I believe that our current political and social dichotomy is evolving from the Democrat vs. Republican divide of the 20th century into an overtly social justice ethic vs. an overtly anti-social justice ethic divide that will come to dominate the 21st century. This emerging politic will germinate in the shadow of the, so far, political and social titans of the 21st century: President Barack Obama and President-elect Donald Trump. It will straddle divisions of class, race, ethnicity, region, and religion but will also take on the distinct mores of its constituents. It’s my personal belief that the New Right, as it currently exists, is rooted in a politic of ethnic conflict, gender resentment, and economic nationalism.
In my opinion the Left is currently on defense. With Clinton’s defeat, the Left and progressivism have no unifying theory of politics, policy, and governance. I would describe the Left as adrift and disjointed. As I view it currently, there is no unified opposition to Trump. There are factions dedicated to resistance, but in time that will fade absent a unifying notion of what the Left is. I have taken it upon myself to speculate what the New Left could be in hopes of starting the necessary conversation from which, I hope, a new politic can be formed. My primary concern is with the ethics of an emerging New Left because the ethic of a political movement and party is the source from which all methods of governance and policy creation flow. It is the ideal we strive to achieve as imperfect people because policy is an ethic made manifest and budgets are moral documents.
The Left has been historically derided as “bleeding hearts” because they cared about the suffering of many different groups. In the early 21st century, sections of both the Democratic party and the activist Left abandoned that radical commitment to the recognition of all suffering and took on a veneer of indifference to those outside of its political triangulation. Yet, other sections of the activist left, politicians, and many social justice groups kept the bleeding heart. We need to re-embrace the bleeding heart because it is our strength and legacy. The New Left must be built upon the virtue of solidarity with marginalized people.
We must move past mere sympathy and empathy into a commitment to dynamic action. Solidarity has long been a tactic of progressivism in pursuit of political goals but never as a virtue for a political party itself. Solidarity is a virtue found in activist movements and social justice movements. It is incumbent upon us to elevate solidarity from a tactic invoked every election cycle to the center of our political theory. We must move beyond ally-ship, which is a relationship of convenience, to a deeper commitment. The New Left’s commitment to solidarity keeps it grounded in a greater tradition of social progress. Our solidarity must be complex, intersectional, class aware, and feminist to better identify what has long been the stumbling block of progressivism: the greater good. We must leave this notion behind and embrace a good that sometimes does not benefit us directly but does benefit those with whom we stand in solidarity. We must be stewards rather than political actors. In our solidarity with each other, we protect each other’s dignity. A commitment to solidarity being at the center of our political philosophy does not negate nuance, current realities, and compromise: the application of social justice is pragmatic with fidelity to facts and impacts. The New Left must always pursue what can be determined to exist and what is evident from lived experience. Solidarity must occupy the center of the New Left as it is a coalition drawn from many groups with differing needs: people of color, the poor, White people, the disabled, women, immigrants, and labor. We must confront and combat all forms of marginalization.
Our stewardship must have an abiding concern for community, both near and imagined. From the neighborhood to humanity, the New Left must recognize that all national solidarity stems from the solidarity of and with communities. Government can and must be a place where people come together to ensure that communities do not get Left behind socially, materially, and technologically. The community is necessary to human stability and progress. We must explicitly concern ourselves with the recognition of communities under duress and threat of exploitation, marginalization, and decay. We must hold as non-negotiable that no community is expendable. Imagine a rebuilding campaign of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina that was rooted in solidarity where all property rights and renter’s agreements were upheld to mitigate the displacement that occurred. This must be how the New Left protects the community. Economically, we must embrace distributive justice in regards to how a government utilizes wealth, income, and power for the betterment of all members of society. People are entitled to not starve, to have access to medicine, and to have access to a robust education in times of plenty and times of little. Moreover, we must not confine prosperity. Our compassion and commitment to community includes even our opposition.
Individuals must be free to pursue a life of their own design, free from the interference of those who are invested in hindering their progress to maintain their own status and power; but nor can they, in turn, hinder this right for others. We must guarantee equal opportunity so that the outcomes are based on individual talent rather than a deficit of privilege. The New Left must embrace a contributive justice where all individuals are entitled to be productive and self-determinant members of society, and the society is bound to provide them with the institutions and securities needed to help them achieve their full potential personally, socially, and economically. The institutions of social mobility— primary and secondary school, university education, primary health care, and emergency health care— must be open to all members of the society without the hindrance of race, creed, sexual orientation, ability, or class. In this pursuit, the New Left stands in solidarity with the elderly in providing them with security and with the young in providing them with opportunity. This creates the necessary stability for our communities which in turn creates the necessary stability for society because all people can contribute in a way that they freely choose to pursue.
All people are required to resist unjust structures. The will expressed in the protests following Donald Trump’s election by the remnants of the political Left is strong; but the years ahead will require us to have the bravery to move away from the traditional political triangulations of the past, although they can and do provide us with valuable wisdom. If we wish to flourish this new era, we must be better than we have ever been. Our politics must reflect who we are when we are at our best, and we are at our best when we stand not in unity but in solidarity with one another. No one is coming to save us. We must save ourselves and everyone else. Resistance starts in the mind, so we must decide who we shall be in this dynamic time. The world is waiting for us. Let us not keep them waiting.
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