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Progressives: Purity and Purpose A Movement Against Itself

Image from Ro Khanna for Congress website.

What is a Progressive?

David Sirota says “progressives” are those who focus on using government power to make large institutions play by a set of rules. Another definition is the favoring or advocating of progress, change, improvement, or reform, as opposed to wishing to maintain things as they are, especially in political matters. Some define the term by what Senator Bernie Sanders dictates in his all too familiar stump speech: pursuers of healthcare as a right, free education, economic equality and a livable wage, an end to systemic corruption and racism, and an end to corrupt government funding. It seems as though the latter is the most prevalent definition of progressivism although all do apply.

With this new banner and mindset, those who supported the vision helmed by Sanders’s candidacy, there was a widespread discovery of policies like “free/universal” or, more accurately phrased, reappropriated tax-funded healthcare and college. Figures like Nina Turner, Tulsi Gabbard, Susan Sarandon, Josh Fox, and Tezlyn Figaro moved beyond the circle of the politically aware and into mainstream consciousness, lines that only an election can blur. With these ideas and personalities, there was a boom in independent media to accurately cover events and topics where mainstream media companies the likes of MSNBC, ABC, NBC, MSNBC, FOX News would not deign to do so.

Interest in Sanders, the dubious showing of the Democratic Party during the primary season, and the roller coaster of the general election saw those in independent media receiving greater viewership. Established progressive voices like Amy Goodman, DemocracyNow, David Pakman, Thom Hartmann, David Sirota, Kyle Kulinski, Secular Talk, and HA Goodman saw great gains in viewership. Programs, personalities, and organizations like the Progressive Army, Benjamin Dixon, Anoa Changa, Esq., Nomiki Konst, Jimmy Dore, Jordan Chariton, Michael Tracey, Michael Sainato, Debbie Lusignan, Tim Black, and the like rose and became fixtures in the progressive news world. Political groups geared towards informing and enacting policy and running candidates like Our Revolution, Justice Democrats, Brand New Congress, MPACT, and Draft Bernie have also risen.

This massive transformation, the ideals behind it, and those informing it are the focus of this piece. This movement, sparked in principle and idealism, is in danger of falling into mediocrity because of unrestrained emotion and tribalism.

Purity vs Purpose

There is an underlying struggle within the progressive family: purity of ideals vs. purpose of ideals. The ills of money in politics are well-documented, with the corruption of candidates by corporate interests and by those already in Congress, in governorships, and in mayoral offices. Pelosi, Schumer, Clinton, Obama, Waters, Hatch, Ryan, Pence, McConnell, Soros, Koch. We know these names as synonymous with the disease of financial corruption and impediment to progressive policies. The banners of both the Democrats and Republicans also have this effect. The thinking behind this is backed by numerous examples, but the triggering effect of these names is also very dangerous. The sight of huge sums of money as well as the words “PAC” and “Super PAC” also have this effect. Money isn’t the core of influencing a politician. The love of it is. And that love is where I have understood the line to be between bought and principled politicians.

As a voter, a progressive, and a person who needs to be fully informed, OpenSecrets.org and Wikileaks are not my only or final sources and neither are my favorite journalists. In relying solely on these, you can not completely claim to know what you are talking about or fall into the trap of bias. Benjamin Dixon and Zach Haller taught me that lesson. Dixon, through one of his segments on The Benjamin Dixon Show and in an aside conversation, showed me I needed to temper my emotion (full disclosure, my hatred for what Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party have revealed themselves to be) into not just being a raging tweeter but to do something and here I am writing.

Haller’s influence was much more subtle. I quoted a tweet of his regarding the Clinton exposé “Shattered,” having never read the book, added context not remotely in the text to my tweet and someone called me on it. I read some of the book and was horrified. I had just jumped on a headline, made my own conclusion, and spread it out to the world without thinking. I deleted that tweet and, along with being completely embarrassed, I realized I could not just blindly follow trusted voices because that lent to me not researching and leaning to my own understanding. In sharing information with people, there needs to be as little bias and as much fact as possible. This leads me to my best and current example of the purity vs purpose issue: Democratic House Representative and progressive, Ro Khanna.

