As we begin the New Year, the federal government is in gridlock, shut down over President Donald Trump’s demand to spend $5.7 billion on a border wall (rather than on jobs, education or health care). Trump has threatened that his shutdown could “last for a very long time.”
It looks as though 2019 will be another year characterized by partisan political battles. But some battles are worth fighting, with a clear sense of moral direction. Here are a few goals that political progressives should keep in mind:
1. Let’s not underestimate ourselves. A winning attitude is key, and commitment, idealism and diversity can add up to great power. Last November, voters elected the most diverse Congress in U.S. history, including unparalleled numbers of women. It’s a clear sign of the times. Political progressives represent multi-generational and multicultural idealism, racial, ethnic and gender diversity, and we represent the future.
2. Protect Medicare and Medicaid, raise the minimum wage, and combat hunger. Even before the new incoming Democrats have taken their seats, House Democrats stood firm and halted Republican plans to add burdensome work requirements to nutritional assistance and Medicaid programs. The victory presages the power progressives will have in the coming year to protect the sick and the needy from Trump-era schemes to dismantle the safety net.
3. Restore voting rights. During the past decade, Republican lawmakers in statehouses across the nation have engaged in concerted efforts to disenfranchise poor and minority voters This has included passing complex voter ID laws, shutting down polling places in poor neighborhoods, and conducting massive “purges” of valid voters from the rolls. These voter suppression “tricks” were used extensively by Republican Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp in his successful gubernatorial race against Democrat Stacey Abrams. But the fall elections also saw the passage of state-based reforms meant to protect voting rights.
4. Make progress on curbing climate change. The evidence is in and scientists agree that climate change is real. Trump’s opinion that he knows more than they do is delusional. The Trump administration has rolled back environmental protections, including limits on fossil fuel emissions. We must fight back by reclaiming an ethical commitment to save the planet.
5. Demand a full investigation into Trump’s ties to Russia. We can’t let this one go – whether or not the revelations lead to impeachable offenses. Interference in a presidential election by a foreign power with (or without) the knowing approval of a presidential candidate cannot stand. Only the full story can protect us from this threat to our democracy. (And kudos to the media outlets that have brought these matters to light, despite Trump’s intemperate attacks on them as the “enemy of the people.”)
6. Repair America’s international reputation. The new Democrats in Congress, hopefully joined by some Republicans, must endeavor to counteract the damage that has been done to our international reputation in the last two years. We must all work to restore belief in the United States as a nation committed to civil rights for all its citizens, and one that welcomes immigrants.
We shouldn’t think small. All signs indicate that 2019’s signature achievements could include promoting equality for women, valuing racial and ethnic diversity, and achieving real gains for the less fortunate. These are goals on which progressives can take the lead; 2019 is a year for great expectations.
Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet, essayist and writing fellow at Community Change, a nonprofit advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. This column was written for the Progressive Media Project, which is run by The Progressive magazine, and distributed by Tribune News Service.