by Anthony Flaccavento
For most Democrats, the singular question for 2020 is, Who can beat Trump? It’s certainly a question I consider regularly myself. But it’s the wrong one.
Don’t think for a moment that I underestimate the depravity and destructiveness of Trump and his administration. The damage they’ve done to our politics and economy, our courts and institutions in just over three years has been astonishing. I have no doubt that he’d be even worse in a second term – more reckless, more vengeful, even more calamitous for people and the environment.
But Trump is more of a culmination than an aberration.
Under his rule, the forty year-long project of WTF politics is now nearly complete: Wealth Trumps Fairness in virtually every dimension of our laws, institutions, courts, elections and governance. The rich are not just richer than they’ve ever been. They are also supremely powerful, embodying the ‘economic aristocracy’ about which the Founders repeatedly warned us (Their close alignment with the inverted, perverted political bloc we call ‘Christian evangelicals’ further extends their power).
Of course Trump has got to go. But the question is not, Who can beat Trump? It’s who will confront this economic and political aristocracy, and who can mobilize enough of the rest of us to win this fight? The candidate who answers that question is the one who will turn out working people, independents, young folks, even many rural voters. That’s because most of them know just how badly rigged the system is by and for these economic and political elites.
With just a few notable exceptions, Democratic politicians and strategists have avoided this question of power, choosing instead to work with Wall Street, to accommodate ever-bigger corporate monopolies, to assuage investors and engage big donors, and to ‘go slow’ on climate change legislation. Party leaders and pundits routinely denounce policy proposals that are bold, that get to the root of the problem as ‘extreme’, ‘impractical’ or ‘wishful thinking’. Republicans meanwhile, win elections promising radical change, and then work to deliver on it.
This Democratic strategy – timid, elite-driven, incremental – has won no allies among the increasingly dogmatic GOP, but it has fostered alienation and disengagement among millions of citizens – especially young people – who want clarity and action. They’re sick of the status quo, of business as usual. And rightly so. That’s because, as Ian Haney Lopez’s extensive research demonstrates, most people in the political middle are not “centrists.” Rather, they’re folks holding both conservative and progressive views, often on the same issues. What they want is respect for their own lives, and bold proposals that will make them better.
Virginia’s presidential primary is just four weeks away. Some candidates are promising “moderation” or a return to the Obama years of stability and incremental progress. But promising tweaks to a system so extremely skewed towards the rich and powerful, so immobilized by big money and lobbyists is neither practical nor a winning strategy. Instead, we should be asking, Who will confront the WTF politics of the economic and political aristocracy, and mobilize everyday people to win that fight? The candidate who best answers that question is the one most able to beat Trump.