We do not know how history will view the 2016 election and its aftermath; only time and hindsight will tell us that. It’s possible it will be a messy bump in the road before we return to what qualified as normal beforehand. Perhaps it will be the beginning of a long, dark chapter in American history. Or perhaps it will be a turning point from which we can seriously address some of the issues plaguing our society, driven by the passion and fervor of those who oppose the direction taken by the current government.
One thing I think we have learned from 2016 is that the path this country is on is not sustainable and that many actions taken by our government, ruled by both parties over the past few decades, have created and exacerbated issues and divisions in our country. While the Republican Party shares much of the blame, the Democratic Party is not blameless. It has shifted from a party that was driven in large part by worker’s rights and protections, to one that is driven by fights for equality mixed with pushing the benefits of globalization. This has resulted in a not-inconsequential portion of the country feeling like the Democratic Party and liberals in general are more interested in environmental issues and free bathroom choice than addressing mounting job losses, stagnant wages, and rising costs.
Much of the Democratic Party (myself included) IS a “liberal elite” that lives on the coasts and is detached from the struggles of “middle America.” Having your presidential candidate say “we’re going to put a lot of coal miners…out of business” isn’t exactly going to endear you to coal miners and others in struggling industries, no matter how out of context that quote was. Yes, Hillary was talking about transitioning to clean energy and not leaving people behind, but even reading her whole statement, you see that very little of it was actually about helping those people. And that’s the problem. The Democratic Party has been treating the fallout from environmental regulations, technological advances, and globalization as afterthoughts.
When you’ve lost your primary job and are working part-time for half what you used to earn and don’t feel like the party you used to support really cares about what’s happening to you, you are going to start looking for other answers. When people hit hard times and feel as if the economy is a zero-sum game in which not everyone can get ahead, where it’s a battle between people to get a job and make ends meet, it’s easy to feel frustrated and start looking for scapegoats. And when a person looks back at a time in the past when things were better – for them – it’s easy to feel as though the changes that are happening around them – immigration, social change – are the cause of those problems.
For all its awfulness, Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric and “Make America Great Again” slogan tapped in to and harvested these feelings of frustration and resentment (and, yes, bigotry) felt by too many people in this country. Thankfully, many of his ideas and campaign promises will never come come to pass and, in any case, would do very little to help the people who supported him. The feelings of frustration and resentment continue now and will continue to exist in 2018 and in 2020.
It’s into this void of real change that progressives – and the Democratic Party – must step with a vibrant, forward-looking vision for America, a message that resonates across class and race and gender. It should not aim to appeal to those who truly believe that immigrants and minorities and “others” are to blame for the problems in America or those who think that the poor are at fault for their poverty, but it must show those who have been swayed by false messages that there is another, better path.
What should this vision be? Let me start with what I don’t think it should be. It cannot be one based on a set of policies each of which aim to solve one particular problem or cure a particular ill. It cannot be based solely on advancing individual minority rights or gender equality or saving the environment. Nor can it be based around single-payer healthcare, infrastructure, or other line-item projects.
Let me be clear, minority rights and gender equality and saving the environment are hugely important issues and must remain integral goals in the overall platform. And single-payer healthcare and infrastructure are worthwhile projects to be discussed and sought after. But the vision needs to be bigger than any of those things. It needs to be a vision of the America we want to live in, the country we want the next generation to grow up in. It must be the foundation of the platform, a statement of principles from which will flow the many and varied policies and actions that will lead the country in a better direction.
I believe in an America:
Where each and every person will be free to live their life as they choose, provided it does not infringe on the rights of others to live theirs
Where each and every person is afforded the same Constitutional rights and given equal treatment and protection under the law
Where each and every person will receive a good education and be offered a genuine opportunity to succeed
Where each and every person will receive a measure of financial security and good medical care, regardless of their ability to pay for it
Where those who have succeeded understand that helping to provide for those who have not creates a better society
Which treats the natural beauty and resources of the nation as common goods to be protected, enjoyed, and used responsibly
Which welcomes all those who want to be a part of it
This is the America I believe in.