We Screwed Up – How Progressivism Failed American Democracy

On November 8th, 2016, this great nation fell victim to a massive failure in the way our government works.

In a country built on the fundamental principle of a publicly selected governing body of, by, and for We the People, a tyrannical authoritarian was given control. In this land, whose freedom was bought with the blood of men that lived over 240 years ago, a freedom that was admittedly limited to a select few initially but has been expanding ever since, a man has risen to power that would seek to constrain our freedoms rather than magnify them. In what is questionably claimed by many to be the “Shining Beacon of Democracy for the World”, a narcissistic, bigoted, misogynistic, xenophobic, bumbling clown of a man was elected President.

We screwed up. Big time. And I blame Progressives.

To truly understand what happened to our American Democracy, and how Progressives failed that system, we have to understand what a democracy really is.screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-10-15-56-am The word itself is derived from the Ancient Greek language; dēmos, meaning “the people”, and kratia, meaning “power” or “rule”. The word translates literally to “Rule of the People”.

Democracy is a concept that follows a principle of basic goodness and rationality of humanity – a democracy believes that since basically all people have the capacity for reason, and that reason makes us equal, we can govern ourselves and apply law equally, ensuring that the rights and freedoms granted to us by our inherent rational nature are protected by a governing body that is dedicated to the rational interests of all of its citizens. Because science is based on reason, a rational governing body should be dedicated to encouraging the development of scientific knowledge, and leaving behind faith, thereby separating itself from any religious beliefs in the rationality of its legislations. A governing body committed to rationality and reason will be democratic, and when the values of a democratic society are violated, it is not an authoritarian view of “law and order” that must be restored, but it is reason that must be restored. *

Now that we understand what a democracy really is, we can now see and understand that American Democracy is not that.

In The Political Mind (Viking, 2008), George Lakoff, distinguished Professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics of UC Berkeley and Senior Researcher at the Rockbridge Institute, writes

American values are fundamentally progressive, centered on equality, human rights, social responsibility, and the inclusion of all. Yet progressives have, without knowing why, given conservatives an enormous advantage in the culture war. The radical conservatives seek and have already begun to introduce an authoritarian hierarchy based on vast concentrations and control of wealth; order based on fear, intimidation, and obedience; a broken government; no balance of power; priorities shifted from the public sector to the corporate and military sectors; responsibility shifted from society to the individual; control of elections through control of who votes and how the votes are counted; control of ideas through the media; and patriarchal family values projected upon religion, politics, and the market.

Lakoff explains here that our fundamental American values are inherently progressive and democratic, yet Conservatives have convinced us that up is actually down – they convinced us that progress is detrimental to our fundamental American values.

Why, then, are the Democrats not successful in fighting back against the Conservative Republicans, as we have seen with the results of this most recent election cycle from the top of the ticket down, and changing the dynamic of this culture war?

The “Democratic” Party – Talks a good game, but rarely delivers what it promises

The short answer is an easy one: by and large, Democrats are not the Progressives they claim to be, but are actually Conservatives, or, at best, Moderates. There are exceptions, of course, but they are grossly outnumbered by the centrist, corporatist Democrats that we elect over and over again expecting different results. And, as we have seen in recent weeks and months, they are just as guilty of every attack on progressivism that Lakoff laid out in his description.

“But, if that’s the case, doesn’t that mean that the Democrats and American Democracy failed Progressives, not the other way around?” It would, yes, if American Democracy was actually a democracy. But it isn’t. And that is why Progressives failed American Democracy. Donald Trump was elected, and he is the embodiment of everything that our fundamental American values stand against – or did at one time. He is not the cause of that shift; he is a symptom of it. Allow me to explain.

Trump is a racist. Yes, he has said awful things about minorities, immigrants, refugees, and other people who don’t share his skin tone. He is adored by the so-called “Alt-Right” movement (can we just call these people Neo-Nazis, please? Why sugarcoat it?). He was endorsed by David Duke. He has appointed Steve Bannon as his Chief Strategist. He refused to rent to African-Americans in the 70s.

White-Power Trio – (from left) Steve Bannon, former CEO of Brietbart; Richard Spencer, leader of the Alt-Right; David Duke, former Grand Wizard of the KKK – all fervent Trump supporters.

Awful things. And Democrats, especially those angry with the election results, will be quick to point these things out. These people stand for values that are very much not progressive values, and they should be pointed out and condemned.

However, Democrats would point these things out while ignoring or defending their own racist policies, and the racists among their own ranks. I’m not talking about the party lines that existed before 1964. Modern Democrats will go around telling anyone who will listen that black people can’t do anything without Democrats in power. They hold the fear of their basic unalienable rights being stripped away by Republicans (a real threat, to be sure) over the heads of African-Americans to ensure their vote will be cast for a Democrat. And then, after votes are counted and seats awarded, those same Democrat politicians double down on the policies that have created massive wealth inequality which disproportionately affects minorities and the communities they live in, all while blaming Republicans. If you aren’t going to actually fight for the people who need you to, you are equally responsible for their plight.

Trump and his posse may be racist, but the only reason it is so shocking is because it is so evident. The racism of the Democrats is just as deep seated, simply not as blatant, and they think you should ignore it. But it is there if you look hard enough.

Further, if America is to be a “Shining Beacon of Democracy for the World”, should our concerns for racism stop once we travel abroad? Under Democratic rule, our country is,


and has been for quite some time, bombing countries around the world full of brown people, with little regard for age or gender. And it is being done in the name of “human rights” while we commit war crimes, or aid other nations in committing them. Do their lives matter less simply on virtue of where they were born? If those countries were full of rich white people, we wouldn’t be bombing them. Is that not also racism? “Rich white people aren’t terrorists!!!” one may be inclined to retort. I disagree. We have a government full of rich, white terrorists. And they would prefer that you didn’t point it out.

Trump is a narcissist, he only cares about himself. Yes, he definitely is. He cares about power and prestige, and flaunting that as much as possible. He cares about the instant screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-11-17-33-amgratification he feels with 20,00 people chanting at his rallies. He cares about the respect he believes he deserves while not returning any to those who disagree with him or speak out against him. He is childish, engaging in pointless Twitter wars on a regular basis. None of this can be denied, and Democrats love to point it out. “This is the man who is going to have the nuclear codes?!?!?” they will cry out (again and again and again).

But, once again, they do so while denying their own narcissism, and the concern they hold over all else for their own positions of power. Why do Democrats back down from the promises they make on campaign trails? Because incremental change is more realistic? It’s all the fault of those pesky Republicans? No. It’s because, when it comes down to it, the things they promise on the campaign trail are just hollow words. When it comes down to it, the people that they owe favors to for the generous contributions to their political careers pull them to the side and say “This is what we want, and if you want to get reelected, you will make sure we get it.”

Lobbyists control Washington. Lobbyists work for corporations and large influential organizations, such as the NRA. Therefore, those groups control Washington through lobbying. And, in order to retain their seats of power (and their careers), Democrats bow to

Lobbyists control Washington DC through the purchase of legislative votes.

the will of these corporations and organizations just as easily as Republicans do. They are worried about themselves, and their jobs, above all else. And they would really appreciate it if you didn’t point that out, because that makes them just as narcissistic as Trump. Trump’s narcissism is shocking because it is evident. But narcissism is the basis of every political campaign – “You need this. My opponent can’t do that for you because he sucks. But you know who can do that for you? Me, because I am awesome and don’t suck like my opponent. Vote for ME!” (As another example of this, just how narcissistic does a slogan like “I’m With Her” sound in hindsight?)

Trump is a misogynist; did you hear what he said about women over and over again? Yep. I did. They were repeated ad nauseam for months. Clinton and her allies ran commercials (1, 2, 3) based strictly on those statements. She pointed it out every chance she could, and repeatedly pointed out that electing the first female POTUS would be a great way to shove it in Trump’s face.

Nobody can deny that Trump is sexist. He objectifies women. He has even said very creepy things about his own daughter. He has allegedly sexually assaulted women. He calls them

The Billy Bush Tape – Trump with Billy Bush and Arianne Zucker shortly after the now infamous “p*ssy-grabber” conversation recorded on a bus with Billy Bush

fat, disgusting, talks about their bodily functions, and insults them in every way he possibly can. No doubt about it, he is quite the sexist dog, and Democrats loathe a Democrat who won’t point that out.

But they would certainly rather not have you point out their own misogyny. They were silent in 2014 when South Carolina Democratic State Sen. Vincent Sheheen called Nikki Haley, his incumbent Republican opponent in the race for Governor, a “whore”. They were silent in the same year when Virginia Democrat John Foust called into question whether his opponent, Republican congressional candidate Barbara Comstock, had ever “even had a real job”. That attack was labeled as sexist, and instead of apologizing, admonishing Foust, or even backpedaling, Democrats’ lips were sealed. (Foust tried to explain himself, but few agreed that his remarks weren’t sexist).

