The progressive argument that fails the movement
Updated: Jan 28
This morning in Australia we woke up to some good news from the US for the first time in months. The inauguration is complete, nothing awful happened on the day, the orange has successfully been ejected, and Joe Biden is the President of the free world. The sun is shining and the crickets are chirping. The air feels fresh. It’s warm but not too hot. We see the funny Bernie Sanders memes. We chuckle carelessly. What a time to be alive, we cry. We keep scrolling. And that’s when we see something that might make us actually cry.
A certain subsection of the radical left isn’t happy. What’s new to be honest. It’s not enough. They write. The inauguration was a gathering of war criminals. The US is still a colonial settler state. The Western world is still rife with white supremacy. Nothing has changed. Many of these claims are accurate, but this last sentiment is simply untrue. Things have changed. A lot has changed. Things could change a lot more, of course. Joe Biden is another white man over the age of 50, the exact demographic of politician who dominates all levels of government in the entire Western world. But progress is progress, and it must be celebrated. Are we arguing that we should pack up and go home now that Trump is out of the White House? Of course not. There’s still plenty to do. But something that those of the radical ends of politics struggle to understand that two things can be true at once. For example:
We can celebrate Trump leaving the White House while we critique the lack of diversity Biden brings.
We can celebrate Kamala Harris’ historic victory while critiquing her previous career.
We can be happy that inauguration day was peaceful while we continue to reel from the Capitol attacks.
But can we not take this day, just this one day, to be happy? Happy that a President who came awfully close to dictatorship has left office. That he left office peacefully at all. That the US has a left leaning government. That Joe Biden is arguably one of the most experienced people for the job. That he won at all. That Kamala Harris is breaking down barriers and forging a path by simply being in the role. Can we wait to see what this administration does before condemning it? Can we give them a chance to deliver on promises, to avoid simple tokenism? Can we just celebrate a day that will go down in history as one where people across the globe breathed a sigh of collective relief?
A special message to those who still say it should have been Bernie. We align ourselves fairly well with Bernie’s policies and political leanings. It’s pretty safe to say that all of us at Cheek would have voted for Bernie should we have had the chance. But it’s not about his policies anymore. He didn’t win. He didn’t win the nomination, and the chances are he wouldn’t have beaten Trump. The 2020 election was about removal and restoration. Bernie simply couldn’t have been it. And even if you disagree, the facts are that he wasn’t. He wasn’t picked. It doesn’t matter what you wanted or wished for, Biden won fair and square. And we don’t need to take this much further to get the point across… Joe Biden won. Biden was the right choice for the Democrats because he won.
To the people who are saying it means nothing, you are wrong. To say it means nothing is to say that successes and meaningful movements are worthless. If it means nothing, should Trump have just stayed in office? If it means nothing, what’s the point of pushing for more progress? We should abolish the government instead, they say. Putting aside what this would mean in reality, is it a viable option for the year 2021? Celebration is not synonymous with acceptance, with support, or with complicity. We understand the value of these ultra-progressive views: fundamental accountability. Our counter argument is simple, following a year of grief, trauma and tragedy we must allow people to find peace and for one single day, to engage with hope in a way that we have been unable to since 2016. Attempts to destroy this fleeting moment of happiness are contributions to vitriolic debate and division, providing little help to the wider cause and movement towards united and healthy democratic systems.
They’re never happy with anything. Is a critique often heard about the radical left. And with the rhetoric we’ve seen on social media today, it’s hard to argue. Many progressives aren’t happy with anything, aren’t even happy with progress, because it’s not enough. This would usually be the time we say well obviously we still have a ways to go, and obviously we will keep striving for progress. But to the people we’re directing these critiques to, it is not obvious. The very premise of this article will be cause for cancellation by many political progressives. We can only imagine the things they will say in response, as it is unlikely to be communicated beyond their own echo chambers.
It’s this very sentiment that turns people away from leftist agendas and causes. The fear that they will not be enough, won’t care enough, aren’t careful enough with language and movements. People who are making real and significant change avoid aligning themselves with the far left side of politics for fear of making enemies. Activist burnout is something we’ve been talking about a lot in recent years, and one of the causes is constantly burying yourself in doom and gloom, refusing to take a moment to look up and look back. Without celebration and appreciation of the progress we have made, where do we continue to access the energy we need to go on, to keep pushing? It’s not a crime to be happy with movement, even the smallest change is positive, and even a tiny bit of progress can change lives. We can simultaneously celebrate progress and plan to push for more.