Newly elected to Congress in 2016, Ro Khanna describes himself under the tenets of Progressivism. No PAC money, no Super PAC money, no corporate influence on his voting, free college, getting money out of politics, universal healthcare, etc. In 2017, his voting record completely checks out. No votes against the people, none in favor for his donor-rich constituency in Silicon Valley, and recently pledged to Justice Democrats, an organization whose mandate is the eradication of Establishment Democrats, political corruption, and money in politics.

Only one problem. Khanna appears to have received funding from securities, investment, and tech corporations, and PAC/Super PAC money, or so some might believe without digging deeper. However, when looking through the corporate funds Khanna received, I learned quite a bit. Each company listed had a number of individual employee contributions, with a cap of $2,700 per donation. The totals gave me pause until I researched further and also remembered where Khanna’s constituency was, Silicon Valley, tech capital of the world.

The cost of living in such a place is astonishing and entrance pay into these tech companies can begin at as low as 71K per year, so a few grand for a politician you believe in when you’ve got it like that as a citizen is no big deal. And while it does give a glaring example to the wage gap, ask any progressive if they had funds to spare like that how many candidates would get a boost in funding? Sanders would have had billions in 2016 instead of the already staggering millions in fundraising he wasn’t supposed to achieve with $27 per donation. Simply citing these employee contributions as a corporate influence or PAC money is false and manipulative to those who should know better.

The Super PAC Californians for Innovation does have a history with Khanna. They formed to aid in his failed campaign in 2014 and sought to help again in his successful run in 2016, albeit with less money, but still more than $500,000. There was a caveat with their involvement in this most recent election it seems. Khanna had called off help from big donors, as he had stated, yet they continued to fundraise on his behalf and came through, in the form of radio ads, when blanket pleas for help were made in the final weeks of his campaign. There was also a racial component introduced by Mike Honda, Khanna’s opponent, that may have pushed up donations. He never saw a penny nor had he coordinated with them for any cash. Actually, Khanna is in debt from his campaign or was at last reading of OpenSecrets. Technically he didn’t take the Super PAC money, it was used without his consent as Super PACs aren’t supposed to deal directly with candidates or fund them directly and, in this case, there is no evidence to the contrary unlike other candidates with Super PACs.

But regardless of any of that, the most important part of Khanna’s progressivism is on display at www.votesmart.orga completely progressive voting record and a staunch stand against corporate influences and standing by his convictions. He is fulfilling the progressive PURPOSE.

Now, we can quibble whether his past history with money, or the Khanna/Clinton/TPP Wikileaks email, or an off-handed tweet about admiring Pelosi to stave off a McFeminist affects his actions or we can not waste that time, remember those issues, research his votes, respectfully pressure him to continue, and track his progress from where we stand. Because the TPP is dead, the politicking with Hillary is dead, and Khanna just cemented his pledge of no PAC money with the largest indie media audience in the country. He also put a target on his back with Justice Democrats that he was already earning in Congress before. If Khanna fails in keeping his word, he falls prey to the progressive wave in 2018. And do we allow this expectation of absolute purity cloud the field of potential converts (which Khanna is) or do we price ourselves out of the political game? Because whether it is called a PAC or a donation fund, someone with the love of money will be greedy and bow to the access of more funding allowing for anyone to gain office off of the progressive name and sell out. Money is not the root of the evil in Congress, it is the love of it and, for some, the addiction to it.

Khanna fundraised and held numerous town halls with his constituency from the wealthy area he lives in. That is not a crime. It is, again, indicative of income inequality, but not his fault. That funding has not affected his voting or his rhetoric and, while it is pertinent to be skeptical, we cannot chase the man with torches like the Frankenstein monster until he goes against the grain he has pledged himself to.

There are already Sanders detractors among us for the ‘94 Crime bill, backing Clinton after the damning DNC Wikileaks revelations, not pushing hard enough against the rigged 2016 primary, his aid in the “Russian hacking” narrative, and recently his statements on Palestine and Israel and most of us resist them for some reason. For some reason, those can be dealt with and pushed aside and I know why. Those things can be reasoned through because of Bernie’s record and his public pushes for what we, his constituents, demand. I support Sanders, but him not breaking away from the Democrats as soon as proof of rigging was made clear left me incensed. Learning Bernie had a Yay vote for the 1994 Crime Bill, was an X in my voter’s box no matter what his altruistic reasons were. And I would vote for Bernard Sanders any day of the week because I realize the perfect progressive doesn’t exist. We push whoever is as clean as we can find who will follow our rules.

