A cabal of rightwing politicians and fundamentalist Christians has seized control of America. They have dishonored our founders and destroyed our good name. They have claimed ownership of our history and have tried to redefine what America means. They are un-American, they are anti-American, and we progressives, the true Americans, must now save America.
There will be quibbling on the left about what we should call ourselves. We worry too much about nomenclature. We waste time drawing fine distinctions between "progressive" and "liberal" and "left" and so on. At this grim time in American history, such quibbling is foolish and self-destructive. The movement will have the luxury of splintering after it has regained the ascendancy in America. Right now, we're in a war. Yes, a war. Not the so-called War on Terror, that excuse for the grasp for empire and the destruction of our civil liberties. The real war is a war for America's soul, a war to save America from the un-American cabal that has taken control of it. That cabal is reactionary, regressive, destroying the ideals of the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers even while paying lip service to them. We, the progressives, are the true patriots, America's last hope, and we must focus on that war and not on labels.
We need to distinguish between a general, broad progressive movement and the Democratic Party. It may be that progressives will some day gain control of the Democratic Party. It may be that the Democratic Party, in continuing to try to hew to what it sees as the political center, will drift ever further to the right and will in fact become as indistinguishable from the Republican Party as some on the left have long insisted it is. For now, the aims of progressives and Democrats are sufficiently complementary that only the self-deluded progressives did not vote for Gore in 2000 and Kerry in 2004. Nonetheless, the programs followed by the progressive movement and the Democratic Party are necessarily different. A political party must focus on winning elections and then on holding onto power. A movement focuses on communicating its philosophy and winning converts.
In particular, progressives today must work to change the public discourse and how America views itself. That's what the right started doing in Goldwater's era. In 1964, Goldwater called for the Republican party to become "A choice, not an echo." We laughed at him, but that was the beginning of the right-wing takeover. (We can stop to acknowledge the irony. Goldwater mellowed into a far better man than the curs who, thanks to his work, now control America.) Give the right wingers due credit: The country laughed at them, but they spoke out and stuck to their guns. They did not abandon their principles; they did not weaken or waver. It took the right wing decades, but they ended up defining what America means and stands for. We progressives must now do the same thing, but we must do it in a very few years. Because of the Internet, that's not an impossible task.
In this war, we must have the courage to speak out and to stick to our guns no matter what. We must not lose faith in the rightness of our cause. We must not change or compromise. We must be louder - yes, louder - and more forthright than ever. Right is on our side. American history is on our side. We are Americans in the grand tradition of this country, and our opponents are the enemies of that tradition. Always remember how small and weak they are, behind their facade. Like all bullies, in their hearts they fear they're wrong.
I said "enemy." That's not too strong. The right wing is the enemy of the Constitution and of the ideals on which America was founded. The enemy has learned the value of speaking loudly and in tones of command. He demands. He orders America about. He speaks in imperative voice. We will win back America by speaking in the progressive voice.
Here is what we must say, over and over, until our words penetrate the fog and change America's mind.
The Republican Party has noble origins, but it abandoned its principles long ago. The party has fallen under the control of a gang of thugs whose beliefs and actions would make Lincoln weep. America and the Republican Party are now in the hands of a strange alliance of amoral corporate interests and religious crazies. The latter do have principles, but those consist of a collection of bizarre ideas utterly at odds with everything the founders of America worked for. No king but Jesus? Freedom is a gift from God? Every knee shall bow? What kind of principles are these for a free and sovereign people to espouse?
The principles of the religious fundamentalists are alien and primitive, better suited to being preached in a cathedral in Medieval Europe than in a church in modern America. Their corporate partners in rule are even more detestable. While they pay lip service to the wonders of the free market and its power to improve the lives of all Americans, they are actually bent on accumulation of wealth and power at the expense of everyone below them on the socioeconomic ladder. By means of tax cuts for the wealthy and government subordination to corporate interests, the wealth of America's population is steadily and rapidly being transferred into the pockets of a small class of greedy self-styled aristocrats.
So the enemy talks much about his principles, but he either has none or he has principles that are alien and evil. We are the ones with principles, and ours are the principles that motivated the men who founded the United States.
Class warfare is well under way in America and has been for a long time. We must not ignore that reality. Instead, we have to talk about it openly and condemn the right wing for pursuing it. Our nominally classless society has always been burdened with a group of the very rich who see themselves as inherently superior, as a natural aristocracy, lacking only the titles. They are clever enough not to award themselves titles and not to rule openly. We must be clever and brave enough to confront this reality, to talk about it, to fight against it. In this fight, most of America is our natural ally. It is our job to open their eyes to that reality.
