Visions of Progress and the Progressive Paradox

I’m going to keep this to the point.

  1. Over the past couple decades, the Democratic Party has been less tight-knit than the Republican Party in America.
  2. This is in part because no coherent vision is shared by the Democratic Party, as it is made up of groups with sometimes-strained ideological overlap.
  3. Progressives working on the vanguard for change are inherently disadvantaged when it comes to presenting a vision of the future to work towards, because
  4. Conservatives can easily present a vision of the future based on the past, which is familiar to all.
  5. Therefore the burden falls upon the progressives to work hard to articulate a vision for a new future, rather than a continuation of the past.

Though we might share common values on these topics, none of us know what a truly multicultural, sexually tolerant, environmentally-sustainable, poverty-free America would look like on a day to day level. And so while our values remain inspiring and a source of action, when it comes to mapping and communicating a vision for the general public, tangible experiences–the allure of the known–comes to the fore, and people prefer what has come before.

I don’t believe any vision has been articulated in a cogent, comprehensive, and compelling way so as to become the dominant progressive agenda in America. Maybe this is due to a particular arrangement of power in America today, where fracture has kept progressives from agreeing with one another on what issues are most important. Maybe that vision simply hasn’t arrived yet. Et cetera–there are lots of possible reasons.

I can make a list of values to arrive at a “cluster definition” of what this agenda might look like. But vagueness isn’t suited for legislative success.

It seems like I’m saying we need a ten-year plan, with numbers and graphs and specific enumerations and details. But therein lies the progressive paradox at the core of our discussion.

Progressives embrace change. They live in the moment and for the future, rather than the past. Fixing an agenda or a vision, however, means shying away from fluidity and embracing a top-down formula where actions are predefined by the agenda. Something’s gotta give–but what?


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