A few days ago a friend asked me why liberal Democrats dislike President Trump. After all, he said, the US economy is in good shape, unemployment is at an all-time low, he's shaking hands with enemies, he's tough on threats like Iran, he loves Israel--so what's the problem?
For once, the question was sincere. Usually it's delivered with a sneer. So I answered it as best I could.
First, an explanation. Yes, I'm the one who has been advising American Jews not to debate the specifics of Israeli government policy in public. So here I am near Tel Aviv, going off on US politics. Here's the difference: I'm a US citizen, grew up and started my career in the US, file American income taxes every year, and vote in national elections. If there are American Jews with a parallel role in Israel, then they can do what I'm doing here, with my blessing.
So here's my answer to my friend's question: To begin with, I said, I'm not a liberal or a Democrat. I've been a progressive since the ‘60s, when we were called radicals. The term "progressive" has been hijacked lately by people with a different agenda, but I know what I mean.
Progressives and liberals believe that the first priority of a government is to take care of the weakest sectors of society. The second most important role is to provide moral leadership and a sense of common purpose and unity. Economic numbers ebb and flow, and even the ones we're seeing are misleading, in that they don't reflect the fact that while the GDP is growing, so is the gap between the richest and the poorest. Full employment should lead to wage increases--but instead, many couples still have to juggle three jobs to make ends meet--and all that effort can be sabotaged by a single serious illness. A recent study shows that two-thirds of private citizen bankruptcy filings have a significant element of health care costs behind them. There’s a chapter in my book “Why Are We Still Afraid?” comparing the US and Israeli health care systems.
In a word—the US is failing its weakest sectors. An old-fashioned progressive like me would say that the much vilified Obamacare was a baby step in the right direction, but it didn't begin to address the structural issues that make American health care so expensive--and even Obamacare was eviscerated by a Supreme Court decision that in effect struck down the individual mandate that required people to join the program. That's how health insurance is supposed to work--young, healthy people pay a relatively low rate that helps pay for the treatment of older people--just as those who are young today will one day be older. Instead, many younger Americans don't get health insurance at all, driving up the premiums for those who do--and what happens if an uninsured person gets sick or has an accident? They end up in the emergency room. And who pays for that? Future patients in the hospital. We do, in other words. How is that better than Obamacare? It’s no system at all.
And health care is just one aspect. Let's look at Baltimore.
I was there several times over the course of the three years that my son was working nearby. I saw a major American city with rundown neighborhoods, hopeless people, violence, drugs. And what are we doing to fix this? Not very damn much. Trump prefers to heap scorn on the people and call their Representative a racist.
Let me make this clear. A progressive like me is committed to helping the weakest sectors help themselves. It is unconscionable that such neighborhoods exist in a country as wealthy as the United States. And they exist in every major city, not just Baltimore. I saw neighborhoods where the residents don't even have access to a supermarket. These issues must be addressed.
At this point I have to say that I don't give two sh*ts what the solutions are called: Income redistribution, tax reform, whatever. Progressives care only about working to solve the problems, not about labeling the solutions.
In fact, I find that this is a main difference between liberals and conservatives when confronted by a problem: Liberals look for solutions, while conservatives look for someone to blame.
Trump and his many, many followers are more interested in scoring points against their political opponents, labeling them traitors, racists, and worse--than in identifying problems and working to solve them. In other words--divide, divide, divide. That is not moral leadership. That is immoral leadership.
So now ask me again why liberals (much less progressives) don't like Trump.
I'll welcome intelligent comments on this, and I'm eager to start conversations. On the other hand, if your only response is to call me names, say my evidence is Fake News, or start in on Obama--save it.