[Dealing in Democracy grasps at, wrestles with, questions, critiques, and explores mere tinges of the brittle and broken bones of American politics through my admittedly biased eyes and offers me an outlet through which to fumigate the horrors both presently presenting and ever-present.]
Throughout this agonizingly long and malicious election cycle, and now especially post-election, I keep hearing about the failure of progressive policy—how the great social experiment in liberal ideals like equal opportunity, multiculturalism, environmental responsibility, and social justice have been rejected by the majority, even if the alternative is to burn the system to the ground.
Aside from the incorrect presumption of majority, as Clinton did indeed win the popular vote (as did Democrats for the Senate, though gerrymandering makes notions of popular will an impolite topic of conversation), I would argue that it is not the policies of progressivism that have failed, but the people appointed to enact and enforce those policies. To quote a celestially homicidal computer, "It can only be attributable to human error."
In cases of regulation or environmental reform, people often experience government as an invading force that confronts their livelihood and says: you cannot do this or, conversely, this is what you must do.
For instance, say you are the business owner of a foundry, or a furniture studio, or a glassworks, or any matter of company that has to burn something. Environmental regulations demand certain protections of air quality which require you to alter your burning process, either by limiting/banning certain chemicals or insisting on particular types of filtration for the venting of burning fumes, as in a smokestack.
In all likelihood, this business owner receives official government documents demanding compliance and/or an overworked regulator to inspect the business, make findings, and issue demands. The business owner is treated as part of a cog in a wheel of commerce instead of as a human being whose business may not be able to sustain the costs of retrofitting, whose product may suffer due to chemical bans, whose passion and livelihood are threatened by the bureaucracy inherent in policy.
The act of attempting to forge environmental protection is turned from a force for positive change to a victimizing agency of a citizen's perceived right to earn a living, thus making an enemy of the policy instead of the politics.
It is the smokestack that needs to change, yet the system treats the human being as the smokestack instead of engaging on a human level to make the best smokestack for all involved. The business owner is given no options, no outreach, and so reacts with resentment to interference.
Yet the system itself is comprised of human beings, as human as the owners of business, as the builders of smokestacks. Why, then, cannot the government give agency to businesses by entering with them into conversation? Into process? Instead of demanding compliance, we must offer options and assistance.
Of course I am not suggesting that government subsidize every altered smokestack or chemical formula or ventilation system or waste disposal site for every company or building or individual or utility whose methods of sustainability and safety must realign with the realities of environmental urgency.
I am suggesting that the actual enactment of regulation take the human perspective. I am suggesting that, instead of issuing demands that indeed make some business owners feel they are hostage to government edicts, government representatives should introduce themselves to owners or operators of said smokestacks as one person to another. These representatives can then explain the reasoning behind and for the regulation in question, what the current state of the smokestack implies, what changes are needed to make it a better smokestack, and the options the owner has into making that smokestack a reality.
This is how you empower citizens with information, partner with them for achievable change, and work together toward mutually beneficial ends. It sounds almost infantile. It sounds like common sense and decency. Why, then, is it so difficult to accomplish?
For one, some people in power feel that their power entitles them to treat everyone else as unempowered, and so systems of suspicion and distrust fester and spread until they are so malignantly pervasive that neither side can comprehend the other (witness: election 2016). This is how you treat a populace in whose future you are unconcerned.
Second, regulatory bodies are notoriously—even dangerously—underfunded and understaffed, and they often lack the authority to enforce violations in any meaningful way, especially for companies with pockets deep enough to pay the often-pitiable fines levied against violators, the Deepwater Horizon disaster and resulting BP oil spill being an excellent (and horrific) example.
I know this is all very dull and tedious, and if you've actually read thus far, I commend you, but the day-to-day of law, of policy and governance, and often of everyday life is tedium itself. That doesn't make them less important, just less sexy, less algorithmically friendly. I'm also aware that this type of governance is now far less likely than ever with the parade of peckerhead pricks who have propelled themselves to power via toxic resentment of dehumanizing bureaucracy.
But, as I said before, that bureaucracy is still comprised of humans who have the choice to behave, to interact, to invest our future with compassion, not beat it into shape with a cudgel. We, too, have the choice to be heard, to demand better treatment, to make our needs and desires known.
Now that power rests in the hands of those who feel more entitled to absolute domination and ideological enforcement than perhaps ever in our nation's history, we are the ones who must insist on the recognition and realization of our humanity, and persist in that insistence, as never before.