Magazine article Dissent

Introduction: Promises and Limits of Progressive Cities

Magazine article Dissent

Introduction: Promises and Limits of Progressive Cities

Article excerpt

For liberal Democrats and their allies, this is the winter of their discontent- and foreboding. The most right-wing Congress elected since the 1920s has embarked on a mission to weaken or repeal federal programs that benefit neither its corporate funders nor its Tea Party base. A majority of justices on the Roberts court may ease that task by striking down the Affordable Care Act and several other laws they regard, clairvoyantly, as betrayals of the sacred wishes of James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and the other periwigged designers of the Constitution.

Barack Obama, whom Republicans attacked quite savagely and quite effectively as both tyrannical and inept, will protest some of what conservatives at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue say and do. He will probably back up his words with a handful of vetos and executive orders. The president will also retain the affection of millions of Americans, if not their confidence in his leadership. Indeed, his administration, after it's gone, will probably not appear as futile as it does in the wake of the midterm debacle. But, for now, most of the media as well as elites in both parties have turned the page.

If Democrats did not have the possibility of another President Clinton to look forward to, they would not have much hope for 2016 at all. They would be wise, however, to temper their confidence with a bit of historical perspective: no unpopular president has ever been succeeded by a nominee of his own party. So those liberals who dread the immediate electoral future could well prove correct. Two years from now, the hour of that rough beast of a conservative movement in total control of the federal government may come round at last.

However, to dwell solely on the grim events in Washington is to neglect a more complicated and, potentially, a more hopeful reality. Just as Michael Harrington noted in the mid-1970s, the United States is "moving vigorously left, right and center, all at once." Last fall, voters in the solidly Republican states of Alaska, South Dakota, Arkansas, and Nebraska enacted boosts in the minimum wage. Marriage equality is now the law in thirty-two states and the District of Columbia. The same country where a denier of climate change now chairs the Senate environment committee is also a country where the movement to stop environmental disaster can mobilize a march of 400,000 people and where student groups at hundreds of campuses have called on their colleges to divest from companies that produce fossil fuels. The same country where the Tea Party is the powerful and wellfinanced bulwark of the party that runs Congress is also a country where, despite the weakness of unions, increasing numbers of fast-food and WalMart workers are demanding a living wage and where a growing number of people on both the right and left advocate humane alternatives to mass imprisonment.

Most promising of all, as this special section illustrates, a growing number of cities-mostly big, some small-have become lighthouses in the reactionary storm. They are places where progressives routinely win elections and have begun to use their power to help raise the living standards of working people-as well as to protect the rights of immigrants and to preserve the local environment.

Conventional wisdom has it that such victories are the inevitable consequence of demographic and cultural change. According to this view, polyracial metropolises in which hip millennials and people of all sexual orientations live pretty much as they please will naturally elect politicians who vow to promote equality in other spheres as well. …

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