Ah, the Fourth Estate! The fearless crusaders for truth, digging into dark corners, exposing corruption and malfeasance. Where would we be without them?
Well, we've been without them for a long time. The press is now an arm of corporate rule, each major media outlet a subsidiary of a huge, faceless business organization. The right wing has repeated the lie that the press is liberal until the public has come to believe it. In fact, the press has been a willing accomplice in convincing the American people to accept the stealing of the last two presidential elections. The press has dulled the public's sensitivity to lies from the White House and to war crimes committed by our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. Does a memo from Republican party headquarters really circulate among America's press lords every morning, setting out the official line for the day? It might as well, judging by the results.
The situation isn't hopeless. Individual journalists may be sensible and on our side, but with very rare exceptions, they are unable to stand against the pro-Republican bias of their corporate masters. There is one factor that works in our favor: The real bias of those corporate masters isn't toward right-wing ideology but toward money. Allied to this is the spinelessness of those masters. Show them that continuing to support the right-wing-fundamentalist gang will in the long run threaten their revenue stream, and they will quickly reconsider their apparent allegiance. Convince them that proper journalistic balance will protect that revenue stream, and they will magically become more balanced. We saw hints of that as the election of 2004 approached and polls predicted a solid Kerry victory. The press only switched back to its habitual posture of licking the jackboots of the right when it became clear that the rigged voting machines were doing their job and that the Bush occupation of the White House would continue.
Write letters. When you see political bias displayed in news or entertainment, write a letter or e-mail to the appropriate media entity and advertiser(s) and say that you won't buy products that pay for such un-American bias. Use the word "boycott" freely. The right wing has been using this tactic effectively for years. Barrage them with mail. Let nothing pass. Do sweat the small stuff.
Obviously, it's important for progressives to support Web sites and other outlets that present our side. Let's go further. Imagine a free weekly or even daily newspaper, available in highly visible stands on street corners everywhere. It would carry reprinted articles from the great liberal/left newspapers of the world and new work from leftwing American reporters. If George Soros is reading this . . .
Respecting freedom of religious practice does not mean kowtowing to Christianity or giving in to the dangerous and unhistorical claim that America is a Christian country. It also doesn't mean going along with public reverence toward religion.
It is a scandal that in a nation founded in large part by freethinkers, the majority of our citizens say they would never vote for an atheist as president just because he is an atheist.
It is also a scandal that politicians feel pressured not only to declare that they are monotheists but even to inject religious rituals into every public act. Who doubts that if John Kerry had been declared the victor in the 2004 election, he would have followed shameful tradition and tacked a reference to God onto the end of the oath of office at his swearing in, or that he would have sworn that oath on a Bible? The presidential oath specified in the Constitution has no reference to God at all, but when will we have a president with the courage and understanding to use the original Constitutional oath?
The demolition of the Wall of Separation between church and state on which the hoodlums of the Bush administration are engaged was made possible because the Wall was already weakened. Every time a public official swears an official oath on a Bible or mentions God, every time an official meeting is opened with a prayer, every time a politician closes a speech with "God bless America," another brick is removed.
There can be no compromise on this issue. We cannot give an inch. We must once again publicly embrace the legacy of Jefferson and Madison and do so proudly. We must constantly remind our fellow citizens that America is not a Christian or Judeo-Christian nation, that it was not founded on Christian principles, that the Ten Commandments played no role in the formulation of our system of government, and that the Wall of Separation between church and state is one of the foundations of our freedom.
Progressives must never defer to preachers. We must deny them an elevated status and any cloak of authority. Preachers who are leftists have done much good, but even they claim authority and justification from a supernatural power, and this is fundamentally anti-democratic. In our system, all power comes from the people and is delegated by them to those in positions of authority. We the people are the masters. We acknowledge no king, no lord, whether mortal or imaginary. Those who say otherwise, no matter how good their intentions or elevated their natures, are not true democrats.
Preachers on the political right are a more dangerous matter. Like their leftwing brethren, they preach un-democratic submission to a supposed supernatural power. But what is even more sinister, they tend also to preach submission to Earthly power, to those supposedly appointed by God to rule over us. Right wing preachers are the dangerous heirs to the Medieval parish priest telling the peasants to serve the needs and obey the whims of the aristocracy and the king. Moreover, it is only on the right that one finds preachers who live high on the hog, scamming money from the gullible sick, poor, and old.
