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Liberal values will ultimately prevail, author says

by Brian Bromberger

Author Ruy Teixeira
Author Ruy Teixeira  

For progressive leftists, with the Trump administration issuing executive orders almost daily, the country seems in a downward spiral, especially with regard to immigration policies, the travel ban, intolerance to diversity, potential troop involvement in the bloody Syrian civil war, the unraveling of former President Barack Obama's global warming policies, and a new Supreme Court justice many fear is anti-LGBT.

In a February 27 Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll, 63 percent of Democrats (at their weakest in decades) said they are "worried or pessimistic" about the future of the nation.

However, in a new book, "The Optimistic Leftist: Why the 21st Century Will Be Better Than You Think," Ruy Teixeira, a political scientist and senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, writes that the good news is that the values and priorities of the left will eventually triumph and that President Donald Trump's populist movement, which could do some temporary damage, will fade.

Teixeira, 65, corresponded with the Bay Area Reporter in an email exchange about his book and the state of the country. A straight ally, he chided the left for being too pessimistic. While protests can be necessary and good, Teixeira warned that fear and anger as long-term goals usually lead to burnout.

"If you want to sustain a political movement over the long-term then optimism is essential, otherwise people won't believe in positive change and they will give up," he wrote.

Optimism mobilizes people, he added, inspiring them to envision something better and believe it's actually possible to get there. Economic facts support optimism. Americans today live in a freer, more democratic, less violent, and more prosperous world than they have previously.

Demographics, which Teixeira started exploring in 2002 in his earlier book, "The Emerging Democratic Majority," support a developing Democratic majority, including immigrants, minorities, educated women, LGBT people, and younger millennials, (both college-educated and non-college whites), and they should remain pro-Democratic as they age.

White working-class and evangelical voters, the core of Republican support, are both decreasing and will continue to do so, he noted. However, Teixeira does see a need to redraw congressional districts so Democrats can be more competitive in some conservative-leaning and moderate areas of the nation.

Another positive sign for the left has been the advancement of gender and sexual social equality and tolerance in the last 50 years, including the advancement of women in higher education and the professions, the dominance of anti-sexist views in public opinion, and the acceptance of LGBT people, including the institution of same-sex marriage.

"Actually I think there is less inequality now in terms of civil rights than there used to be," he wrote. "Tremendous progress has been made even if there is far to go. I'm sure some are alienated, but overall I think optimism is justified by the record of the last 50 years. The progress in the last several decades has been staggering; most of it is irreversible in my view."

Teixeira believes that Trump will somehow successfully re-litigate the role of minorities, gays, and women. It's "scary but absurd ... because what he wished to do is both massively unpopular and runs against the grain of legal precedent and institutional norms," he said.

Teixeira also said that it's time for the left to see itself as the caretaker of capitalism, with its job to reform it, rather than replace it, which would be close to impossible in the U.S.

"You want to tell people that you understand their problems and have a plan to help make life better," he said.

Rejecting anti-growth ideologies and embracing material abundance for all, technological advancement and pro-science, globalization, and environmental activism are ultimately winners for leftists, according to Teixeira. Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) promote many of those progressive ideas.

"I think some of Warren's and Sanders' views are being incorporated into mainstream Democratic thinking; I expect that to continue," he wrote.

Teixeira noted that in the U.S. people combine "symbolic conservatism" (honoring tradition, distrusting novelty) with "operational liberalism" (wanting government to take more action in different areas, especially in welfare state programs, which the public overwhelmingly supports).

More prosperity, better health, longer life spans, better education, and more technological advances tend to favor the left, he stated. But Teixeira does observe that the left is more successful in good, rather than bad, times.

"When the economy is expanding and living standards are steadily rising for most of the population, people see better opportunities for themselves and are more inclined toward social generosity, tolerance, and collective advance. The postwar boom, from 1945 to 1973, is the prime example of such a good time," he wrote.

Teixeira is also upbeat about the environment, saying that water and air in the U.S. are much cleaner than they were in the early 1970s. Trump may severely restrict environmental regulations, curtail the Environmental Protection Agency, and promote the coal industry, but getting rid of the Obama-era regulations could take years, as they will likely be challenged in court.

Teixeira is optimistic that a green economy, long a cherished goal of the left, can stave off climate change. Abundant, cheap clean energy, chiefly wind and solar, are making incredible strides worldwide, he noted, with this renewable energy providing half of all new electric capacity around the world.

"World investments in clean energy have reached levels that are double those for fossil fuels," he wrote.

"A reasonable aspiration for the left in advanced countries should be to make current upper-middle-class affluence a majority lifestyle in coming decades and to raise the rest of the population as close to that level as possible," he wrote, assuming long-term economic growth and a reasonably fair distribution of the benefits from growth.

"In this century it will be within our capabilities for virtually everyone to not only live longer, healthier lives, with their basic needs met, but also have considerable additional resources for consumption of the good things in life, including travel, recreation, and the various gadgets that make life more interesting and entertaining," he wrote.

Teixeira claimed that the Trumpian populism of today will ultimately have no more staying power than the agrarian populism of the 1880s and 1890s, which was fueled by declining demographic groups (farmers), the transition to a new economic era, and strong social advancement in the Progressive era of the early 20th century.

For Teixeira, "the left won't win every battle, but they will win the war."

 

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