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Coffee, Tea or We?

I’ve been experiencing Deja Vu watching the rise of the Tea Party, the Coffee Klatchers, the so-called conservatives, and the much-vilified progressives. I could be living a hundred years ago without changing a single spot.

When the founding fathers penned our Constitution, they began simply but profoundly with “We the people.” This statement feels remarkably progressive. No one had seen anything like “we” associated with “the people.” Their aspiration seems clear.

While prior generations squabbled between us and them, this founding one would navigate a different path. But as soon as General Washington’s terms were completed, even the founding fathers back-slid a bit.

By 1910 we’d experienced a succession of presidents who might be described as representing either us or them. Any attempt to include anyone formerly disenfranchised always prompted a plea for a return to traditional values.

The Progressives were a poorly-focused lot. Up against the might and treasury of a tightly-collusive gentry, most of what the Progressives proposed, such as equal pay for equal work, was summarily struck down as illegal by our (or was it their?) Supreme Court.

Then, the ‘ruling class’ used their considerable wealth to swamp the media with dire predictions, sounding every bit like brimstone-familiar New England preachers, and scaring the stained and patched pants off workers who thought maybe fifteen hour days, if they really were an expression of God’s will, might not be so bad.

After the Panics of 1893 and 1901, regular working people were literally hungry for more than social justice and President Wilson promoted a progressive agenda, strongly supported by the emerging college-educated class. The Great War stifled most of these initiatives and they, the people, put their stomachs on hold for the duration.

During the war, the media blitz started equating progressivism with Communism, and the gentry won. Not that you’d know they won by their hang-dog faces. They’re still clamoring for a return to ‘traditional values,’ the oldest scam in the book.

Mary Parker Follett, a writer at the time, suggested, “Whenever anyone offers you a choice between this and that, choose a third way.” Her advice might serve us well today. Our opposition only serves the forces of opposition, either us or them, while We The People might seek the more enduring values found in we—just as if we actually are the US we claim to be.

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