Progressives play on a field tilted against them

Progressives face unfair handicaps in American politics today.  The playing field is tilted against them.  Their opponents are dealing from a stacked deck.  Their path to victory is narrow and perilous.

There’s nothing to be gained by complaining about this.  Instead progressives have to figure on ways to win against the odds—which has been done before and can be done again.  Here’s what they are up against:

>The Supreme Court has an anti-progressive majority.  Given the ages of the incumbent justices, this is likely to be locked in for a generation or more.

But this was also true during the Progressive era of the early 20th century and the New Deal era of the 1930s.  Progressives in 1913 pushed through the 16th and 17th Amendments to the Constitution, which allowed Congress to enact an income tax (previously declared unconstitutional) and requiring direct election of Senators, previously elected by state legislatures.

President Franklin Roosevelt failed in his proposal to change the makeup of the Supreme Court by enlarging it, but Congress does have the power to change the structure of the judicial system and the jurisdiction of the various courts.  I personally wouldn’t want it to come to that, but this would be a “nuclear option” if all else failed.

>The Electoral College and the Senate give over-representation to thinly-populated states, where anti-progressive forces rule.  The provision that each state has two Senators is the one provision of the U..S. Constitution that is un-amendable and it makes reform of the Electoral College a practical impossibility.

There’s nothing to be gained in complaining about this.  Progressives will have to carry their message to the Great Plains and Rocky Mountain states.  The people of these states suffer at the hands of agribusiness monopolies and exploitative mining companies.  Progressives ought to have ideas to change this.

>Gerrymandering and voter registration purges block the democratic process.  This was part of a strategy called RedMap, implemented in 2010, to diminish voting by African-Americans, young people and others likely to vote Democratic.

So far federal judges have overruled some of the more blatant attempts to rig elections, but this will become less likely to happen now that there is a right-wing majority on the Supreme Court and Mitch McConnell and the Republicans push through appointments of right-wing judges.

The consolation here is that these tactics only work to tilt the balance in close elections.  The task of Progressives will be to get majorities too large to counteract, then to use their new power to reverse vote-rigging.

>Voting machines may be tampered with.  The solution to this is paper ballots, hand-counted in public.

>Progressives are fighting the power of big money.  Wall Street and Silicon Valley money flows mostly toward establishment Democrats, oil company and defense contractor money flows mostly toward establishment Republicans.  The Supreme Court has struck down restrictions on campaign spending, and is unlikely to change back.

Bernie Sanders and others have shown it is possible to raise enough money in small donations to counteract the money power of billionaires and big corporations.  To keep this going, progressives have to show small donors that they are producing results.

>The right wing has a powerful, coordinated propaganda machine.  It consists of Fox News, Brietbart News, Sinclair Broadcasting and dozens of committed right-wing talk show hosts.  They generate a unified message.

There is such a thing as “liberal bias” in the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, CNN and other national newspapers and television broadcasters, but it is partly unconscious, not coordinated and not particularly sympathetic to issues of concern to working people.

Donald Trump, Karl Rove and other Republican propagandists have been successful in focusing the attention of the national press on their issues.  Trump’s genius for showmanship enabled him to dominate news coverage during the 2016 election campaign, and he still does.

But it has always been the case that the press has been biased against labor.  Those who challenge the status quo have always had to create their own educational and communication networks.  The Internet provides a great means for doing this, even though there is an effort to shut out progressive voices.

Simply by persistence, it is possible for force press coverage of important issues.  Bernie Sanders was once regarded as a crackpot for advocating Medicare for All and a $15-an-hour minimum wage.  Now both proposals are on the national agenda.

There have been earlier eras in American history when things were just as discouraging for progressive reformers as they are now.  Reformers persisted and eventually won.

Past performance is no guarantee of future results.  But I don’t think it is possible for the United States to continue as it is.  Change is coming, whether for good or ill.

LINKS

Donald Trump Didn’t Start the Fire: Here Are Things the Mid-Terms Can’t Fix by Andrew O’Hehir for AlterNet.

Why I Remain Hopeful When Things Look Grim by Caitlin Johnstone.

An interview of Noam Chomsky by Matt Taibbi.

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