Martin Westerman 1/30/20
When did Democrats lose their optimism? The “New Deal,” “Happy Days Are Here Again,” “Great Society,” “Can-Do” slogans for the Great Depression, World War II, Vietnam &‘60s upheavals. Sure, times are grim. The government seems to be run by clowns directed by monkeys (to paraphrase that Boeing 737 MAX e-mail). Especially now, we need encouraging messages; visions of a future we can look forward to once we win the victory. And it’s got to be better than “Democrats: We Can Fix This.”
In 2015, I watched a young African American man explain he’d joined the Republican Party because : Democrats always harped on what’s wrong; Republicans on what’s right. He chose the optimists. (Since 2016, he’s probably moved back to the pessimists, or to the Bernie Independents).
What can Democrats emphasize that unites us in optimism? The NY Times reported from Iowa (01/25/2020) that the Democratic tent is becoming so unwieldy, voters can’t agree on a candidate (Too lefty! Too progressive! Too moderate!) to run for President.
I suggest starting with the U.S. Congress’ words from 1782: E pluribus unum, Latin for “Out of many, one.” It’s on the banner in the eagle’s beak on the Great Seal of the United States. Sure, the anti-Communist 1956 Congress added “In God We Trust,” but that motto of fraught: whose God do we trust? Mike Pence & The Evangelicals (how’s that for a rock group name?) say the Christian god – which contradicts e plurubus unum. The Democrats could make a deal with DC Comics to use the ever-so-timely “Truth, Justice and The American Way.” But that’s fraught, too.
Most slogans call for what is missing. The “Quality Is Job 1” motto was designed to restore faith in low-quality Ford vehicles. “You Don’t Have To Be Jewish To Love Levy’s” helped shift perception that Levy’s rye and other breads were solely for the Jewish-ethnic market. “This Is Wells Fargo” reintroduces the criminally convicted and heavily fined bank as a place you can trust with your money. “Make America Great Again” speaks to failures by U.S. businesses and governments to tout American successes, and provide the foundations we need to achieve the American Dream.
And what’s missing today? Unity (as of January 25, 2020). And common purpose. We all complain about Republicans being in lockstep. But lack of unity among Democrats will lose them the 2020 presidential election. A basic step toward conflict resolution is to hold the goal above the controversy. In the War Room of the Democratic presidential candidate, the writing on the wall should say, “It’s The Unity, Stupid.” How do we get the unity? Common purpose.
We all contribute to American greatness and exceptionalism. The Democrats need to know that beyond money, most Americans want purpose in their lives. This election cycle, the Democrats must become the party that channels that longing into results.
In the Sapiens trilogy Yuval Noah Harari observes that the world is changing fast:
(a) artificial intelligence algorithms and bioengineering, created by businesses, are creeping into our minds and bodies, through everything from voice texting, robot customer service and industrial technologies, to Facebook and Google Maps, to election interference and government surveillance, to Amazon choosing your products and Netflix your movies, to medicine drug-altering your moods and replacing your body parts,
(b) the governmental tortoise cannot keep up with the technological hare. For example, by the time cumbersome governments have begun to address cyber regulation, the Internet has morphed ten times,
(c) our slow-moving institutions can be poisoned by bad actors who get embedded in them, and harm everyone inside and outside the institutions,
(d) malevolent social media and cyber hackers, and religious and nationalistic zealots are attacking the very concepts of neoliberal democracy – individual autonomy, informed decision-making and free & open information and commerce. They peddle nostalgia and fantasies from previous centuries, that
(e) choke our institutions, impede our free flows of information and commerce, and keep us from focusing on the urgent challenges of the 21st Century (a, b, c, & d).
Harari adds the pace of technological development and the speed and volume of the data flow are overwhelming democratic and authoritarian regimes alike. Never in history have governments been able to gain so much knowledge about the world, and yet be so unable to act wisely on it.
It’s urgent that Democrats wake up to these realities, this election. They must figure out how to solidify partnerships with labor, whom they’ve sorely and ignorantly neglected. They must forge new, transparently accountable partnerships with businesses, dump what doesn’t work (e.g., privatized prisons and corporate giveaways), enlist business support for government, which will serve as an engine of research for progress, a leader and partner for change, and a partner in national and global development.
So what’s the slogan? E plurubus unum too retro for you? Annuit cœptis (“He approves the things undertaken”) could appear in the Democrats’ War Room, too. But Novus ordo seclorum (“New order of the ages”) could be a slogan. Or borrowing from “Hamilton” and playing on E plurubus unum, “Democrats: We Get Things Done.” Or “The Right Way Forward,” which could co-opt the Republican message, but surely offend lefties). America is great because from many, it has the capacity to melt all together into one strong nation. That’s America’s promise. And that’s as optimistic as it gets.