“Progress is a nice word,” said Bobby Kennedy. “But change is its motivator. And change has its enemies.” Over the decades, that sobering reality has confronted every group of Americans who’ve endeavored to advance our society’s democratic ideals of fairness, justice and opportunities for all. From the revolutionaries of the 1770s to today’s grassroots rebels engaged in multiple struggles for democratic rights, every inch of progress has been vehemently opposed by entrenched enemies of change. Invariably, the upstart activists of democracy movements find themselves trivialized as unworthy and uppity by elite protectors of the status quo – “What is it those people want, anyway?” they ask with dismissive sneers.
In the early 1900s, that question was answered succinctly and eloquently by Samuel Gompers, the founding president of the American Federation of Labor. Union organizers were routinely being oppressed and literally brutalized by rapacious corporate barons, hired thugs and corrupt politicians and judges – yet they kept organizing, protesting and challenging the power structure. Why? Not just for themselves, Gompers explained, but for the Common Good:
“What does labor want? We want more schoolhouses and less jails; more books and less arsenals; more learning and less vice; more leisure and less greed; more justice and less revenge; in fact, more of the opportunities to cultivate our better natures.”
A century later, we again find ourselves in want of essentially the same elements of progress sought by the nascent AFL. While Americans were able to make important advances on Gompers’ enlightened agenda during the New Deal years and on into the 1980s, the light has steadily dimmed ever since under the relentlessly regressive public policies and miserly budgets of Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, Bush II, and even (though to a lesser degree) Obama.
And now comes The Donald, along with his slaphappy cabinet of Daffy, Sleepy, Sleazy, Creepy, Larry, Curly and Mo. They’re “governing” by using such political tools as Trump’s tweets, presidential name-calling, melodramatic firings, made-for-tv rallies, dog whistles, overt bigotry, Sean Hannity and a constant loop of lies. All of this is given 24/7 saturation coverage by a bedazzled news media that can’t take its eyes off of Trump’s round-the-clock freakshow, absurdly and erroneously branding each performance “populism.”
The helter-skelter zaniness, however, is like a magician’s smokescreen – a distraction from the Trumpsters’ sleight-of-hand manipulations being made daily out of public view. Such devious tricksters as Pruitt, Zinke, DeVos, Mnuchin, Mulvaney, Sessions and Pence do their real jobs behind closed doors. In collusion with K-Street’s powerhouse lobbyists, Koch-allied front groups, and the GOP’s congressional leadership, they are systematically supplanting true democratic populism with an omnishambles of new rules to enthrone corporate supremacy over all other interests.