What would a progressive society look like? The Tricentennial Manifesto

The Tricentennial ManifestoOne of my lists is currently engaged in a fairly dynamic discussion about “what is a progressive?”

In thinking about the issue, I realized that it might help to ask the question a slightly different way: what would a progressive society look like? Maybe I can better understand what it means to be progressive in 2010 if I reverse-engineer the definition from a vision of the future where things work the way they ought to.

I have argued that the success of the progressive movement hinges on seriously long-term thinking. It’s not about the 2012 elections or the 2016 elections or even the 2020 elections – those fights are about the battle, not the war.

Instead, if we do things properly, if we concentrate on and win the war, what does America look like on our Tricentennial? The following 40 articles suggest some ideas.

The Tricentennial Manifesto, v1.0

  1. In 2076, every citizen should be educated to his or her highest potential. This education should not be a function of the citizen’s ability to pay, but should be treated as the nation’s investment in its own future.
  2. In 2076, no citizen should go hungry due to poverty.
  3. In 2076, all citizens should take for granted access to basic, comprehensive health care.
  4. In 2076, the same restrictions against government intrusion into a citizen’s life accorded by the US Constitution should safeguard us against similar abuses by private, corporate and other business entities.
  5. In 2076, every business operating in America should act in accordance with “triple bottom line” principles: maximizing profit must be balanced by an equal responsibility to serving the best interests of people and the planet.
  6. In 2076, bias based on race, gender, class, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or any other form of categorization by which we have historically restricted opportunity for other citizens should be nothing more than an embarrassing artifact of our past. Any right enjoyed by one citizen or group of citizens should be enjoyed by all.
  7. In 2076, every citizen should face a landscape of opportunity that’s defined by a level playing field. We accept that inequities will always exist and that some people will always have a head start in whatever they pursue, but the relative advantages of one person or group should not mean a corresponding disadvantage for another. Some may be positioned to achieve more, but all should be empowered to achieve enough.
  8. In 2076, all technological development should be undertaken subject to a professional ethical code that emphasizes social value instead of mere profit motive.
  9. In 2076, US foreign policy will be conducted in such as way as to promote as much goodwill as possible. While international conflict is likely to be an unfortunate reality for the foreseeable future, it should be recognized that foreign policy based on military domination and the establishment of corporate consumer markets are guaranteed to breed ill will that fosters more conflict over time.
  10. In 2076, Americans should view themselves as citizens first and consumers last.
  11. In 2076, the world should be free of weapons of mass destruction.
  12. In 2076, citizen participation in the democratic process should be ubiquitous and all votes should be informed votes.
  13. In 2076, a citizen’s satisfaction with life should no longer be a function of how much money he or she spends on material distractions.
  14. In 2076, our educational system will assure that our right brains are nurtured as well as our left, preparing students to be successful in life as well as their careers.
  15. In 2076, America’s standards for leadership and public service should be so high that only the brightest and best even bother to seek public office.
  16. In 2076, America should be governed with a unanimous respect for the separation of church and state.
  17. In 2076, our media and information infrastructure should serve the public interest, not the private interest.
  18. In 2076, we should assure full employment through an aggressive program of public works that allows those who might be otherwise unemployable an opportunity to make meaningful contributions to their communities.
  19. In 2076, we should support a system of mandatory national service.
  20. In 2076, our military service burdens should be borne equally by citizens from all socio-economic classes.
  21. In 2076, citizens should have a firm grasp of the precepts underpinning the scientific method, allowing them to differentiate between belief and knowledge.
  22. In 2076, a vast majority of Americans should see stewardship of the environment as a preeminent priority for all public and private decision making.
  23. In 2076, the dominant mode of public religious expression and practice should center on social justice instead of moral repression.
  24. In 2076, the engines of power should respond to a deep understanding of societal needs instead of the depth of its lobbyists pockets.
  25. In 2076, a significant majority of all local, regional and national travel should be conducted via an integrated public transportation infrastructure.
  26. In 2076, we will not have eliminated the inherent corruption that surrounds power. However, we should have evolved our political institutions and processes to a point where the locus of power is more thoroughly embedded in the social infrastructure than in individual candidates and office-holders.
  27. In 2076, business institutions should have replaced their operational emphasis on growth with a comprehensive focus on sustainability.
  28. In 2076, our air and water should be as clean as it was in 1776.
  29. In 2076, most citizens will believe that free societies work best when people place as much emphasis on their responsibilities as on their rights.
  30. In 2076, our scientific communities should devote a significant amount of their resources to pure research.
  31. In 2076, public policy and programs at all levels of government will devote at least as much time to addressing the root causes of crime as they do on prosecution and punishment.
  32. In 2076, America should spend more on education than it does the military.
  33. In 2076, citizens, governments, businesses and civic institutions should be more concerned with needs than wants.
  34. In 2076, our dependence on fossil fuels should be at an end, replaced by a variety of sustainable green technologies and, if we dedicate sufficient effort to it, a long-term energy solution based in fusion technology.
  35. In 2076, the manufacturing sector of the US economy should be vibrant, driven by a focus on infrastructure and sustainable technology production.
  36. In 2076, domestic violence, human trafficking, and similar crimes against persons will be aberrations.
  37. In 2076, all elections will be publicly funded, reducing corruption and opening elected public service to the qualified from all walks of life.
  38. In 2076, America should lead the world by example instead of force.
  39. In 2076, all Americans should be fluent in both English and Spanish, as well as another language.
  40. In 2076, Americans should valorize performance elitism and be generally unimpressed by privilege elitism.

