What does it mean to be a progressive?

The Washington Post lead editorial asked and answered that question by misrepresenting (yet again) the message of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and every other progressive who voted for Hillary Clinton:

They want to enlarge government entitlements and hand out benefits as broadly as possible – free college, free health care, expanded Social Security – regardless of need or available resources. They emphasize redistribution over growth. And their ostensible protection of American workers leaves no room to consider the welfare of poor people elsewhere in the world. On all three counts, we think that the higher moral ground and the smarter policy lie elsewhere.
The Washington Post, November 15, 2016, p. A16

The Post editors deliberately overlook the fact that – according to Bernie Sanders’ website, all that “free stuff” is paid for, with far less impact on the national debt than anything the Republicans have proposed (according to the Government Accounting Office). As for president-elect Donald Trump, to date the only proposal to come from the family transition team is a listing of Donald Trump’s golf courses, hotels, and restaurants on the Meet the President-Elect webpage. Granted, those ads have been taken down, along with the attempt to sell the $10,000 gold bracelet Ivanka was wearing on the 60 Minutes interview with Leslie Stahl, but stay tuned.

To imply that protecting American workers’ rights and their jobs somehow is to the detriment of the poor in other countries is specious. So-called “free trade agreements” do nothing for the working poor, whether here in the U.S. or among the exploited, disenfranchised people in so-called trading partner states. The economic benefits go directly to the outsourced companies; nothing stays within the country where the cheap goods are produced. In the United States, where the land is destroyed extracting coal, oil, and natural gas to be sold to those same trading partners, none of the profit stays in those communities in Appalachia or the Rust Belt or Indian Country. This is “colonialism” – perfectly demonstrated in the Washington Post’s editorial. Thirty-five cents a day is worse than nothing. Three sub-minimum wage jobs are not better than one. The Post and other commercial enterprises should take a page from Henry Ford’s book. While he never intended any particular benefit for his workers, doubling the minimum wage meant they could buy his cars, and the industrial middle class was born. Today raising the minimum wage to a living wage, perhaps indexed to the cost of living in various parts of the country, would raise the quality of life for everyone not already enjoying the fruits of the currently bullish stock market. That quality of life includes basic human rights of food, clothing, shelter, medical care, and education.

Likewise, cleaning up the tax code so that it is once again progressive rather than regressive would have the same effect. Billionaires would still have billions, even if they were required to forfeit 75 percent. With that money, free education from pre-school to college, transportation infrastructure (high speed trains, subway systems, safe highways); and publicly-paid for health care from cradle to grave would be possible.

How then is “economic growth” not a progressive goal”?

Contrary to the Post’s opinion, there is no higher moral ground than distributive justice, which is understood first as an economic approach to the equitable redistribution of wealth. Secondarily, distributive justice is a philosophy of equal justice under the law. The fact that it has taken upwards of eight amendments to the U.S. Constitution to begin to approach fairness and equity in politics, economics, criminal justice, education, medical care, and the environment is plenty of evidence of the difficulty in changing attitudes toward the poor, minorities, women, and the Planet.

Perhaps if the Post were indeed “an independent newspaper,” its editors would be able to challenge its owner to forego the predatory capitalism of Amazon and other mega-corporations, and take the suggestions of Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, and other progressives to heart.

It’s time to speak truth to power.


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