A free society cannot tolerate such leeches. It must not allow them to wear the cloak of authority and moral superiority. We must drive them out into the wasteland and reclaim our country.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
This is more than a description of a collection of individuals acting together to further a temporary common interest. Rather, the Preamble to the Constitution emphasizes that we are a community, a people. In this sense, the groundwork for the American Revolution was laid early in the 18th Century, when many of the colonists began to refer to themselves not as English colonists but as Americans. We cannot survive as a community unless we grant every American full community membership, full legal and social equality. The alternative is disintegration into numerous mutually hostile groups. If our enemy's divide-and-conquer tactic is allowed to succeed, then the work of generations of Americans will have been in vain.
Progressives must be steadfast in their support of gay rights, abortion rights, immigrant rights, etc. The issues here are inclusiveness and equality. We must be especially quick to challenge the right wing when they speak of "special rights." We must remind Americans that there are no special rights, just equal rights, that we are all created equal and are all entitled to the same civil liberties. We must challenge America to live up to its own ideals and to confront its prejudices and hatreds.
A community helps its members who need help. It guarantees medical care for all and minimum standards of living for even the poorest. "Every man for himself" is not a description of a modern, civilized society. Remember the rest of that saying: ". . . and Devil take the hindmost."
The wealthy man who lectures the poor to help themselves is a hypocrite. He is disguising callousness as tough-mindedness. Those at the top of the ladder may like to think they climbed there entirely under their own power, but in fact they have been sucking from the public teat all their lives. The wealth and power of the wealthiest Americans are a product of tax breaks for the rich and special privileges for corporations that have served to funnel public wealth into private accounts.
This is not a call for leveling, just for human decency. Those who achieve wealth honestly should be able to enjoy its privileges, but they must also remember that they, too, owe a debt to the society as a whole. Their success did not occur in isolation. It was made possible by our laws and institutions.
Unjustified, aggressive wars are not new in America's history. Ask Mexico, Canada, Spain, and the American Indians. Invented justifications for such wars are also not new. Remember the Maine. There were always protestors, and they were always shouted down or intimidated into silence. While none of this is new, it will always be shameful. Aggressive, unjustified warfare is not a progressive value, and we must not let the scum now controlling our government enshrine it as an American one.
We must always speak out loudly against unjust wars. We must not let ourselves be cowed into supporting an evil war just because it is already under way. Otherwise, we surrender our right to protest. Should Germans have supported war and their troops once Hitler's invasions were under way because their troops were now in danger? Those who say yes are saying that even the most evil war becomes its own moral justification the instant it has started. Was a German who objected to Hitler's invasions of other countries a traitor? Isn't it clear to us today that such a German was the true patriot?
Yes, this is exactly the same as our current situation. No, citing Hitler and the Nazis is not a rhetorical surrender. We must not be cowed into pretending that the historical parallel isn't there. We must not be the good Germans - witnesses to evil, but afraid to speak out against it. If we let the current evil continue and say nothing, then we are giving Bush and the rest of the cabal our permission to continue to change America into this century's Nazi Germany.
Worship of the military and reverence for its institutions is one of the defining characteristics of a fascist state. Historically, it is not an American value. Americans used to deride an excessive love of uniforms and military rituals. Presidents, even those famous for their military careers, never wore uniforms when in office. How far the nation has fallen! Now America must endure a peacock in the White House who struts about in a padded flight suit. We are one step away from Perón, two from Hitler.
"Support the troops" is a rhetorical tool used to force people to support an evil government and its evil wars. The only meaningful way to support the troops is by ending our wars of aggression and bringing the troops back home. Support them by not sending them on dishonorable, disgraceful missions.
If we call for the troops to be brought back home, the right acts horrified and morally outraged. "Are you saying their deaths were pointless?" they ask, daring us to say yes. We must have the courage to say, "Yes! Their deaths were pointless for them and their families and pointless for the country and the cause of freedom." The only ones who gain from their deaths are our would-be ruling class, those scum of the earth masquerading as noblemen.
The death penalty is a shameful relic of a barbaric age. Its true face is that of George Bush giggling while signing Texas death warrants. Statistical evidence and widespread experience argue against it even on pragmatic grounds. Civilized peoples reject it. The rightwing barbarians now in control of America are among the benighted few who support it. Progressives must speak out against this moral evil.
The same barbarians have played on public fears to push through mandatory minimum sentencing and three-strikes laws. The results - lives destroyed because of minor crimes or victimless crimes, shocking numbers of young black men behind bars - have been catastrophic for America. We have degraded our population and crippled our society with laws and penal institutions that shame us before the world and which do nothing to reduce the rate of real violent crime or of corporate crime. We must work to replace this unjust and destructive court and prison system with one worthy of a free and progressive society, one that protects society from genuine wrongdoers but does not destroy the innocent.
