The audacity of hope. America in 2016. Dare one hold a hopeful, trusting, embracing outlook in the Age of Anxiety? Or is it requisite to be down-in-the-mouth, a naysaying prophet of doom who holds that we, the American people, are not up to the task of resolving what ails us?
In his time, Ronald Reagan, taking a line from the Book of Matthew and John Winthrop, held America to be a “city on a hill.” It’s important not to see the metaphor as depicting America as an Eden, a utopian paradise unencumbered by problems and conflicts. A sober look disabuses one of that notion. Instead, the notion is aspirational: America as a beacon of light, a land of opportunity and freedom and, yes, hope.
Reagan’s use of the metaphor should be taken neither with a grain of salt nor with Pollyannaish, pie-in-the-sky optimism. Rather, it should be understood as a recognition that, while we have problems and a rigged system, we’re not helpless. What is broken can be fixed and what is rigged can be un-rigged.
The chasm between Hillary Clinton’s and Donald Trump’s worlds and visions is oceanic: Optimism v. gloom and doom; a village solving problems v. “il duce” autocrat rule; constitutional republicanism v. despotic Caesarism.
As evidenced by their platforms, differences abound between the two major parties. The Democrats’ platform: uplifting, promising, and pragmatic; the Republican, dystopic, fear-based, and bleakly dark, pledging to take us to a mythical past and a neat and ordered place where everyone knew his place, where the feminine was suborned to the masculine and white meant right.
The Nation magazine’s editor, Katrina vanden Heuval has called the Democrat’s platform the most progressive ever, a breathtaking assessment considering the progress of social, economic, and environmental justice made over the past century.
Among the planks: free tuition at state universities for students whose families’ incomes are less than $125,000; expanding Social Security; a minimum wage of $15; 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave; Medicare for those 55 and above; and empowering Medicare to negotiate lower prices for prescription drugs.
In addition, the platform calls for ending private prisons, expanding the rights of workers to organize, enacting a 21st-century Glass-Steagall Act, and closing tax loopholes for the uber-wealthy and corporations who hide their profits in places like the Cayman Islands.
The platform reflects in large part what Bernie Sanders has been calling for.
“Sanders’s impact on the platform,” writes vanden Heuval, “is reflected in how it challenges the central pillars of the bipartisan neo-liberal economic consensus that has driven American policy since the Reagan years.”
James Downie of the Washington Post concurs, arguing the work done by Sanders and his supporters “has produced notable victories and shifted the center of the political conversation,” which are “good for the Democratic Party.”
“Too often in the past,” he continues, “the interests of minorities, the poor and others have been either ignored or barely acknowledged in the party’s platform. But the version being prepared for 2016 suggests Democrats are starting to take their interests seriously, and that can only be a good thing for the country.”
One need not buy into every position expressed in a platform to embrace it. For example, I argue for a two-year free post-secondary education route for every graduating senior whether it be in a community or state college or university or in a technical area such as computers, hair-styling, or fire-fighting. Accessible post-secondary education is the principle around which we can gather.
As I pointed out in last week’s column, platforms are more than a list of specifics; they’re “who we are” philosophical manifestos with a party’s values serving as an umbrella under which platform planks are delineated. Platforms speak to the character of a party and the people who make it up, much as the Declaration of Independence explains who we are as a people.
Unlike its counterpart, the Democratic Party’s platform does not view the world in stark good v. evil Manicheanism. It’s a proclamation in the American tradition of faith in the stock of determined, hard-working, never-quit generations who saw our country through far worse times than we’re experiencing.
The contrast is being presented. You choose.