There is a lot of buzz around the Democratic Socialists of America with the recent primary victory of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez the organization has entered the consciousness of hundreds of thousands of Americans. Reviewing their website we see that their current projects are focused around medicare for all, empowering unions, and forming a consensus for electoral power. These are relevant projects to our time, but are they enough? More importantly, what lies beyond? If progressive alternatives are going to succeed in America, we must first lay the framework that will support and drive our vision.
Politics today is entrenched in branding. Tribalism fuels division that has been created and perpetuated upon the American populace by the entrenched political class and their corporate and private donors. The term “divide and rule” is attributed to the ancient Greece king Philip of Macedonia who lived during 349 B.C. Tactics used for over two millennia have brought us to the position we are in today with the poor and the middle class struggling against one another while the wealthy continue to grow more prosperous. This division presents unique challenges for a new paradigm entering the contest, but also provides a tremendous opportunity for a new brand to emerge.
Before defining what the Progressive brand should be, we will explore the existing Democratic and Republican brands. The two brands employ consistent and predictable strategies. Republicans fight for more market and less state. Demoratics argue for more state and less market. Republicans run on a promise of more freedom, while Democrats strive for a world of higher equality.
In truth, both parties offer only a superficial level of both freedom and equality, never choosing to address the core challenges that bind the populace. Democrats and even the modern Progressives introduce and fight for efforts that merely humanize the Republican efforts, like offering universal health care in the face of consistent financial cuts to the current system. It’s like playing your favorite sport but continually staying on defense. How can you ever hope to win?
The Progressive brand’s best strategy is to innovate and disrupt, and there is an apparent weakness in both the Democratic and Republican strategy. Both Democrats and Republicans are limited by the failure of imagination to reach outside of our current institutional thinking. They are beholden to the current regimes of institutional thought, reinforced by their continued practice. Herein lies the foundation of the Progressive brand – the economic, social, and political problems of tomorrow will not be overcome through the institutions of today. Therefore the Progressive brand should focus on institutional reformation, a complete reimagining of the social structures and soulcraft that define the human experience.
The blueprints for institutional reformation are detailed and will be explored in future articles. Examples would be redefining the laws between property and contract, decoupling education from municipality funding, and most importantly, understanding that there is no single legal and necessary form of a market economy. This type of transformational vision frees our collective citizenry from the limited efforts of a stagnant political class.
This strategy is not without its challenges. I am deeply skeptical that a watered down version of Progressive alternatives could succeed in the current political climates. Compared to traditional parties, candidates and citizens supporting institutional reformation are grossly underfunded and lack the deep structural administration of their competitors. Introducing transformative vision into the current singular regime is unlikely to create a sustainable increase in the level of excitement of citizens. Finally, the movement must start locally. But, fortunately for everyone it already has. Organizations across the U.S. have sprouted to help change perceptions within their communities.
All political paradigms must answer the same question. What is the role of government? For progressive thinkers the answer is clear. Government is an extension of the people and therefore must exist to create the most significant benefit to collective society. The role of the next generation of government will be to ensure the maximization of opportunity for transformation among every individual citizen. It can be accomplished by deepening our connection to one another and expanding our abilities for innovation and experimentation within all aspects of life.
We’ve got a long way to go, but the path is clear.
Ron is the Founder and Executive Director of the OurSociety Experiment. He’s passionate about shifting our social, political, and economic institutions towards a system that maximizes agency and access for every individual.