The rightwing has always liked to pretend that they are the fiscally responsible ones. The contrast between recent Democratic and Republican presidents shows how false this claim is. Progressives have always sought to balance fiscal responsibility and social obligations. We understand the complexity of ethical allocation of resources and the moral significance of the choices we are forced to make. Unlike the right wing, we are adults and we have a conscience. They have no sense of social responsibility, which is to say no hearts, and so their "fiscal responsibility" posturing is a sham, just a rhetorical device. They don't hesitate to bankrupt future generations because it's not their future generations being bankrupted. The children of the very rich will continue to be okay.
They wrote these glorious words:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. --That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.
And then they saddled us with the Electoral College, that abomination designed to keep the election of the president in the hands of the colonial ruling class and to maintain the disproportionate influence of the slave states. Slavery is gone and the ruling class no longer directly controls the choice of Electors, but the Electoral College still prevents the American people from electing their own president. This became clearer than ever when the Bush family used the machinery of the College to steal the White House in 2000.
All the arguments in favor of the Electoral College are so much wind. No other democracy would tolerate such an interference with its citizens' right to vote. Every vote must count equally, or we cannot call ourselves a democracy. Yet it is the essence of the Electoral College that votes for the presidency are not all equal. It is a scandal and a disgrace that the College still exists. Progressives must push for its abolition and for direct popular election of the president.
Progressives must also explore and champion other ideas that will ensure that all votes count equally, that everyone gets a chance to vote, and that all votes are counted: proportional representation; national elections spread out over a weekend or an entire week; restoration of the franchise to felons who have completed their sentences; allowing naturalized citizens to become president and vice-president; a truly independent commission to administer elections and count the votes.
Governments derive their powers from the consent of the governed. In our system, government officials are not our rulers but our employees. In our elections, we don't choose our leaders. Rather, we interview applicants for the job of running the machinery of government for us. Americans must reject any job applicant who doesn't understand this basic concept. Any politician who ascribes his authority to God or claims that freedom is a gift from God has proven himself disqualified to hold office in America. Indeed, he has proven himself unqualified to vote in America.
America has been infantilized.
The vermin who seized power in 2000 proclaimed that the adults were now in charge. In fact, they are a gang of petulant, ill disciplined children. They have learned, however, to play on the fears of a timid country, on its desire for protection by a daddy figure, on its old preference for pretence over reality, on its reluctance to think for itself.
Like a child who doesn't want to be told that Santa Claus isn't real, America wants to believe that the second-string cheerleader posing as its president is a cowboy, a tough guy, a straight shooter. We must be insistent about the truth: George Bush is an impotent, effeminate wimp, a mentally befuddled fool, a greedy, spoiled brat, a pretend cowboy who cannot even ride a horse and lives on a former pig farm he calls his ranch, compelled to swagger and lie about his athleticism just as he lies about his intellectualism and knowledge of Spanish.
Bush and his puppetmasters play upon childish pack behavior, inciting baseless resentment and hostility toward old friends such as France. In this way, they encourage obedience based on an us-against-them, circle-the-wagons mentality. They condemn the French for what is called ingratitude for our coming to their aid in two World Wars. Ah, America, how quickly you forget the sacred sword of Lafayette!
Our enemies preach disdain for the rest of the world. They will listen half-heartedly to those whom they consider allies - which means, in practice, those, like the increasingly pitiful Tony Blair, who have subordinated their own countries' best interests to the interests of the criminals who now control America. But even Blair's words are welcome only so long as they conform to our prejudices and intentions; otherwise, the advice even of our allies is ignored or openly scorned. The Founding Fathers felt otherwise: When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, . . . a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
Our enemies like black-and-white language because it makes them seem straightforward and strong and because an infantilized populace responds to such language. They make fun of progressives for talking about shades of gray. But adult life is shades of gray. Learning that is one of the most difficult lessons children must master on the way to adulthood. We must challenge Americans to grow up. We must say to America: "The right wing wants to keep you childish and dependent. They want you to let them take control and be your stern father. They invoke bogeymen to terrify you so that you will beg them to protect you. And so you have handed over control of America to a rabble of greedy plutocrats, jingoistic madmen, and thuggish preachers. Where is your self-respect? Stand up! Think for yourselves and show some courage."
Our enemies have learned well from Joseph Goebbels: "The bigger the lie, the more it will be believed." They lie about everything. They lie reflexively, even when it's not necessary. It seems to be ingrained in their nature. They are masters of packaging. They are a false front hiding greed and the lust for power and control. We have to point this out over and over. We have to respond to their big lie with the plain truth.