Sanders falls into that category, as does Khanna. Khanna isn’t taking money in 2017, pledged not to, and has the voting record and the backbone to answer critics and back up his progressive rhetoric. Let’s focus on keeping him honest instead of slandering him, Justice Democrats, and other candidates we could be affecting with this absolute purity doctrine. Money will be a necessary force to move our country into a publicly-funded campaign system and to effect any real change. And if we give pause at every six degrees of separation from a Soros check allegation or a company we may not like without nuance, our progressive purpose will most certainly be delayed by it and we will continue to languish in enraged stagnation if not careful.

Tribal Personalities Threaten Progress

The Ro Khanna debate of purity vs purpose is one brought about by an even more troubling issue: the tribalism surrounding independent media and online factions of progressives. Let’s recap: The Young Turks had a segment with Michael Shure, John Iadarola, and Mark Thompson (whom I have taken to calling Space Ghost on Twitter for lack of knowing his name) regarding the DNC Lawsuit, the hearing of facts, and subsequent panel discussion. As many saw and felt, including me, there was some extremely loose and disrespectful talk about the legitimacy of the fraud suit brought against the DNC and the character of the plaintiff lawyers involved, Mr. and Mrs. Jared and Elizabeth Beck. I have watched this segment many times. It doesn’t piss me off how flippant the analysis was any less than the time before. That being said, the backlash to follow wasn’t completely warranted. The three panelists? Yes, drag their opinions. The network? Submit complaints about the panel coverage. Cenk Uygur and The Young Turks as a whole are DNC shills, establishment sellouts, and undercover Clinton operatives? Slow your roll. You will not disrespect my Ana Kasparian or Nomiki Konst that way. Also Jimmy Dore.

Tribalism is how you make that raucous leap from an independent media source to subverted mainstream media puppet.

RECAP: Uygur campaigned heavily for Bernie during the 2016 primary, opened rallies for the man, interviewed him numerous times, and unabashedly caped for Sanders on his network. The TYT family, due to shared political ideology, followed suit. He interviewed Jill Stein and Gary Johnson multiple times and gave third parties air time not seen on MSM. In the process of doing this, TYT made a deal with Univision for a 12-week televised college tour on the Fusion network, leading many to believe the owner of Univision, Haim Saban, now fully controls Cenk and Co. After the debacle of debate hiding, political hit pieces, and election fraud of the 2016 Democratic Primary, there was an unbelievable swell of anger at TYT, most exhibited by Jimmy Dore, Jordan Chariton, and Cenk himself even though during the lead up to the end of the primaries, Uygur made it clear he would vote Clinton to stave off Trump. That choice engendered a lot of hatred for Cenk and TYT, which I can understand ideologically, but not practically. I voted Stein since I couldn’t write in Sanders (AR law) but I always knew the ultimate choice was between Clinton and Trump. I refused to give them my vote based on principle but I knew my protest vote would be swallowed up by a cornucopia of Republican votes. Cenk chose to accept the reality he saw. I can’t be mad at that but, the opinion being what it is, he’s a sellout and a Clinton operative. Some think maybe he should have been more voracious in his Clinton coverage instead of the “Loser Donald” snippets. He could have, but really what would that have changed except for less Loser Donald segments (which would not have been a terrible thing)? We all knew about the corruption of the DNC, Jimmy Dore was voicing awesome and righteous anger while Jordan Chariton and Emma Vigeland were up to their eyeballs in Wikileaks. There was room for the main show to just follow the general election coverage. This ‘chink’ in the ‘credibility’ of TYT has allowed for the present justified DNC lawsuit backlash to take on the broader ugly, unnecessary, tribalist purity sickness, a search to find anything to destroy that which is not uniform to that thought, threatening to derail any unity and future candidates instead of healthy debate based on principle with no hard feelings.

