The Boston Globe “Ideas” section essay Sunday recognized that 2020 is, in fact, a battle for America’s soul. It is a collective soul lived in the heart of imperfect women and men. It was born through a history of very human genocide, slavery and exploitation as well as outrageous hopefulness, courage and sacrifice for the greater good. It’s deeply flawed and hopeful. But every human community and organization from the largest to the smallest, from the oldest to those born today — has a soul (in Greek — “psyche”). It’s a “way of being” and seeing that transcends genrations and is shaped by often unrecognized narratives. These stories shape the frameworks through which information relevant to the group is identified and interpreted.
Through-out the world in 2020, the unfolding digitalization of our economy has facilitated unprecedented globalization of capital and labor. Through-out the world’s developed economies the negative impact on the working-class over the last 30 years has been uninterrupted and obvious — even as 100s of millions in less developed countries have been lifted out of the most abject and lethal poverty. In the developed world, the pain has not been evenly spread. The pain has been far less in especially cohesive republics like those enjoyed by more homogenous nations including Germany and Japan where a triumphant USA following WWII imposed a remarkably successful system of civil and labor law. This included the co-management of the largest corporations with representatives of labor. The USA did this to stymie a RE-birth of authoritarianism. It worked so well that it helped Germany and Japan develop impressive industrial policies that championed the nation’s labor in the broader global labor market. As a result, German, Japanese and ultimately South Korean and Scandinavian labor has not been as decimated as American labor. Workers in these countries are not committing suicide through an unprecedented epidemic of “deaths of despair” like America’s white, male, high-school educated, wage earners. Unlike America’s white, male, high school educated wage earners — the life expectancy of workers in these other societies is not declining.
Being more diverse than Germany, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea or Scandinavia, America needs an exceptionally powerful and integrating “civic nationalism.” The centrifugal forces of diverse racial, religious and regional conceptions of identify combined with wrenching economic inequality, are especially powerful in America. They make it exceedingly unlikely our challenge will be too much centralization of formal (i.e. legal) and informal (i.e. cultural) power in the foreseeable future and instead require an exceptionally powerful balancing from the integrating narratives, symbols and rituals of the “more prefect” union we are constituted across race, religion and region to seek in America.
Well before the common era, Proverbs 29:18 recognized — “where there is no vision, the people perish.” And a shared vision is what America is currently operating without. One thing privileged white, straight, Christian males can contribute to the American progressive movement is to provide a reminder of the grandeur of a vision that extends well beyond freedom from exploitation. Progressive need to be far more ambitious than to hope for protection from — or compensation for — victimization. The entitled can remind traditionally marginalized that when aligned with a multi-racial, religious and regional majority, progressives should rightly expect to govern.
To me it seems the USA was, in its deepest dimension, Re-founded by Abraham Lincoln on the blood soaked ground of Gettysburg. Where Lincoln brought forth the vision of a “new birth of freedom” so that “we the people” across race, religion and region could finally be sovereign. As such, we are all rightly American kings and queens responsible for our nation. American is, legally, our (in the most expansive, multi-racial, sense) nation. And as indivduals of different races, religions and regions operating through our elected representatives and vindicated by the due process of our law, we are each equal parts — none above any other and none below — of the American Sovereign. Each step we take as Sovereign — as the incorporated Leviathan programmed by our law to advance our dignity — measures out the progress of history. We the people — the American Sovereign — are the greatest actor in history and can effortless stride over or smash absurd “walls”. If we choose, we can rebuild them as bridges to what we need to recognize as our inevitably shared future. Which, when we deliberately prepare for it to be shared, is brilliant.
In 2020, Trump’s proud bigotry and shouted hate — and even his ostentatious lying is not unique to the USA. In Britain, Brazil, Turkey, Hungary, Poland, Philippines and in India nativist would be “strong men” flatter prejudices and reject science and even the need to humbly but relentlessly pursue a shared sense of truth. In these increasingly unhappy places, a doomed multi-trillion dollar power industry is leading in funding (as the Koch brothers did in the USA) a takeover of “conservative” parties to propose a shockingly radical repudiation of science and even modernity itself. These true “reactionaries” are offering a return to the “anti-managerial politics” of the 1930s that was studied in the 40s by the conservative James Burnham — Buckley’s mentor — who saw it as bringing on the nightmare of Fascism. Once again reactionaries are promoting anti-managerial class retreat into ethno-religious identity to celebrate a sharing of bitter chauvinisms instead of a shared, humble, seeking after transcendent truth that can help more fully emancipate humankind from the lies of ignorance and racism.
So hopeful and science based progressivism will not triumphant over a globally ascendant call to retreat back into static identities based on race, religion and region. Unless an affirmative — majoritarian — vision is offered that without rancor or ambiguity throws into high relief the magnificent, lived experience (I think we should even dare to say “glory”) — of working together across race, religion and region to realize America’s purpose. Which as the great justice Brandeis thought was no less than: “to make real the brotherhood of man.” Like most human communities, America was born in seizing land and built through exploiting people but unlike most, it has also at its best aspired to the vindication of human dignity. At least in that part of our American soul born at the successful, religiously focused, Plymouth plantation if not in that part of our American soul born in the unsuccessful, commercially focused, debacle at Jamestown.
It’s the spiritually purposed part of our American soul that John Winthrop, Adams and Kennedy spoke to when they quoted the Sermon on the Mount and called us to be “like a city upon a hill.” Unless progressive embrace the audacious idea of a shared and charismatic journey to a more shared and charismatic America of glorious purpose, we will slip back into deadening hatred of all against all, where only the wealthiest behind gates and arms find delight. Our challenge is not too much togetherness, it’s is too little shared vision and purpose — and, therefore, wealth — across race, religion and region. What we need is progressive movement based in science and, therefore, more awake than current conventional wisdom about the human need for solidarity and a lived sense of shared destiny and purpose. Which is to say what we need is a progressive movement organized and animated by a shared celebration of the “blessed” (i.e. aware of the broadest horizons and assuming a favored state in them) — “majoritarian” (i.e. assuming a multi-racial, multi-religious coalition and a related right govern) and “middle class” (i.e. practically focused and egalitarian) — soul of our nation.
Which to my mind requires that we work together to vindicate the dignity of each and every American citizen. Which we do through recognizing that we are equal parts of the American Sovereign and as such entitled to FDR’s Four Freedoms (of speech and religion and from want and fear) and specifically as Gene Sperling (chief economic advisor to Clinton and Obama) recently laid out in his new book “Economic Dignity” to the publicly supported life-long healthcare, education, housing and a living wage job with a future every American deserves. Which is to say hardly more than what every German, Japanese, South Korean, Taiwanese and Scandinavian has enjoyed for a couple of generations.