Expectations of what government can and should do are so low that Americans are willing to let government function at levels way below the standards of modern economically advanced nations. We are allowing a huge gap between what the people want and what we expect of government (and presidential candidates). And, as the coronavirus pandemic illustrates, what government is willing to do falls far short of what we need. Getting Trump out of office is not enough. The problem is much bigger than Trump and it’s been a problem for decades. There is hope, though.
Survey data clearly shows that many Americans favor a multitude of progressive policies. But what we want doesn’t have much of an impact on the nation’s current leadership, which consists of barely competent, anti-science, venal opportunists, backed by a party that has been working for four decades to shrink government down to a size where it can be drowned in a bath tub. And, unfortunately, Democrats are too weak or too complicit to fight for significant change. The agitation for change must come from the people — established elites are simply too comfortable. It’s time to raise expectations sharply and demand action to adequately address public health, climate change, 21st Century education needs, and the other challenges we face. We need to roar like the ocean.
Consider the following ten issues, all of which have majority support (all data is prior to any possible impact of the mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic). These are all policies that promote a more equitable, sustainable, and participatory America.
Improve Health Care — The Trump Administration is still challenging the Affordable Care Act in the courts. Republicans want to deny health care coverage to millions of people and Democrats should be making much more of a public issue of this. They should also be promoting Medicare for All — single payer nonprofit health insurance for all Americans. U.S. health expenditures are the highest in the world but our outcomes are only average. Medicare for All will expand coverage at a much lower cost than the current system. Medicare for All will save billions of dollars in health care costs while covering every American including dental, vision, and hearing, with no premiums, no deductibles, and minimal copayments. Polls show that nearly two-thirds of Americans support Medicare for All, though there is much need for greater education on the proposal.
Protect the Environment — Trump and the Republican Party are dismantling many environmental protections and eviscerating the EPA. The rollbacks are clearly designed to unfetter corporate recklessness and they are an immense danger to the health of the planet and the people. The wrecking ball must be stopped but Democrats should also take a very strong stand to limit climate change by supporting the Green New Deal. In the coming decades sea level rise and extreme weather will vastly disrupt lives and lead to trillions of dollars in damages. Drastic steps must be taken now to prevent the worst outcomes. These changes will require sacrifice but they will also be a massive investment toward a sustainable carbon-free future that will create many jobs at a living wage, and address not just climate but water quality, housing deficiencies, transportation inadequacies, and other problems. Support for the Green New Deal is strong.
Support a Living Wage — the movement for $15 has made progress in many municipalities and has been adopted as a goal by many progressives. By the time it is adopted it may not be enough. The federal minimum wage needs to be raised substantially and it should also include a mechanism for adjusting it annually, according to inflation. Future minimum wage increases should be taken out of the hands of Congress, which has too often shown an unwillingness to raise it. Polls show that two-thirds of Americans support a $15 minimum wage.
Reduce Economic Inequality — Working people produce the wealth of this nation but more and more of that wealth has been going to the top 1 percent. This trend can be reversed through a much more progressive tax structure and by strengthening the ability of working people to unionize and collectively bargain with their employers. Reducing economic inequality must be a comprehensive set of policies that is part of every other issue on this list. Higher taxes on those who have benefited most from the current system will help democratize our nation’s pool of investment capital enabling much more just decision making about how to spend and invest, removing it from the whims of the billionaire class. Opinion polls find that rising numbers of Americans see inequality as a structural problem rather than a result of individual differences in skill or effort. The myth of meritocracy is crumbling.
Protect and Expand Social Security — For 80 years Social Security has provided essential income for widows and dependent children, for disabled workers, and for the retired. It should be protected from cutbacks and privatization schemes of both the Republicans and the Democrats. In the long run, plans should be made to bolster Social Security so that it provides an adequate retirement fund for all. Polls find that 68% of voters are more likely to vote for candidates who say they will increase Social Security benefits.
Tuition-Free College — The U.S. lags behind other advanced nations in making higher education accessible for all members of society. The 21st Century is a different world with a vastly different economic system than the 20th Century. It requires a more advanced education to increase skills and job opportunities, particularly for young Americans. And, as a country, we need to be nurturing young people with much more sophisticated knowledge to successfully take on the many challenges that we face. Sixty percent of all U.S. adults favor free tuition at public colleges and 83% of all Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents favor it.
Unequivocal Support for Abortion Rights — This should be an inalienable right and state efforts to undermine it must be brought to a halt. On some issues the right position needs to be taken regardless of public opinion. Fortunately, the majority of Americans support the right of women to get an abortion in all or almost all cases.
End mass incarceration — mass incarceration is destructive of families and neighborhoods and can be counterproductive in reducing crime. No other democratic nation has an incarceration rate nearly as high as the U.S. The policies that created this system are terribly racist. Over two-thirds of Americans now say it is important for us to reduce our prison population.
Strengthen Gun Regulations — large majorities of Americans support background checks and keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. They support closing loopholes that allow purchases at gun shows without background checks. They want to ban the sale of large capacity magazines and assault-style weapons. And nearly three-quarters favor creating a federal data base to track weapons. There are other means of reducing gun violence that could be implemented, as well — and they would have been if public opinion really mattered.
Enact a Progressive Foreign Policy — The U.S. should stop trying to impose military solutions to complex world problems. American troops should not be committed to unwinnable wars and American military and financial support should not go to dictators and countries that abuse human rights. Likewise, trade agreements that undermine other nations’ economies, or that place corporate profits above workers’ rights and the environment must end.
Defeating Trump is immensely important but making Trump the major focus creates two serious problems. One is that it helps the current Democratic establishment convince voters that a middle-ground candidate can unite the opposition in the quest for victory — a strategy that may convince some voters but is ultimately dangerously wrong. The other problem is that it allows the Democratic establishment to ignore their constituency on many of the issues listed here. It’s a strategy that allows progressive sentiments of American voters to be pushed aside and the corporate servitude of the party to continue.
Expect more of your government and raise your voice.