “Republican” President is taking up the mantle formerly fought for by progressive Democrats is a joke and a ruse! 

Painting the picture of progressives as not part of the working class is not how I view it. My college roommate grew up on a dairy farm and became a high school teacher.  She married a parole officer whose father sold life insurance. Farmer issues are very much in their “wheelhouse” so to speak. Both are retired now and live in a lovely, but modest home, with very modest pensions; they take vacations by earning miles on their credit cards. However, they fight for progressive causes and have nothing kind to say about Scott Walker in Wisconsin or Donald Trump 

Another progressive couple I know supports a myriad of issues.  They understand global climate change and the driving forces of migration and immigration.  They are also from typical midwest backgrounds. The husband’s father was a farmer and he himself was a Peace Corps worker during Vietnam and carpenter by trade later on. His wife was a high school biology teacher. They have spent time working in Guatemalan villages and have been able to visit the village in Thailand where the husband worked years ago.  Their children, all teachers, live in the Midwest, Trump country, all are of modest means, and all are Progressive. 

My own father worked his whole life in the stock room at Kearney and Trecker, a factory in Milwaukee in the 50s. He never owned a home and died in a Veterans Hospital without a dime to his name. My mother worked in a grocery store and if she were alive today, she would absolutely go ballistic over Trump and his proposals.  

I must add that there ARE members of my family who did vote for Trump. They do think of us as “elite” because we went to college and use “big words.” I think mostly, they dislike that we drive a Prius, not because they think it’s not American made, but because it illustrates that we believe the scientists concerning global climate change. We were all born and raised in Milwaukee and “woven from the same cloth,” and yet there is the separation. 

So I do think there here is a danger in assuming progressive leadership isn’t addressing the working class or doesn’t understand it. Half, maybe three-quarters of them are the working class. I think political terms are so fluid now that the labels are like sand on a beach changing with the rapidly changing political tide.  As my favorite linguist, George Lakoff of Berkeley indicates that misdirection of the terms is purposeful.   

The frame or meme that has been set up by Trump defining Democrats, or Progressives, or Elites needs to be countered.  Even though I’m not in favor of many centrist policies of the Democratic party and tend to be left of that line, I have the highest respect for Nancy Pelosi,  Bernie Sanders, and the Democratic Party, old and new. I think Democrats are stronger together than apart. I think Democrats have been rooted, since FDR and through the 60s in a philosophy “to not look aside from want and pain,” as the old hymn goes, and to work for a more fair and equitable society. I believe that has always been at the core of Democrats, progressive or not.  And when the smoke and mirror tactics of the 2016 election dissipate, Republicans who hold these values will perhaps be more willing to speak up as well.  

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *