Throughout America's brief history, liberal and conservative voices have served to balance each other's excesses. Both are important in steering the American ship going forward.
But if liberals are going to gain any traction in making new converts and regaining some power in the next election, they--we--are going to have to make it clear what positive values and initiatives they stand for, not just tearing down conservatives (literally and figuratively).
From the top of the political hierarchy--whether that means the Democratic Party gets its act together and regains its position as the standard-bearer of progressive values or some other group takes on that mantle--to those of us on the front lines of Social Media, arguing with strangers and Uncle Bob alike about American values, we have to be seen as standing for something positive, active, and actionable--not merely the ones telling everyone what they can't say or do.
Many of us know that progressive values are American values.
Liberty means freedom for everyone, including people of every race, color, belief system, gender, sexual orientation, or other difference the current power structure would oppress.
Equality means not only equal freedoms, but equal opportunity, including economic stability, equal justice, access to education, and a healthcare system we can afford.
Prosperity doesn't just include opportunities and benefits for the top 1 percent, but worker protections across all economic strata, investments in innovation and infrastructure, and a thriving global economy.
But as of today, these values are not how liberals and progressives are being seen throughout America.
Last night, as I was flipping through the channels, I landed for a few minutes on a surprising interview between White House advisor Kellyanne Conway and television evangelist Pat Robertson of the 700 Club. Despite having issues with both of these public personalities, I watched the interview with fascination.
In a calm, non-antagonistic interview environment, Ms Conway seemed knowledgeable and articulate, talking in measured tones about the incomplete media coverage of President Trump's initiatives to give veterans access to healthcare. In this setting, she seemed totally reasonable, far from the pathological liar I've seen in CNN clips on Facebook. And rightly or wrongly, this is how many see her, just trying to do her job amid a firestorm of negative criticism.
As the two went on to talk in wonder about the nastiness of the coverage of this administration by the New York Times and the Washington Post and lack of respect for the office of the President, it dawned on me that, no matter the purity of our intent, this is how many in America are viewing progressives right now: at best, nasty and disrespectful, at worst, outright bullies.
This view of liberals and the progressive movement misses the intent and context of why people and groups on the left are doing what they are doing, and forgets how the right castigated the last President, but in a world where perception is so often taken for reality, these misperceptions are something the left needs to get ahead of if we hope to move hearts and minds.
We've got to get ahead of the tearing down statues--if we convince the nation of the values behind it, they will make the right choices about who and what to glorify.
We've got to get ahead of policing peoples' awkward language on social media in favor of political correctness--if we don't foster open dialogue, how will we ever show anyone another point of view.
We've got to get ahead of the perception that progressives are shutting down free speech--fighting hate by shutting things down is not as effective as evangelizing for positive values through telling stories that move hearts and minds.
There is rampant misperception that liberal voices are simply the voice of resistance--dragging our feet in a country that's trying to get somewhere. And current tactics keep pushing us closer and closer to something like a cold civil war than an effective dialogue.
If liberals hope to gain support and restore balance to the conversation, they-and we--would stand benefit more from positively promoting what we stand FOR, not just what we are against.