Harnessing Outrage: Lessons On Squandering The Fire In The Belly

Amid the aftershock of Hillary Clinton's bizarre loss to the ugliest American values, we turn to the lessons of the 2008 election success. Eight years ago, hope fueled progressives with an energy not seen for generations, and the squandering of that energy offers insight into ways that the opportunity for success can be lost without populist momentum.

In 2008, liberals and progressives, felt the power of "Yes, we can!" as much in the optimism of the "yes!" as in the unifying "we." Organized into an elegant, successful network, progressives eagerly stepped forward to shoulder the heavy lift of change.

Progressives, Independents, and even Republicans distributed campaign buttons, blogged their hearts out, and gave passionate testimonials touting the audacity of Barack Obama, and how, by gum, by golly, we MUST put our backs to the wheel and make this man our president! Then, hip-hip-hurray, it all paid off and we-the-people accomplished something unprecedented. For many Americans, finally, an evolved consciousness triumphed over a maddening political carnival of disingenuous manipulation, greed, and bigotry.

No more feeling painfully or powerlessly American as after 9-11. Instead, at last, a palpable sense of productive Americanism infused buoyancy into many a citizen's step. It seemed that with Obama at the helm, we-the-people could stop wars, halt the calving icebergs, turn racism in its tracks, and cure our young so that they might thrive in a vibrant new educational system grounded in the critical thinking skills needed to finally achieve world peace. The energy of the country sizzled, giddy with accomplishment and possibility of being capably, power-FULLY American. We made homemade pizza and lit sparklers and everything. We believed WE could change America. (Well, we-the-left did, but we-the-right, not so much.)

In the end, it was perhaps the squandering of their will to help that exposed fertile ground for unabashed conservative obstructionism, and the shedding of Democratic congressional seats in the following years.

: It's hard to say how or why the wind left the sail, but perhaps it was as "FOR RENT" signs plopped into the windows of campaign headquarters and activists were left to disperse and wander home. Now what? Without further call to action for change, we were sent back to being spectators, and to make a success of that new role. Despite having stumped for their new favorite gladiator, his activists now threw Obama to the lions before retreating to the stands for some good old-fashioned heckling. Collectively retiring to the proverbial Barco-lounger, we very quickly resorted to eating popcorn as we watched our politicians herd cats and thunk each other like stooges on the tube. After all, there was no rallying call to arms - to pick up our pens and take to our keyboards. The progressives' weapons of choice lay more dormant than not, and to be fair, we let them.

Progressive activists regressed, not quite to their former apathy, but certainly to their former elemental impotence, and, perhaps, to a reluctant cynicism. How come Barack Obama ain't done this or that? HEY!!! Where's our peace and prosperity and we thought you were gonna prosecute Bush for war crimes, and why didn't you insist on single payer and I really thought you oughta start with public option, I really did!! Heckle, heckle. Waving a chicken bone at the television screen, we groaned like sports fans. "Why's it TAKING so long? What'd he do with his mojo? What a disappointment!" MSNBC threw the "disappointment card" into the universe with increasing regularity, neglecting to firmly tether his failures to Republican obstructionism, and pitching Fox red meat that begged for a jeering retort: "HA! See - even the liberals can see he's bad for the country!" The screeching logic of Fox News maintained, "the left thinks he's too far right, therefore he's a socialistic Antichrist!" offering yet another argument for re-instituting critical thinking in our schools.

The squandering of positive energy created a vacuum for a disgruntled restlessness in the face of heavy challenges and formidable obstacles. Yet it seemed our leaders thought to accomplish it all on their own; that they could pack up the campaign tent and send us back to our backsides. In essence, they squandered what they had in the bag while trying to gain the impossible.

So, there we were, with all that pent up energy, still thrumming with adrenaline, confidence, and a sense of power and accomplishment, and as our leaders turned to court the un-court-able, they sent us home to fizzle out . . . to become distracted by other voices inside our heads and on our walls convincing us that perhaps we really CAN'T - maybe he wasn't such a good idea - maybe he didn't mean what we thought he did. All that energy - all that "organized advocacy" now just sitting there, criticizing, grumbling instead of pulling together to make things happen. Sure, there were those still striving to be heard, and we did gather a second wind during the healthcare debates. In general, however, on the long march to the 2016 elections as Americans listened for the mighty voice and energy of the 2008 Obama activists . . . .


We all know what happened next. The right found their mojo in the form of a wolf in Trump's clothing, and hell in a handbasket now sits with a gaudy gold lame' bow on the welcome stoop of the White House. We grieve for the Bernie movement, perhaps mostly because of his innate talent for rallying American hope.

Instead, the Clinton campaign lumbered under the half-hearted, tepid momentum of a "Surely-Not-Trump" sentiment, and it simply wasn't enough.

Now, from the ashes, a new energy swells, demanding to be honored and harnessed. No more do we have the luxury of light-spirited organic hope and inspiration. We will have to work through a rather agonizing emotional defeat, as well as defending policy and ideology. It stinks. It really does; but apparently hitting rock bottom was our destiny, because, as the map in the mall says, "You Are Here" and, it appears, we are plummeting.

Now we must call upon our progressive leaders to lead. We need them all, because each member of that cast of characters speaks to us in ways that are uniquely motivating and which carry a facet of a unifying vision.

We call upon them to believe in us, and not to squander this new energy dominated by outrage and dread. It is more complex than the easier energy of hope, because it requires a tempering refinement. It will be stronger, and perhaps more mature because it is a serious soulful cry, and more than a zippety-do-dah hurrah. The climb from rock bottom requires hard work, sweat, and sacrifice; indeed, the toil of suffragettes and civil rights workers must now become our work as well. What once our forefathers and foremothers fought to achieve, we must fight to hone and retain.

Perhaps in losing to our lowest common denominators, the change we believed in was not what YOU could do alone; it was what WE could do together!

So, we urge you to call us to arms and give us chores. Haul out your brilliance and load it into that marvelous magic teleprompter that makes them all so crazy-jealous but which they now use with regularity!

Whip us into a frenzy with your inspiring rhetoric, point us in the right direction, organize our talents, and lay out tasks that newly frame the American vision. Harness our outrage and fear and temper it with hope. Insist that we become the needed change; the healthier ground, please, and soon. Don't let us become accustomed to rock bottom amid the rock bottom feeders. Don't squander your best chance of empowering our country! Don't squander us . . . and note to "US" . . . up and at 'em, and off that barco-lounger! There's work to be done, and we're burning daylight.