Our enemies are without honor. Honorable people keep their word. In signing and ratifying a treaty, the United States pledges its word to the rest of the world. The fascist swine now controlling America have violated those pledges, such as the Geneva Convention, when the treaties are inconvenient. They have not just turned a blind eye to the violation of the treaties; they have even promulgated new doctrines under which violating the treaties is encouraged. In order to invade a small country which did nothing to us, they have lied to the American people and to the world. These men without honor have dishonored the United States and soiled our once good name in the world.
A treaty signed by the United States and ratified by Congress has the force of law. We are said to be a nation of laws, not of men. That is our true guarantee of security, both domestically and internationally. But our enemies care nothing for laws or treaties. Monarchists at heart, they feel free to govern by proclamation. They are anti-democratic and thus un-American by nature. Claiming power derived from God, they are working to undo hundreds of years of history and struggle and to subject us all to a tyranny derived from the most primitive parts of the Old Testament.
One of their most important tactics is the cult of personality, something to which Republicans have long been prone. By this means, they transform an elected office into one possessing supernatural authority, whose decrees no one dare question. They will elevate to sainthood - no, godhood - even the poorest material. Ronald Reagan? George W. Bush? Laughter, contempt, and derision should be our most important weapons here.
The rightwing is rife with flabby wimps affecting macho poses and wild-eyed harridans pretending to be intellectuals. This is all contemptible but ultimately laughable. We must take more seriously their lie that they are patriotic and we are not.
These snakes would abandon America in an instant if it ceased giving them wealth, fame, and power. Those three things are the real focus of their loyalty, and they will follow them anywhere.
Their political allies, the fundamentalist crazies, are no different. Obsessed by the need to regulate the lives of everyone else, they go where they see a chance to rule. They are the heirs to the Puritans, who left England for the New World, seeking not religious freedom, but religious control. When these deranged creatures proclaim that the only commonwealth they acknowledge is one ruled by an imaginary creature in the sky, they mean it.
Thus their insistence on their loyalty and our supposed disloyalty is perhaps the filthiest lie of this filthy cabal. These are the slimy chickenhawks who attacked the wartime valor of John Kerry and Max Cleland. They tell any lies that will serve their cause, and they tell them over and over. The press repeats the lies uncritically, and eventually the lies assume the respectable appearance of well known and unquestioned truth. Ignoring the lies was Dukakis's fatal error during the election against the sleazy elder Bush, and it was Kerry's fatal error during the campaign against the execrable younger Bush. The only defense against these lies - against all of their lies - is an instant, loud response with the truth. The left must never be silent and must never let an insult pass unchallenged, no matter how minor it may seem. When it comes to these major, outrageous lies and insults, we must roar the truth and counterattack ferociously. If they try to sully us, we must destroy them.
We are the true Americans, and we must reclaim America.
Our enemies are not American. They are alien to our history and our traditions. They are un-American and anti-democratic. They are a gang of insurgents who have captured the media and the machinery of government, Fifth Columnists working on behalf of the forces of aristocracy and reactionary fundamentalism. They have worked to conquer America so that they can undo not only the New Deal, but the American Revolution as well. They are reactionaries, remnants of the 16th Century and intent on remaking America in the image of those times. They have already made dangerous progress in that direction.
The enemy is a minority. Self-identified conservatives constitute only one-third of the population, and even that number includes those who are conservatives in an older sense, people who have little in common with the foaming-at-the-mouth wackos who infest the halls of government and spew their poison over rightwing talk radio and Fox television.
They are hypocrites, epitomized by Rush Limbaugh, a secret drug addict who called for tough treatment and no mercy for drug addicts, and Bill Bennett, preacher and writer about traditional virtues, who is a glutton and addicted to gambling and nicotine. And yet we have let these pigs own the language. This must end. We must take back words like virtue, family, and patriotism.
The irony is that their monarchical impulse has seduced them into imperial overreach. In destroying small countries, America is destroying itself. Empires decline and fall, and ours would have followed that inevitable path even if Bush had not been inserted into the White House. However, we would probably have remained the greatest of the great powers until the middle of the century. Thanks to Bush's destructive maladministration, we'll be lucky if we remain first among equals into the century's second decade.
We must say all of this loudly and often, but this means we must have the courage, the backbone, to keep speaking out despite the inevitable orchestrated sneers and slurs of the captive press. Our courage will come from remembering that we are the real Americans, the true heirs to the American Revolution and the Founding Fathers.
Always remember: They are the aliens, the outsiders, the corrupters, the betrayers of our history and ideals. We are the true Americans.