Every election, there is significant discussion over the ideology and promises of the candidates. Some believe the government is incapable of doing anything correctly, and that it has a limited and secondary role to play in American life. There is a widespread belief that the free market is infallible, and any views to the contrary are wrongly described as “socialism.”
However, despite these discouraging facts, there is a better and more progressive way forward for the United States. The truth is government has a role to play in society, and so does the free market. Both of these institutions helped to make America great, however when either of them has grown too big and powerful, many people get hurt and left behind.
Alexander Hamilton argued in favor of a strong national government that would take action to address national problems. Thomas Jefferson was a strong advocate of personal liberty and the natural rights of the common man. Often these are thought of as conflicting views, but progressives throughout history have found a balance that seeks to improve government, rather than blindly shrink it, and to improve the free market and make sure that all people more equally share the rewards of business. Throughout history, progressives have sought to improve society through tarring down the myths of conventional wisdom and the status quo, and challenge our country, in the words of Martin Luther King, to “live out the true meaning of our creed.”
We believe in liberty, equality, and opportunity for all as our fundamental values. We can all agree that these values are the best way for a country to govern itself, yet rarely do we agree on the right way to put these values in action. And what’s more, our leaders play into the worst of our human nature, where fear and cynicism become the organizing principles of our evaluations and thinking. This doesn’t have to be true. Throughout the history of our nation, average citizens have stood up and challenged society to move toward a “more perfect union,” where all people have the opportunity to reach their full potential.
The American government is an ingenious proposition, with real opportunity to improve lives, but at the same time, government can drastically fail the people. It’s authority can be overbearing, and it’s leader’s corrupt and self interested. Yet the prescription for the future is not smaller government, or bigger government. We have the choice to have better government. If we don’t take responsibility for our government, then the further we will get away from being influential in the decision it makes.
Citizenship must be active and not benign. That is what is at the heart of progressivism. Progressivism is a call to action, deeply rooted in the tradition of pragmatism. Great progressive leaders and thinkers throughout American history, such as Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King, Jr., knew that great changes must take place, yet they knew that bold and pragmatic solutions were the best way forward, not drastic and draconian measures. They let reason and their belief in the fundamental goodness of the American people guide them, not their fears or the resentment of their opponents.
That is why liberalism and conservatism have come up short. Liberals in the modern day spend their time attacking conservatives and playing into the anger of their liberal base, while conservatives spend their time standing up for failed propositions, and blaming the victims of injustice, claiming they lack personal responsibility, or work ethic. They cheer the anger and resentment of their voting base, and yet this only satisfies those who already agree with them. What about everybody else?
The truth is most Americans don’t respond to this type of visceral politics, which is why they are so disengaged. The media makes politics and elections into a sporting event, analyzing the insider political moves that don’t speak to people’s concerns. The free market has equated happiness with money, and the greatest marker of success in society is somebody’s wealth. In all of this, we lose sight of what is truly important, and that is living up to the true meaning of our values, and ensuring that our families and the families of our neighbors and our friends are living happy and healthy lives. This is what people are most concerned about. They want a solution, and a leader who will have the moral courage to tap into people’s hope and optimism.
It will take courage and faith in the people to truly change America. We need to remember our most fundamental responsibility, and that is our responsibility to other people. It is easy to blame others for the problems our country faces, especially if those people are the worse off among us. It is easy to pass judgment on someone with no job, no money, and no opportunity, instead of actually fixing the injustice and inequality that is the true cause of our social problems.
It is time that we look past what we think today, and remember our larger commitment to others. Most belief systems are based around helping others. Most religions speak to charity, and sacrifice on the behalf of our fellow man. And it is the Bible that tells us that we are “our brother’s keeper.” These are not naïve presumptions, they’re values deeply rooted in our society, and the government and the public can live up to these ideals once again.