The image of America as “a shining city on a hill” (or a similar phrase) has been a staple of conservative political rhetoric for several decades. In a Tuesday piece for The New Republic, Matthew Pratt Guterl, a professor at Brown University, adapted the metaphor for leftist domestic use. Guterl urged blue states to become “laboratories of…hope,” in contrast to red states, which he claimed are “laboratories of anti-democracy—as many have been, in a way, since the days of slaveholding and Jim Crow.”
“For the past 20 years,” argued Guterl, “Republicans…have used state governments not merely to slow down liberalism, but to turn it to dust and ash in the broad center of the country. In the so-called red states, liberalism is now often relegated to a kind of folklore-ish local practice in college towns and mid-sized cities, while formal, statewide policy is strictly and stridently conservative.”
On the other hand, he wrote, inspiration for “those of us who care about an equitable civil society, who believe in a just world” is found on the coasts: “The nation as a whole seems no longer interested in celebrating any vision of equity, justice, and mutual respect. We need new symbols desperately. Blue states—especially those with democratic supermajorities and friendly neighbors, like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, California and Oregon—can be those symbols. And they can turn that symbolism into meaningful practice and policy.”
Guterl praised two Democratic governors: Rhode Island’s Gina Raimondo, for pledging that a Donald Trump presidency would “provide a greater sense of urgency for the work that I do and for the values that we hold dear, to protect them even more because we realize we need to,” and California’s Jerry Brown, who “promised to turn climate science into a statewide enterprise if the federal government mothballs such research. ‘If Trump turns off the satellites,’ Brown said, speaking to a crowd of scientists last month in San Francisco, ‘California will launch its own damn satellite.’”
In Guterl’s opinion, such states should go big and bold:
These blue state laboratories must not become guardians of the status quo ante Trump. The goal here shouldn’t be some centrist Clintonian paradise, nor should it be to resurrect the vitalism of the 1950s and 1960s, engineered for an America that no longer exists anywhere but in the white supremacist dreamscapes of the right. It should be to imagine and build the best conceivable civic landscape for everyone in the state…to move so swiftly and so powerfully in the direction of progress that we become a symbol of what this country—what any country—can be.