Yes We Can

Print More

In his farewell address, President Obama returned to the basic theme that propelled him to national attention and to the White House – We the People have the power and the duty to make the United States a more perfect union. The audacious challenge comes at a moment when we face a transition of power to a presidency that no doubt will be, charitably put, one of the most unconventional in history.
I say: Now is the time for us to take up this challenge and organize to resist a Congress and a president who will take us backward on any number of issues.
President Obama reminded us that the unalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness “while self-evident, have never been self-executing.” The work of citizens is to use our freedom to work toward both our own dreams and toward the common good. He spoke of his achievements, and he said they were also our achievements:
“reverse a great recession, reboot our auto industry, . . . unleash the longest stretch of job creation in our history. . . open up a new chapter with the Cuban people, shut down Iran’s nuclear weapons program without firing a shot, take out the mastermind of 9-ll . . . win marriage equality and secure the right to health insurance for another 20 million of our fellow citizens. . . ”
These achievement are a testament to democracy, but President Obama warned of three major threats to our democracy – income inequality, racism, and societal fragmentation along with self-selected facts. He called upon us to stay engaged with the global struggle “to expand democracy and human rights and women’s rights and LGBT rights.”
He warmed us about complacency. He said: “our democracy is threatened whenever we take it for granted.” He spoke of the importance of voting rights, of the “corrosive influence of money in our politics” and the problem with gerrymandered congressional districts. He warned against seeing our political opposition as malevolent rather than misguided.
President Obama asked for us to have faith in our ability to create positive change because we did that during his presidency, and yes we can going forward. He spoke with hope and with a generosity toward his political opponents that I do not think expresses the true character of our politics. When we consider the 2009 inauguration night conspiracy where congressional leaders of the GOP conspired not to work with President Obama on ANYTHING even though the country was facing a near collapse of our financial system and two wars, when we further consider the theft of a Supreme Court nomination in violation of the United States Constitution while GOP leaders in the Senate speak about fidelity to the Constitution, it is difficult to see these actions as simply misguided. No, these actions were malevolent. They were done to cause harm to President Obama and thereby to the country.
And the Grand Obstructionist Party paid no political price. They won the Electoral College and maintained control of both chambers of Congress. They have won governorships and statehouses across the nation. Given these facts, we progressives have our work ahead of us. It will take a determined resistance to stop the Republican Congress from taking health care away from millions, roll back voting rights and stall efforts to combat climate change.
Donald Trump has yet to articulate a coherent foreign policy. His nominee for Secretary of State – Rex Tillerson – seems unable to call Russian military tactics against civilians in Syria war crimes. Republicans still criticize President Obama for not perpetrating an act of war on a sovereign nation who had done no harm to the United States because Bashar al-Assad crossed a rhetorical red line. They continue to fail to give President Obama credit for working with Russia to destroy most of Syria’s chemical weapons. They want to outsource US Middle East policy to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
We have no idea what will happen to a woman’s right to choose her own health care and to LGBT rights when Trump makes his appointments to the many vacancies in the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court.
What we do know is that progressives will have to unite because disunity cost Hillary Clinton Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Add together the votes of Hillary Clinton and Jill Stein and Donald Trump would have lost those states. We hear much about the Democrat’s failure to speak to people worried about jobs in the rust belt, but the progressive message reached enough people in at least three states to have won them had progressives been united.
Even so, progressives will have to make the progressive case to people in red-states, in small towns and rural areas. We will have to explain to workers in the fossil fuel industry that the jobs of the future will be found in renewable energy. We will have to show how right to work laws are really only right to work without union protections. We will have to explain how Medicare for all is the best way to deliver universal health care. We will have to organize meetings where conservative people can meet transgendered people and learn that they are not a threat to children in bathrooms. We will have to come out of our comfort zones to make a stronger case that progressive policies are better for the sustenance and joy of individuals, families, communities, the nation, and the world.
Can we meet this challenge?
Yes we can.
Valerie Elverton Dixon is founder of and author of “Just Peace Theory Book One: Spiritual Morality, Radical Love, and the Public Conversation.”