After the disputed election and the following dismay with President Trump's choices for his cabinet posts, many people are actively seeking a new political foundation. The white identity politics that helped elect President Trump cut the left to the quick, and now, shaking their heads in disbelief, they find themselves in the middle of a much-needed reality check.
A recent CNN/ORC poll found that just 42 percent of Americans hold a favorable view of Trump, while nearly 50 percent have an unfavorable view. As the country faces this uncommon political division, new movements that oppose President Trump and his beliefs are sprouting up all over the United States.
Other than opposing a president they consider unfit for office, what do these people hope to accomplish? The left-wing politics of social equality and egalitarianism find solidarity in reform and in their support for social systems. Yet, just as considerable similarities exist, so do differences – in order for the protests to sustain, grow, and yield meaningful outcomes, leaders must build specific platforms with common goals.
What exactly is a progressive or a liberal? Is “progressive” just another name for “liberal”?
Crissie Brown, reporter for politicususa, maintains there is no one true definition for either the word progressive or the word liberal. She contends both words exist in the political frame (sharing concepts and structures) and both imply opposition to “conservative.” Most certainly, conservatives use “liberal” as an epithet, and many of those right wingers believe “progressive” is simply a euphemism for “liberal.” A study of actual semantics can be very involved and mightily confusing.
In truth, American history shows the words are different.
The history of progressive movement reveals its inception was a response to the vast changes brought by industrialization in the United States. The reform movement reached its height early in the 20th century and is generally considered to be middle class and reformist in nature. It arose as a response to the vast changes brought by modernization, such as the growth of large corporations and railroads, and fears of corruption in American politics. In the 21st century, progressives continue to embrace concepts such as environmentalism and social justice.
Historian Alonzo Hamby defined progressivism as the "political movement that addresses ideas, impulses, and issues stemming from modernization of American society.”
(Alonzo L. Hamby, "Progressivism: A Century of Change and Rebirth," in Progressivism and the New Democracy, ed. 1999)
The origins of American liberalism lie in the political ideals of the Enlightenment. The U.S. Constitution set up the first modern republic with sovereignty in the people (not in a monarch) and no hereditary ruling aristocracy. However, the Constitution limited liberty, in particular by accepting slavery. The Founding Fathers recognized the contradiction but chose to ignore reform.
Modern liberalism took shape during the twentieth century, with roots in Theodore Roosevelt's New Nationalism, Woodrow Wilson's New Freedom, Franklin D. Roosevelt's New Deal, Harry S. Truman's Fair Dear, John F. Kennedy's New Frontier, and Lyndon B. Johnson's Great Society.
(Matt Bai. “Naming Names.” The New Republic September 10, 2007.)
The Encyclopedia Britannica defines liberalism as “the political doctrine that takes protecting and enhancing the freedom of the individual to be the central problem of politics.” Liberals typically believe that government is necessary to protect individuals from being harmed by others; but they also recognize that government itself can pose a threat to liberty.
Both progressives and liberals advocate change or reform. To be fair, most progressives are also liberals. Yet, not all progressives are liberals and vice versa. And, the manner in which each group goes about effecting change may exhibit true distinction.
Brown says liberalism is an ideology that employs a set of ideals grounded in the social contract (rule by consent of the governed for mutual benefit). In contrast, she postulates that progressivism
is a “problem-solving method.” She says …
“... It’s not enough to practice the progressive method. That method must be applied toward goals grounded in liberal ideals, and it we must recognize when it’s time to “fish or cut bait” and be willing to advocate the best solutions we can find with confidence, even as we recognize that we will need to adapt to new information and changing conditions.”
(Crissie Brown. “What are ‘Liberals,’ What are ‘Progressives,’ and Why the Difference Matters.” politicususa. June 15, 2013.)
I told you the study of meaning in language can be frustrating. Let's defer our understanding of the progressive and the liberal to an authority.
To David Sirota – nationally syndicated newspaper columnist, talk show radio host, author of best selling books, and past press secretary for Bernie Sanders – there is a fundamental difference between progressives and liberals. He contends traditional “liberals” are those who focus on using taxpayer money to help better society; whereas, “progressives” are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules.
(David Sirota. “What’s the Difference Between a Liberal and a Progressive?” The Huffington Post. October 19, 2005.)
Sirota offers two possible actions by each group to illustrate his theory of delineation.
- A liberal solution to some of our current problems with high
energy costs would be to increase funding for programs like the Low
Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
- A more “progressive” solution would be to increase LIHEAP
but also crack down on price gouging and pass laws better-regulating
the oil industry’s profiteering and market manipulation tactics.
- A liberal policy towards prescription drugs is one that would
throw a lot of taxpayer cash at the pharmaceutical industry to get
them to provide medicine to the poor;
- A progressive prescription drug policy would be one that
centered around price regulations and bulk purchasing in order to
force down the actual cost of medicine in America (much of which was
originally developed with taxpayer R&D money).
Is the new stir in political direction – the sizable reaction to the Trump presidency – more grounded in liberal or progressive ideology? Or, is it actually an opposition that believes in an allegiance to both ideals. As time goes on, we might certainly discover that the new backlash is comprised of hybrids who are genuinely Liberal Progressives, holding hope that their tax money can be used for purposes to better society while also demanding their democratic political institutions fall in line. One might see how a transformation from a so-called “snowflake” conception to a strong “blizzard” of opposition could realize solid reform.
This kind of power seems to require more than support from a Democratic Party. Liberal columnist Clarence Page said "The greatest triumph that conservatives ever achieved is to make liberals embarrassed to call themselves 'liberal.'"
Linda Hirshman of The New Republic explains Page's comment …
“Why was this such a coup? Because the L word--unlike 'progressive' or 'populist' or other substitutes--is a place holder not just for a political movement but for a political philosophy. For more than three centuries liberalism has meant the belief in increased sharing of social goods. Over time, the goods have changed, but the underlying dynamic has remained the same. By disassociating themselves from the name, the Democrats are also abandoning the big organizing principle for which it stands.
“The scary thing about the rejection of the evolved liberalism is that it is exactly that movement, complete with its morality of collective action, the Democrats need.”
(Linda Hirshman. “Naming Names.” The New Republic. September 10, 2007.)
How can progressives and liberals meld a strong solidarity that guarantees this animation? Protest is effective in drawing attention to problems; however, movements based solely upon resistance – defiance void of solution – are normally short-lived. Have we reached a time of unparalleled energy strong enough to cause a truly positive transformation? I think it depends on identity – an integrity that has its roots in the past and its strong, new branches reaching into a better future.