News & Politics

A Progressive 12-step Program

Are progressives collectively stuck in an abusive relationship with the administration? If so, a 12-step program could be the answer.
Since the presidential election, many activists have lapsed into depression, believing that they are powerless to stop the wholesale destruction of the American dream by the Bush administration.

We find ourselves stuck in an abusive relationship with George Bush and his cronies. This abuse is clearly evident in Iraq with its horrendous images of prisoner torture and daily TV feeds of civilian casualties. It is also shown in the administration's disdain for the American needy, as well as in its gleeful willingness to pillage our natural resources. Like all chronic abusers, Bush and company are obsessed with power, willing to do anything to retain it, even if this means running roughshod over human rights.

As progressives struggle to regain their footing and mount an effective defense of democracy, we must recognize that Americans are trapped in this abusive relationship. To escape it we will need our own version of a 12-step program, beginning with the recognition that we feel powerless in the face of the Bush aggression, and that this has profoundly impacted our lives, made them to some extent, unmanageable.

In Alcoholics Anonymous the classic formulation of the second step is, "[We] came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity." Many progressives are spiritual and accept the concept of a higher power, but others are secular and reluctant to embrace this notion. What most of us can agree with, however, is that real democracy has a higher power, an overarching set of values that embrace all the people in a social fabric of liberty and equality. Reframing this as the second step leads to a similar reformulation of the third, "[We] made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of true democratic values." Progressives may feel powerless as individuals, but it helps to recognize that we are part of an epic struggle to defend democracy and that millions of Americans – as well as kindred spirits through out the world – stand shoulder to shoulder with us at the barricades.

The AA fourth step is, "[We] Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves." Progressives have been so focused on the evils of the Bush Administration that we often fail to acknowledge our share of the blame for the situation we are in.

There is a political aspect of this inventory: Democratic presidential candidates lost in the last couple of elections because the public didn't know who they were; they made the mistake of running as "Republican Lite." In the process, the Democrat Party lost its bearings, lost contact with the great populist message that had sustained it for one hundred years. In addition, Democrats bought into the notion that the electorate believed that Republicans were innately better at national defense; as a result, many Democrats became obsessed with demonstrating how tough they were and supported the Bush Administration's feckless invasion of Iraq.

There is also an important psychological side of the inventory: Progressives must recognize our responsibility for the abusive relationship we find ourselves in. In a recent edition of The New York Review of Books, UC Professor Mark Danner observed that in the election Bush voters, "faced a stark choice: either discard the facts, or give up the clear and comforting worldview that they contradicted. They chose to disregard the facts." They made this choice because it is hard to see the truth, painful to pry open our eyes and take in how screwed up the world actually is. This is a heavy psychological burden, one that many Americans opt out of, choosing instead to escape into apocalyptic religion, reality television, or their neighborhood saloon.

If progressives are serious about recovery, then we will have to help each other face the truth: Americans are becoming the people our parents warned us about. Where we were once envied, now we are feared. Instead of the USA being a shining light, now we are viewed as bullies – an abusive power.

To see ourselves as we really are, to acknowledge the dreadful state we have fallen into, requires that we, indeed, conduct a fearless moral inventory. To escape from our abusive relationship with the Bushies, progressives will have to engage in all the classic steps of recovery: admitting our wrongs, seeking the aid of our higher power in overcoming these, reclaiming true democratic values, and making amends.

A famous Buddhist prayer is known as the three gems: "I take refuge in the Buddha; I take refuge in the Dharma; I take refuge in the Sangha." Meaning: "I take refuge in the spirit of the Buddha, in his teachings, and in the Buddhist community." As we seek recovery from our abusive relationship with the Bush Administration, perhaps we can find strength in our own version of this wisdom, "I take refuge in democracy; in the spirit and teachings of the founders of our country, and the patriots that followed them. I take refuge in the community of those who struggled to preserved this democracy."