three views of the Democratic Party when democracy is at risk

View #1: The same two parties have alternated power since 1854 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Today, the most serious threat to small-d democratic norms and institutions comes from the Trump Administration, and the Democratic opposition is an essential counterweight. A Democratic House in 2018 could begin serious investigations; a Democratic president in 2010 2020 would end the Trump era. You may or may not agree with the platform of the Party, but it’s a big tent, and you have your choice of intraparty factions to back, from Sen. Manchin to Sen. Warren. Moreover, any Democrat would endorse positions on some issues that are preferable to those of the Trump Administration. The Party is accountable to communities most threatened by Trump: for instance, half the voting delegates at the Democratic National Convention were people of color. That fact pushes the Party to defend basic rights for all. The Democratic Party is a bulwark of democracy; it must win the elections of 2018 and 2020.

View #2: At the root of our problems is partisanship. Most of us (including me) use partisan labels as heuristics for assessing policies, candidates, news sources, and opinions. As a result, we are prone to misunderstanding the situation and demonizing half of our fellow Americans. “Partisanship is a helluva drug.” What we need is less reliance on party labels and more cross-partisan or non-partisan dialogue. Maybe it would be better if more Democrats won elections, but that is up to the Party apparatus and should not be our focus as concerned citizens.

View #3: The party duopoly stands in the way of progress, for reasons specific to our moment. Once industrial unions declined and working-class whites migrated to the GOP, we were left with two parties controlled by economic elites. Main Street business interests and extractive industries like coal and oil control the GOP, drawing votes from working-class whites who are not likely to see their interests served. Highly educated coastal elites control the Democratic Party, with votes from people of color who have no better choice. The result is hard-wired neoliberalism, with modest distinctions between the parties on civil rights and environmental regulation. Democracy (in the sense of government that responds to mass economic needs) requires a major reorientation of the whole duopoly. Trump actually enables that in a way that Hillary Clinton could not, in part because of his potential to blow up his own party.

For those keeping score, these three views are most consistent with the first, sixth, and second boxes in my flowchart (below). They can be posed as stark alternatives, demanding a debate. But it’s possible that they all contain truths and that we need people working on all three.

This entry was posted in 2018 election, populism, Trump on by .

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.