But, even without those examples (far more exist) of actual sexist remarks, can we not also find sexism in the Democrats’ rhetoric? As with the race card they play every couple of years for votes, do they not hold women’s reproductive rights as a Trump card (pun intended)? Not that the threat isn’t real, many Republicans would seek to do great damage to those rights. But, then again, so would many Democrats. Former Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine, for example, is personally against abortion, a view he attributes to his Catholic faith. In 2005, he ran for Governor of Virginia on a platform where he promised to promote adoption, reduce abortion, and support the “abstinence-only” sex education that Democrats love to pin on Republicans.

No, that isn’t even the real sexism. See, in my opinion, the real sexism of the Democrats lies in the fact that they are so quick to shout “That’s sexist!!!” every time anybody says anything about a female Democrat. Just look at what Hillary did in this recent election. She ran on a hollow platform of “I’m a woman and not Trump, vote for me!”. She called

Not only is this real, it is STILL up (as of this writing).

“sexism” on every occasion (granted that some few were valid, but very few). She was accused of playing the “Woman Card”, so she created actual “Woman Cards” in a sad
attempt at an ironic fundraiser. It would have been ironic in the way she intended had she not actually said that one of the most important reasons for electing her was that she is a woman on many occasions. Instead, it was just sad.

And that is the true sexism, here. To hide behind gender instead of using actual issues and showing that she should be elected over Trump, Hillary actually cheapened the cry of “sexism” to those who need it most – women who actually have no power. And now, Nancy Pelosi is taking up the cry, saying that mere opposition of her position as Democratic House Leader by Ohio Representative Tim Ryan is sexist, rather than understanding that due to the results of the recent election cycle, the Democrats desperately need to change their leadership in an effort to seem as if they are doing something.

How do you think that helps a woman who is actually dealing with sexism in the workplace? As every female public figure takes up the cry of “sexism” for anything they don’t like, men in positions of power in the private sector are less likely to grant any credence to legitimate claims of sexism in the workplace. So, as every Democrat begins screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-2-34-23-pmshouting “sexism!!!” in the coming weeks (one asshat Hillbot named Elliot Lusztig has been shouting it for days now, even accusing Bernie Sanders, of all people, of being a misogynist), realize that it pulls back progress in women’s rights, and that is the real sexism here.

Just like with everything else, Trump’s misogyny is right there for everyone to see, and that’s why it’s shocking. The Democrats are much sneakier with theirs, and would like for it to stay under the surface.

Trump is a xenophobe. He certainly said some pretty harsh words about foreigners. Well, except for Russians. He said he would engage in mass deportations and build a wall along the US-Mexico Border. He said that he would ban Muslims from entering the country. He said that he would bomb the hell out of ISIS (not that there are many politicians who

Anti-Trump activists placed a “wall” around Donald Trump’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in symbolic rejection of his planned border wall.

would disagree with that, it’s just another thing that’s awfully convenient to throw out there when pointing out Trump’s shortcomings). He said that he would leave NATO, NAFTA, CAFTA, and any other treaties that we were engaged in if they weren’t renegotiated to benefit the US – basically when it came to anybody who wasn’t born in America or had come here legally, “Screw ‘em, they’re on their own”, with the notable exception of his wife, of course.

No doubt about it, Trump has little use for foreigners in our lands, unless he is paying them slave wages to build his buildings. But let’s not act like he invented this stuff. A wall? Seriously? First, a wall like the one he described would be virtually logistically impossible to build, and even if he found a way, it would be waaaay too expensive. Not only that, but they do have ladders in Mexico. And shovels. And airplanes. And boats. Secondly,

Current US-Mexico Border barrier in place near San Diego, CA

we already have a barrier of sorts, one that uses fencing, razor wire, natural obstacles, and Border Patrol. And it was voted for by Hillary Clinton when she was in the Senate. Like much of what Trump says, the Wall is rhetoric designed to instill fear in the hearts of his supporters and opposition alike, and also to stoke the fired of a nationalism that is equally fed by Democratic rhetoric that American lives matter more than those of children in foreign lands (if that’s what you truly believe, we have far bigger issues than Trump to contend with).

Now, I know and understand that deportation is a real concern for many families living and working in America, especially those with children. The other day, Stormie, my girlfriend, tells me about a question her daughter asked her before the election. A friend named Julia, who was born in Mexico, told Summer (Stormie’s daughter) that if Trump wins, she would have to leave and go back to Mexico. Summer asked Stormie if this was true. Well, it is true that she might have to, but that has been true for literally her entire life. One thing that Democrats don’t like when you point out is the fact that more people have been deported under the Obama Administration than under any other president ever. This is another example of Democrats using fear of Republicans to get votes, this time with the Hispanic community, all while ignoring their own demonstration of performing the exact acts they make Hispanics so afraid of.

