Robert B. Reich: The case for nauseous optimism

I chose the word nauseous over cautious because my stomach is churning at the very possibility Trump could get a second term. But I don’t believe that will happen. The progressive forces in America are overtaking the regressive.

I’m not paying attention to polls. It’s way too early to worry about them. Most of the public hasn’t even focused on the upcoming election.

Biden gave a powerful State of the Union address last Thursday evening — feisty, bold, energetic, and upbeat. He was combative — taking on Trump with gusto, even besting Republican hecklers like MTG. I’m convinced he’s equipped to win reelection.

The broad American public is starting to see just how weird MAGA Republicans really are. Republicans comprise only 28% of voting Americans. More than 40% of voters consider themselves independent, unaffiliated with either party. Most of these independents don’t want the unhinged running the government.

During the State of the Union, Americans saw Republicans heckle and boo Biden and then sit on their hands when Biden declared that “No child should go hungry in this country.” Hello?

The Republican response to Biden’s speech by Alabama Senator Katie Britt was, to say the least, bizarre. Delivered from her kitchen, it vacillated from wholesome to horrific.

The centerpiece of her attack on Biden’s border policies was a story about a 12-year-old Mexican girl who was sex trafficked and raped multiple times a day at the hands of cartels before escaping. But the girl was not, in fact, trafficked across the U.S. border; she never sought asylum in America; and her terrifying experience occurred when George W. Bush was in the White House.

Britt’s oddball performance baffled even fellow right-wingers. “What the hell am I watching right now?” a Trump adviser told Rolling Stone.“It’s one of our biggest disasters ever,” a Republican strategist told The Daily Beast.

The GOP is so out of touch with American values that it’s putting up outspoken bigots for major offices.

Case in point: Mark Robinson, who won the GOP nomination for governor of North Carolina last Tuesday night, has hurled hateful remarks at everyone from Michelle Obama to the survivors of the Parkland school shooting. He’s called the LGBTQ+ community “filth,” wants to outlaw all abortions, and wants to return to a time when women couldn’t vote. He’s also ridiculed the#MeToo movement, women generally, and climate change.

Oh, and he’s a Holocaust denier with a history of antisemitic remarks. He’s suggested that 9/11 was an “inside job,” that the music industry is run by Satan, and that billionaire Democratic donor George Soros orchestrated the Boko Haram kidnappings of school girls in 2014.

Robinson isn’t the only gonzo Republican nominee, but he typifies the grotesque values of MAGA leaders, including those of its likely presidential candidate.

The reason these bigots and haters are fighting so hard to defeat us is they know progressives are the future of America.

Neither their filibusters, nor their gerrymanders, nor their attempts at voter suppression can stop our rise. Nor can their absurd “great replacement theory,” or even their Supreme Court majority.

I’ve been at this game for almost three-quarters of a century. It’s a long game, and America still has a long way to go. But apart from Trump fanatics, the nation is in many ways better and stronger now than it has ever been — more inclusive, more tolerant, more diverse, more accepting, more dynamic. And it will be far better and stronger years from now, because we are rising.

Sure, we must do better at organizing, mobilizing, and energizing. And get elected lawmakers, along with judges and Supreme Court justices, who reflect our beliefs and values. The Democratic Party must be bolder at countering the power of big corporations and big money. And more aggressive in recruiting and supporting a new generation of progressive leaders in electoral politics.

All of us must become a pro-democracy movement— with all the passion and tenacity that movements require.

Even so, I see a new progressive era dawning in America, and I don’t believe Trump Republicans can hold back the tide.

I see the strongest support for unions since the 1960s. Last year, at least 457,000 workers participated in a record 315 strikes in the United States — and won most with contracts providing higher wages and better benefits.

Over the past 18 months, graduate student teachers and research assistants at Berkeley, MIT, and Caltech have voted overwhelmingly to unionize. The United Auto Workers has scored signal victories for autoworkers. As has the Teamsters for UPS workers. Hell, even Dartmouth College’s men’s basketball team has voted to unionize.

Microsoft just agreed not to oppose unionization efforts. Starbucks — which has spent the last two-and-a-half years intimidating baristas, employing union-busting attorneys, and refusing to bargain with any of the roughly 400 outlets that have voted to go union — has just agreed to do the same.

Here’s the bottom line: The majority of Americans view today’s record-breaking inequalities of income and wealth as dangerous. They believe government has no business forcing women to give birth or telling consenting adults how to conduct the most intimate aspects of their lives.

They want to limit access to guns. They see climate change is an existential threat to the nation and the world. They want to act against systemic racism. They don’t want innocent civilians killed, whether on our streets or in Gaza. They don’t want to give Putin a free hand. They want to protect American democracy from authoritarianism.

The giant millennial generation — a larger cohort than the boomers — is the most progressive cohort in recent history. They’ve faced an inequitable economic system, a runaway climate crisis, and the herculean costs of trying to have a family — including everything from unaffordable child care to wildly unaffordable housing. They’re demanding a more equitable and sustainable society because they desperately need one.

Young women have become significantly more progressive over the past decade (even if young men have remained largely unchanged). They’re more likely than ever to support LGBTQ+ rights, gay or lesbian couples as parents, men staying home with children, and women serving in the military. And more likely to loathe Donald Trump and any politician who emulates him.

Over the next two decades, young women will be moving into positions of greater power and leadership. They compose a remarkable 60% of college undergraduates.

Meanwhile, the United States is projected to become a majority-minority nation within the next two decades.

Not all people of color believe in all the progressive values I mention above, of course. A sizable share of Black voters is uneasy with LGBTQ+ rights. Yet overall, people of color are deeply concerned about the nation’s widening inequalities. They’re committed to social justice. They want to act against systemic racism, and they want to protect American democracy.

Unsurprisingly, these trends have ignited a backlash — especially among Americans who are older, whiter, straighter, without college degrees, and male. These Americans have become susceptible to an authoritarian strongman peddling conspiracy theories and stoking hatred.

Trump Republicans want us to be discouraged. They want us to despair. That’s part of their strategy. They figure that if we’re pessimistic enough, we won’t even fight — and they’ll win everything.

But I believe their backlash is doomed. The Republican Party has become a regressive cesspool, headed by increasingly unmoored people who are utterly out of touch with the dominant and emerging values of America. And most Americans are catching on.

I don’t mean to be a Pollyanna. We’re in the fight of our lives. It will demand a great deal of our energy, our time, and our courage. But this fight is critical and noble. It will set the course for America and the world for decades. And it is winnable.

The point is: It’s appropriate to be nauseously optimistic.

Robert Reich, former U.S. Secretary of Labor, is professor of public policy at the University of California at Berkeley and the author of “The System: Who Rigged It, How We Fix It.” His column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Lima News editorial board or AIM Media, owner of The Lima News.