Feel free to suggest additions or amendments. You will be credited if we include your ideas in future iterations of the Tricentennial Manifesto.

Cat White and Mike Sheehan contributed to this document.


  • paula barrett

    In 2076 humans shall have been taught to coexist with and to respect all other living creatures.

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  • Interesting and impressively complete list.

    Just yestereday, I realized that most of my series of posts–George Will, Palin, and Barack, are part of a series working on the same issue. What is a progressive/liberal, really? Why I am one? Am I truly one, or just someone appalled by the people who call themselves conservatives?

    My challenge with progressivism, and with this list, is the Houseman rule. “Anyone who is a conservative at 20 has no heart, and anyone who is a liberal at 40 has no head.” Or something like that. That is, “Is what we want attainable?” Are we all heart and no head?

    Or more carefully worded, I think a fundamental marker of progressive thought is that we start from an ideal (2076) and work backwards, and, i would argue–a fundamental marker of conservatism is they start from the present and inch forward, often reluctantly. Not sure of the answer, but it sounds like you are wandering around the same idea space.

    Based on comment-volume, not sure anyone but you and me is obsessed with this, but I am finding it valuable in helping me sort out my own thinking.


    • My challenge with progressivism, and with this list, is the Houseman rule. “Anyone who is a conservative at 20 has no heart, and anyone who is a liberal at 40 has no head.” Or something like that. That is, “Is what we want attainable?” Are we all heart and no head?
      Oh dear – you’ve inadvertently internalized the conservative frame. Look, everybody has a utopia. Conservatives have them just like we do. And none of them are fully attainable. But look at the assumption embedded here: conservatives are smart and practical, while liberals are compassionate, but hardly in touch with the real world.
      Fine. Take that premise and, using the actual real-world results of conservative policy actions in recent years, prove it. If you can’t – and you can’t – then that suggests you need to go back to the silent assumptions feeding the way you look at the issue, right?
      Or more carefully worded, I think a fundamental marker of progressive thought is that we start from an ideal (2076) and work backwards, and, i would argue–a fundamental marker of conservatism is they start from the present and inch forward, often reluctantly. Not sure of the answer, but it sounds like you are wandering around the same idea space.
      Heh – I’d argue that they start with 1676 and inch backward, but that’s probably too snarky to be helpful… 🙂

  • Whoa, Nellie. I didnt mean practical and smart (it was the Houseman quote that made it seem that way, I know.) I meant practical.

    I admire the conservatives willingness to abandon principle at a moment’s notice and think it’s a very practical approach–smaller government, except for handouts to farmers and defense contractors. Less government involvement, except in social issue. Separation of church and state–except if the church is Christian, etc.

    I think believing people are good and want to do the right thing is naive, and believing people are venal, stupid, superstitous bigots (as the conservatives do) is imminently practical.

    Although perhaps you’re right about them having a vision, and it’s 1676. Is that when Cotton Mather was terrorizing Boston? Or maybe it’s Alabama 1850 or Iran circa 1985.

  • I hate to deficate in the punch bowl but by 2076 the Vatican and the Royal families will have moved all of the wealth out of this country into Russia and will be ruling the world from there while eyeballing Canada as their next move. America will be another in the long list of once great, but now, banana republics. Fight now or condem your children to slavery.

  • A Utopian planet that retains capitalism?
    Not gonna happen. And it’s deluded to think you can humanize an unjust economic system.

  • ghostdcommander

    Just start a Progressive party now, not tomorrow. Change your voter registration to Progressive, organize in each community, elect the most intelligent, knowledgeable, and ethical person to run for political office.

