Until recently, it has always been the basic premise of progressivism that people are generally good, that no matter our race, religion, or class, the average person simply wants to take care of their families, have meaningful work, and be kind to their neighbors.
From Anne Frank to Martin Luther King Jr. and Barack Obama, this vision predominated. An individual’s flaws were not the central thing about them, but aberrations from their basic decency.
When confronted with wrongdoing, the impulse was to remember Christ’s injunction, “Father Forgive Them, They Know Not What They Do” and stay focused on broader efforts to reform laws and social systems.
Today’s activists start from the opposite perspective: that our fellow man is crooked, unethical or, to use the latest buzz word, “problematic.”
The most important thing about individuals is no longer their virtues, but their mistakes, no matter how relatively insignificant.
Sin is all around us, lingering in every off-color joke, contrarian political view, or, God-forbid, provocative newspaper column.
The key effort, then, is to continuously hold folks accountable and force them to “do the work” to improve and become something close to perfect moral beings. Because that’s what people really want in the midst of a global pandemic, record inequality, and the looming threat of climate change — to be asked to work even harder at being alive.
Of course, this approach introduces a key conundrum. Progressives have the goal of helping the oppressed, yet they also want to rain hellfire on those who screw up. Little do they know, in many cases, the recipients of their compassion and the targets of their scorn are one and the same.
In other words, it’s those who are suffering deeply who are the most likely to make mistakes.
Go visit a homeless shelter, a psych ward, a forgotten town in Appalachia. In such environments you’re not going to find perfect, innocent darlings, waiting to be saved by some idealistic Bernie Sanders supporter.
Folks in those situations are going through hell, battling every day just to survive.
And when you’re in that sort of predicament, when one’s life has become nothing more than a gaping wound, you mess up, sometimes grandly.
Perhaps you get a woman pregnant, then abandon her; maybe you take up alcohol and lose your job, forcing your family to the streets; perhaps one finds solace in extremist ideologies like white nationalism.
In any case, the statistics bear out this truth clearly. Where there is great suffering, there is great error, reflected in high crime rates, teenage pregnancies, vast unemployment, drug abuse and more.
The list of sins to tempt those trapped in the dark is endless. Only the finest saints among us can endure great tragedy without ever losing their virtue.
A true activist is able to see the dignity in the ne’er-do-well, to understand that we are something more than who we become at our worst moments. A true activist understands that what folks need is not ruthless criticism, but a second chance.
For if you believe that people are good at heart, you know deep down inside, their better angels are there, waiting to emerge.
Any idiot can judge their neighbor when he makes a mistake. There’s no wisdom in that. Canceling wrongdoers out of polite society does nothing but push them further into the darkness they’re already consumed by. What incentive does one have to change if they know redemption is impossible to attain?
The hypocrisy of today’s leftists shows one thing clearly: Too many of them don’t have the stomach for the social justice work they claim to cherish. Being a humanitarian is a beautiful thing, but to truly love people, one must be merciful.
Progressives are tolerant of nearly every aspect of life — be it race, gender, sexual orientation, or creed. Yet we are intolerant of the one element that unites everyone — the fact that humans are fallible, error-prone beings, who make mistake after mistake after mistake.
If you truly seek to heal the world, you must accept this reality, and love your neighbors anyway.
You must abide by the humble proposition that no matter what someone has done in this life, they deserve a way back home again, wherever they may be.
Just as a parent sets a candle by the door, in anticipation for their child’s return, we too must illuminate a path for the lost and broken in our country.
And when they return to us, the appropriate response is not criticism or judgement, but to love them as they deserve to be loved, and say, “I’m so glad you’re here, come and rest awhile.”
A mother’s grace, not the righteous anger of the revolutionary, is what will truly Make America Great Again.
If the left were to ever adopt that truth, and act on it, they’d win the kind of power last seen in Franklin Roosevelt’s day.
But I won’t hold my breath waiting for such a miracle to happen.
Joshua Heath is a Santa Clarita resident. “Democratic Voices” appears Tuesdays, and rotates among local Democrats.