The Curious Optimism of a Disaffected Progressive


Editor’s note: Thanks to Wayne for giving me permission to run this piece, which he penned in response to the outcome of the recent presidential election. Wayne is a Town Meeting member and a member of the Democratic Town Committee. – Paul Nov. 10, 2016

I am a fairly pessimistic person. And on this day, an American liberal can find much to be pessimistic about. And yet as I reflect on this election and what it means, I find myself feeling fairly hopeful.

Don’t get me wrong. This Trump presidency is going to be bad. Bad for America. Bad for Americans. Bad for the planet. But this is the nature of social change. We make progress for a time, and then we consolidate. As a species—as a tribe—there is only so much change we can absorb at once before fear and resentment kicks in, and we pause for a time. That is how it always is. For the tens of thousands of years of human history, that is how it’s always been. In a very literal sense, that is human history.

And holy smokes, look how much progress we made during this cycle. We elected and re-elected a black President. We’ve told ourselves that so many times that the words don’t have the weight that they used to. But it really was a big deal. Yes, yes, we still have a long way to go on race relations—our nation’s centuries-old wound and greatest shame. But you can see the progress. Police are still shooting our unarmed black men in the streets. But aren’t you glad that everyone knows about it now? Aren’t you the least bit encouraged to see a plurality that thinks it would be a swell idea if we put a stop to that? You should be, because it’s real progress. Achingly, maddeningly slow. But still real progress.

  • Gay marriage is now a settled issue. And we’ve moved on to broader gender identify issues, and are making equally rapid progress there. Rewind the clock ten years and tell your younger self where we’ll be in 2016. The two of you will laugh and laugh at the absurdity of it.
  • As of last night, we are well on our way towards sane legislation on marijuana. I don’t smoke pot. I think that smoking pot is bad for society. But the war on drugs does nothing to decrease pot smoking. I don’t want to waste capital and human resources putting pot dealers in jail. And I do want the tax revenue from their sales. And here we are, without even much of a fight.
  • We established the principle of healthcare as a right in this country. Yeah, yeah, the Republicans will repeal the ACA. But the principle is established. They don’t say “repeal”, they say “repeal and replace.” The things that were most important—no disqualification for pre-existing conditions, coverage for birth control, HPV vaccine, etc., etc.—those have broad support across the political spectrum. They aren’t going away.
  • The Democratic party has also made a lot of internal progress. As long as you’re talking to your 10-years-younger self, ask about the sniveling cowards that held power back then. The DINOs who were afraid to admit that they were pro-choice, and lived in fear of being called soft on crime or soft on terror. Look at us now. The heart and soul and future of our party—that stupid, messy, imperfect party—is Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders. Not those two people literally. But the generation coming up. The generation that adores them and is inspired by them.

I won’t lie. There are dark times ahead. But those dark times are not a measure of our failings. Like blisters after a well-run marathon, they are a measure of our success.

So buckle up. But, also…chin up! There is work to be done.