    Wishful thinking is an exercise of futility. We need action, action, action!

    Where do I sign up?

  • Pollyanna Sunshine

    I think there’s a difference between wishful thinking and having an ideal to work towards, and I think this is a good summary of most of the ideals I think we should be heading towards. It’s also worth noting that a lot of these are things that other countries already have, and some of them are things that the US used to be fairly close to having before the 1980s (although certainly there were always a lot that were completely far away–e.g. the whole “guns and butter” thing was sucktastic on the gun front, but far better on the butter than anything we’ve got now).

    I’m still not sure where 2076 as a goal fits with your previous 2050 etc. arguments–personally I think we have to start moving as strategically as possible toward these goals, and I do not think that letting the conservatives take over further until the entire system collapses and makes the need for change undeniable. Really, that already happened in 2008–the problem is that when the system collapses, some people think the solution is to move forward and others think it’s to roll the clock back ever farther. Only a constant pressure to move forward toward goals like these is going to get us anywhere near thaem.

  • 2050, 2076, whatever – at this level it’s just a number. But whatever the number is, you don’t get there by waiting to start. In my mind, our drive to the 2076 vision is already 30 years behind schedule.

  • Not sure that it’s empirically true that much was better before 1990. Perhaps the income equality gap, but not much else. I think the idea that the past was better, along almost any dimension, simply isnt supported by the data. Cato Institute does a great book called “It’s getting better all the time,” which is really illuminating and certainly rocked my entrenched Progressive pessimism.

    The “other countries” argument is also one that eludes me. I think the counter argument to that is “OK, move to Canada (or Australia or Israel or Germany or France or Russia, etc) is a valid one.” If we really think other countries are better, and if it’s that important to us, then in today’s mobile world we should relocate there. Millions of people relocate to the U.S. every year for better economics and political environments. The counter should also be true. The fact that we don’t suggests to me that having conservatives run the country must be like the weather, something we want to complain about but are unwilling to do anything about. It’s like my observation about blacks moving from Chicago to the south. A bad political climate much be less onerous than 41 inches of snow.

    OK, I am bracing myself for the inevitable counter-argument around “better to stay and try to improve this country than just give up and leave.”

  • In 2076, America and the rest of the world will be a rotting shit hole, ravaged by war and greed. The plutocrats in charge have had seven generations to unroll their work across the globe already, and they’ve done a damn awesome job so far!

    Nothing left to do but sit back, let the world economy implode and then watch the population plummet.

  • In 2076, there should be a permanent, international base on the moon.

  • @Sam, ref: Moving to a better place.

    For most Americans, moving to another country would be pretty difficult. I know it would be for me.

    I was stationed in Germany and would have stayed there if two things: 1) I could speak any European language and 2) I had confidence I could support myself reliably from the moment I was discharged from the service.

    I loved it there. But I don’t speak anything but American. Maybe that’s a lame excuse but I like this country less and less every day. Unfortunately, my dislike of the US hasn’t exceeded my comfort-level of living here vs. fear of making the move to the point of motivating me to do anything about it.

  • What?? No death panels? No mandatory abortions? No reserved lanes for the gays? Where is the progressive future I was promised by Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck?

  • Hi Guys, got here by way of Crooks and Liars.

    The list is indeed impressive and reminds me of a classic thought experiment I was taught in one of my Political Science classes at University:
    “A new civilization of people is being created on the moon at a base that has just been built and you have been put in charge of creating the rules that will govern that society. Before you start, however, you should know that the teleportation system that will transfer each individual to the moon, including yourself, has a serious flaw in which you may or may not be disabled, change gender, race, height, etc. Knowing that you and millions of other people will have to live on this new base under circumstances that may or may not resemble the life they currently have, you can either design a society that benefits everyone equally, or one that will give you (or a certain group of people) an advantage over everyone else.

    Depending on one’s political affiliation, the results are fascinating, especially when people suddenly realize that the advantages they currently enjoy – health, good looks, wealth, etc. – may not be present when they arrive on the moon. It also serves to prove that building a society is a hell of a lot tougher than you think – infrastructure, means of service and trade, healthcare, etc. And this experiment doesn’t even deal with an even more important problem, the essential eco-system provided by and involving the environment, plants and animals, something that is all too frequently ignored by conservatives at our peril.

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  • #9 “In 2076, US foreign policy will be conducted in such as way as to promote as much goodwill as possible. While international conflict is likely to be an unfortunate reality for the foreseeable future, it should be recognized that foreign policy based on military domination and the establishment of corporate consumer markets are guaranteed to breed ill will that fosters more conflict over time.”