Folks like HA Goodman and Tim Black have seized upon the legitimately ignorant May 1st DNC Fraud Lawsuit segment and turned it into a stupid Twitter/YouTube war against TYT. In response, Jordan Chariton, field journalist for TYT, decided to hit back with statements that he didn’t know who Goodman was, while acknowledging that he had interviewed Goodman.  Also in this video, Chariton mistook Black for Niko House, another progressive of color, most noted for uncovering DNC anti-Sanders activity in North Carolina during the primary. Yeah, even more stupid moves. Then Ro Khanna signs on to Justice Democrats and guess who has something to say? Goodman, Black, and co. with more claims of Cenk corruption, Saban control, and attacking Khanna and Justice Democrats as a whole as a dishonest, money-grubbing, establishment end run.

And it is at this point where I take extreme issue. Candidates beyond Khanna are a part of Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress, also slandered by being joined with JD. Cori Bush for Missouri’s congressional 1st district, Paula Swearengin up for Joe Manchin’s seat in WV, and who knows how many future candidates for office will be endorsed?

It’s cool to have disagreements, but when your issues start to affect the movement, there can be no allowance. It seems everyone already in politics is six degrees of separation away from any crony corporate mover and shaker or monied interest, even our heroes. Even new politicians, regardless of who endorses them, will face the lure of corrupting funds, being human and all. Our only means of action is to move by faith in a candidate’s word and proceed to follow and push their action.

This pissing contest based on hurt feelings and assailed credibility, now entering week 3, is going to drive those already in the purity quandary deeper within it and then there is nothing and no one pure enough to lead. Candidate suspicion is good, but we are approaching paranoia where we give large sums of money and names like Soros and Saban so much power, we recoil violently. It’s comparable to Hillbot Harry Potter obsession.

I have issues with The Young Turks too. Is it the four million dollars invested in TYT in 2014 by Buddy Roemer, a Republican that also believes in getting money out of politics with express agreement to not have editorial control over any content? No. Is it the two million dollars Goodman claims to have been collected while The Young Turks as an organization officially and actively wanted the DNC to get away with fraud with no empirical evidence? That same money TYT raised to pay for new investigative reporters like himself and not a cent was used elsewhere? No. Personally I don’t like the lack of regular Black journalists/panelists (Alonzo Bodden and dragging out Jayar Jackson from offscreen doesn’t count), but I’m not making slander videos about Cenk being a racist Cracka Ass Cracka and sending tweets hour after hour because of it and I am certainly not endangering the platforms of allies and future candidates to do it. And lo and behold, I get Andrew Jones added to the mix without doing any of that. Still not enough, Cenk, FYI.

Jared and Elizabeth Beck have an excellent case to argue against the DNC defrauding folks that donated to Sanders like me (kinda want that $15 back and justice) and more so highlighting the hubris and corruption within the Democratic Party to the world. Goodman is an excellent journalist. Chariton is an excellent journalist. Tim Black is good at what he does. Cenk Uygur is the leader of the biggest independent media platform and nothing like CNN for those prone to hyperbole and Kyle Kulinski is no Establishment shill.

This mess is discrediting those platforms like Secular Talk, Humanist Report, and The Jimmy Dore Show who do excellent work with no real aim but to have some get back. The energy wasted on this childish back and forth (which I really believe is just transferred anger about our recently shared two-year trauma) needs to stop. This fury wrought from 2016 dwelling within us is right and deserved. We were cheated and lied to by an organization, a party, the presidency, and a government that advertised fairness, defrauded us all, and now has the nerve to point the finger at us for our and their current disenfranchisement. That fury is being unleashed sporadically at one another over slight disagreements, differing views and opinions and stoked by some of those who inform and may be well-intentioned but are blinded by that same anger.

Well, we need to start tempering, forging that rage into focused actions against our actual enemy, the establishment. We should be expanding our reasoning, working within guiding principles, and forming alliances with those who may not be there with us, but are willing to learn. And willing to become more inclusive of alternate viewpoints within our progressive circle because this tribalism isn’t furthering discourse. It’s furthering discord.

And it seems like Tim Black is taking the first step, with a little help from yours truly and Zach Haller. Let’s continue down the path.


Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Chariton had not referenced having interviewed Goodman before in the Facebook video. This article has been corrected to reflect this.

Brentton Williams full time deliveryman trying to become a full time student again writer, musician, church volunteer, college degree seeker.

Brentton is a Guest Contributor to Progressive Army.

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Progressives: Purity and Purpose A Movement Against Itself