Now, could Trump and his crew make it worse? Sure, they could. But to act like that is a valid reason to vote against him but not them is dishonest at best, and a blatant manipulation of the very worst fears of a group of people to gain power over them at worst.

“What about the Muslim community, though? He said he’d ban them from entering the country!” He did say that, and then flip flopped on it. Now, that might not be enough to convince you, but if it isn’t, don’t get upset when Hillary’s flip flop on, well, everything wasn’t enough to convince progressives. But, assuming that Trump would still attempt to ban, or at least limit, Muslims from entering the US, another thing that the Democrats hate when you point out is that we are already doing that!!!

The Syrian Refugee Crisis is a real thing that actually affects a LOT of people. Just not here. Obama allowed 10,000 refugees of the Syrian Civil War into the US in 2015, though the number is actually closer to 17,000 overall (many had gotten here before Obama put that limit into policy). syriarefugeecrisis1That might seem like a lot, but that’s 17K out of almost 5 MILLION. 24 other countries have all taken in more than we have, with Turkey being the winner at over 2.5 Million. That’s more than half of Syrian refugees, largely children, in a country that is less than a tenth of the size of our own. Xenophobic, much?

Now, there is also the bombing of Muslim countries, but I don’t really believe we bomb them because they are Muslim. Otherwise we wouldn’t sell billions of dollars in arms to Saudi Arabia. We wouldn’t arm ISIS. We wouldn’t have armed the Libyan rebels. No, I believe there are more nefarious reasons. But, if the Democrats are going to claim support for these foreign interventionist policies on the grounds of stamping out radical Islam and bringing democracy to the world, then they have to own that, and realize that they are also acting within the definition of xenophobia. But they wouldn’t ever do that. They would much rather nobody pointed that out.


Look, I am NOT defending Trump. He is an awful monster, and a terrible excuse for a human being. What I AM trying to do is to show that everything you think we have to fear from Trump, we have already seen from Democrats. It would have been no different under Hillary, with the possible exception of Women’s Rights. That is a small consolation for the damage she would have brought on a global scale. As I said in conversation with Stormie last night, I would much rather have to fight for civil rights in my own country than to be ducking from nuclear missiles sent over from China or Russia, which would have been pretty much inevitable with Clinton at the helm.

Yes, I am going to fight Trump with everything I have. I am going to speak out every time he does something that violates the basic rationality that our government is supposed to be based on. And I will help in whatever ways I can, from sharing the progressive message to organizing, to administrating online communities, to supporting activism vocally and financially. But I wouldn’t be able to do any of that living in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. So, while neither are my first choice, Trump is still better than Clinton. And that is because the Democrats are not Progressives.

“But, Richard, none of this explains how Progressives failed American Democracy instead of the other way around…” Doesn’t it, though? See, American Democracy, unlike real democracy, is based on the illusion of actual choice. When we have a conservative running against a conservative, what real choice is there? That’s not democracy. That’s American Democracy. And Progressives failed that system.

Trump got elected because of Progressives. No, it wasn’t our fault, it was the Democrats’ fault for running Hillary when they had a perfectly viable option, and one that virtually guaranteed victory over Trump. But our failure to play along with the system of American Democracy is what elected Trump.

Progressives failed American Democracy because many of us refused to compromise our values. And that is nothing to be ashamed of. As we have seen, either choice was a bad choice. Both are the same in the most fundamental ways. Now, I will say that we Progressives failed ourselves in that we didn’t go far enough. Too many of us bought into the fear that the Democrats were spewing, or maybe truly believed the myth that it’s either Republican or Democrat, and no 3rd Party has the chance to win. I’m not sure what happened, but I DO know that we could have really shaken up the system by voting 3rd Party en masse. But we didn’t. It’s tough to break the chains, I know. But we have to do it.

Conservatism, which is displayed by both major political parties in our country, is a complete affront to the basic fundamental values of America. This nation was founded and built on progressivism. There is only one truly progressive party in existence in the US today, and that’s the Green Party. That’s the only truly American party. Progressives failed by not supporting the actual Progressive candidate on the ballot. There are enough of us. We could have won this thing. Barring that, we definitely should have gotten to 5% of the vote. We defeated one conservative, but we still let another conservative win. And in that way, we failed ourselves, and the true spirit of democracy.


Richard Waite is the author of A Mostly Accurate View, and the producer and host of the AMAV podcast and YouTube channel.

*This section was also adapted from Lakoff’s ‘The Political Mind.


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