    That’s nice of you, but living in Mexico — the second largest source of U.S. foreign oil, a goodly chunk of your minerals, etc. — there needs to be something about the U.S. living within its own limits and not depending on others’ resources. No reason WE in countries like Mexico, Brazil, India, etc. have to continue to make sacrifices so you can enjoy the American Way of Waste.

    And, that’s not good will, it’s survival.

  • In 2067, communism and totalitarianism, as presented and sought after in this article will be a thing of the past, looked upon as a barbaric and coercive way of organising a society.

    In 2067, freedom comes, at last.

  • I agreed with socialistcafe.com — capitalism cannot exist and/or flourish in a society that is equal, sustainable, conscientious, progressive, etc because it is in of it self none of those things.

    Anyone ever read the sci-fi novel Woman on The Edge of Time by Marge Piercy? While it is fiction based in the far future, it does paint a utopian world that holds many progressive values without the trappings of modern society, i.e. the crutch of capitalism, extreme wealth and resource use, etc. On good days I believe we could create a world like that, if forced to.
    Check it out!

  • Sounds great, but everything is pointed in the opposite direction. “Progressive” has become a dirty word, a lot of this fueled by the Glen Becks and the Tea-Party. Isn’t the whole point of human endeavour to progress, better ourselves? So why this anti-progressive stance? What’s the alternative? To regress?

  • What’s amusing is the sheer number of these goals that can’t be achieved (starting with #1,) merely because people are people, not androids.

    I do not care if you have the most “progressive” educational system in the world, with unlimited money and the world’s greatest teachers, you cannot educate somone who is not interested in learning. And there are far too many of those, and there always will be.

    You cannot eliminate all potential weapons of mass destruction, unless you first eliminate technology and ambition and fear. (And Near-Earth Asteroids.) But if you do that… you eliminate humanity.

    Maybe we should focus on other things. How about…

    By 2076, we should have in place a network of ground-based collectors and solar power satellites that will gather and collect enough cheap energy from orbital space to power… well, everything. (PopSci says we can do this by 2040)

    By 2076, we should have developed the capacity to mine a near-earth asteroid for raw materials. There’s at least 10,000 of those. Probably more like 100,000. The small ones contain around a trillion dollars of rare-earth metals, and you can “despoil” them all you want for they have no ecosystem to ruin.

    By 2076, we should have improved the print-fabrication technology that we now use mainly to build models out of resin so that we can build anything that has a pattern that can be programmed in, out of whatever raw material we desire… and miniaturize that technology so that any home can have one.

    We can then run our “replicators” using unlimited asteroid-mined material, and power them with that unlimited fusion reactor in the sky… and totally uproot the scarcity-based economic system forever.

    Pretty much everything you want to achieve can be more easily arrived at after you achieve those goals than it will be before.

    Undoable? Bologna. We went from Wright Brothers to Space Shuttles in less time.

    Of course, we won’t, because it’s easier and more short-sighted to keep throwing money down “social” wells than to spend it on something that ambitious that will take that long.

    And that’s what we humans do. Analyze the problem, choose the solution that makes the least sense, then do it.

    The future belongs neither to the Ferengi (the ultimate Capitalists) nor the Borg (the perfect Socialists.) I just hope it belongs to the humans (everybody in between.)

  • slaggingham – While I understand your skepticism about people typically seeking only to serve their own personal interests, almost every election in the US has proven that they in fact vote based on their ideology, not what will actually benefit them.

    The ground-breaking book by Tom Franks called “What’s the Matter with Kansas” perfectly illustrated how Democrats and Progressives were the ones who would have helped out the State the most, while the GOP and Conservatives were doing everything they could to actually hurt them. Guess which party the people of Kansas keep voting for?

    People say they want to vote for the party that will reduce the size of government, reduce spending, and reduce the deficit. So they vote for the Republicans who consistently, since Reagan and before, have done the exact opposite on every count. It didn’t matter that the GOP did the exact opposite of those goals while controlling all 3 branches of the government under Dubya. It didn’t matter that Conservatives themselves admitted that their party did the exact opposite. It didn’t matter that 9 years of tax cuts still resulted in the worst recession in the 1930’s and that Republicans still insist that they will work despite creating more catastrophic debt. It didn’t matter that the CBO and Alan Greenspan both went on record stating that the ENTIRE debt would have been paid off by now without the tax cuts. Knowing all of the above, voters still gave the House of Representatives to the Republicans and reduced the Democratic majority in the Senate.

    Believe me, if people will believe that, they’ll believe in anything – including a Progressive agenda that actually does what it says it will do, not the opposite.

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