2018 Election Day came and went, and Democrats did have something of a “blue wave”. Although it wasn’t quite a tsunami, the “wave” carried-in a new Democratic Party majority in the House Of Representatives, a fresh group of Democratic governors, and hundreds of new representatives in state legislatures around the country.
At this time, a few races are pending, meaning that the Democrats could add even a few more seats in Congress, and perhaps even another Governorship.
But will the Democratic Party be able to build on this success, and win even more in future elections, finally wresting control from Trump and the current far-right Republican coalition?
The unsatisfying, but honest answer is: Perhaps.
There are obstacles to success both OUTside and WITHIN the party, but those are for future articles.
Investigations Are Fine, but Should Not Be the Main Emphasis
There is currently much talk of various investigations of the GOP, at least several of which could be very helpful at showing the corruption of that party and damaging their image even further.
But that is not the most potent strategy the Dems could employ to beat-down the Republicans. If the Democrats depend mainly on investigations to battle the GOP, they will limit their own effectiveness in the struggle for power with the Republicans.
If the Democratic Party wants to continue to add to their 2018 election successes, the most powerful weapons the party can wield are POLICIES that actually help the vast masses of working people in America. Many of these folks, of all ethnicities, are trying desperately to keep from falling out of the middle class and into poverty.
The Democratic Party will need to employ a sincere populist appeal which is different in essence from the right-wing brand Trump and the GOP offer.
Two Kinds of Populism–Right and Left
Historian Timothy Snyder has coined an apt term for right-wing populism: sadopopulism. This is a brand of popular politics that actually sells pain and repression as it primary appeal. We see it in dictatorships and nations ruled by oligarchies. The key? Sadopopulism seeks scapegoats. The pain and oppression is always done to someone OTHER than the target audience, as in Trump’s vicious rhetoric about, and treatment of, “scary” immigrants, and Muslims, which appeals to race-obsessed, rural and Conservative Christian whites, the foundation of the current Trump/GOP coalition. It focuses less on actual policies of relief for the masses and appeals to their fears and angers foremost by feigning “defense” against a concocted enemy. It brings out the worst in people.
Meanwhile, the populism of the American Left is presently dominated by the ideas of Bernie Sanders and a desire for a return to New Deal-type policies that actually did elevate America’s middle and working classes starting before WWII. These citizen-oriented policies helped lead to a period of prosperity that reached a high point after that war.
Jobs were created for millions of people in a huge eruption of infrastructure spending which modernized America. Social Security gave pension payments to older citizens, helping millions of families survive economically in the Great Depression and after. The GI Bill helped millions of American war vets get a college education and transform their lives for the better.
These policies made possible the largest middle class the world had ever seen in any country.
The Democratic Party Changed in the 90s, but Is Now Weaker as a Result
But this way of lessening the wealth divide began to erode in the late 70s. This is when America saw the rise of so-called Neoliberal policies, which actually embody many ideas cherished and promoted by Reagan Republican Conservatives in the 1980s. The GOP heated-up its anti-government and anti-tax rhetoric to new, extreme levels.
The GOP pushed policies that included massive tax cuts, weakened Labor Unions, stripping Corporate regulations, privatization of Public assets, an ever-expanding military, Free-Trade policies and a de-emphasis on the social safety net, as well as the cutting of any environmental protections that could possibly diminish corporate profits.
Finally, defined-benefit pensions were eliminated from the private sector in the mid-80s in favor of 401K and similar accounts, which are obviously skimpier, and subject to the many fluctuations of the stock market.
In the 1990s, as a reaction, Bill Clinton led the victory-starved Democratic party in a new direction, dubbed “The Third Way”, sometimes called corporate centrism. Under Clinton, the Party actually absorbed some key Republican policies such as “Free-Trade” and de-regulation, which were pages taken right out of Reagan’s own policy-book.
These policies represented for Democrats a form of, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em“-type of mindset. The party did have some electoral success as a result, but stopped being seen as a “Party of The People”, as it became a kind of “GOP-Lite” party in terms of it’s new pro-corporate leanings and more conservative policies.
These policies included de-regulation of major industries (mass-media in 1996, and finance in 1999), as well as helping the GOP make a huge cut-back in Welfare and Aid To Families programs in 1996. The passage of NAFTA in 1994 was made possible by President Clinton forming an alliance with Republicans to finally pass President Reagan’s dream of a big, multi-country trade-deal. Millions of jobs were lost in America, industrial cities were devastated, and millions of Mexican families living in agricultural areas were severely hurt, causing a new, desperate wave of immigration into the US in the mid-1990s.
The Democratic Party moved well-away from being a New Deal-style “Peoples’-Party”, as it was for decades after WWII. The benefit to the party was a large new influx of corporate money to help win elections. But the big drawback was a new, restrictive level of big-business influence, which has now become a major limitatation to the party’s ability to muster a sincere populist appeal.
If these inside corporate influences can be overcome, the party can recover its ability to stand on policies that benefit average people rather than the wealthy corporate interests the party adopted back in the 90s.
It will not be easy; It’s going to take some backbone to accomplish this change.
Needs of the People Are Clear
The most desperate needs of The People can be summed up in two statistics:
#1. 62% of all bankruptcies in America result from unaffordable healthcare costs. And #2, college-debt now exceeds the total amount in dollars of credit-card debt in America.
Single-payer healthcare would eliminate that 62% entirely, removing a huge burden from the backs of America’s struggling middle class.
Greatly reducing, or even forgiving that college debt, would increase the standard-of-living for many millions of young people struggling to build economic stability in their own lives and be a part of the middle class.
Another policy that would obviously help mass-numbers of Americans is strengthening Social Security.
Also, millions of jobs could be created via a national infrastructure program to fix and update America’s roads, bridges, water systems, public parks and wireless internet systems, among other things.
These are programs that would tangibly help many millions of citizens, and would be policies that would represent a re-start of the Democratic Party’s FDR tradition of “bottom-up” economics that are aimed at directly helping the “little guy” and average worker.
These policies can be contrasted to just giving tax-cuts mainly to wealthy people and corporations at the top in the hopes of a “trickle-down” effect which is supposed to eventually help regular people. But as we have seen repeatedly since the 1980s, conservative “trickle-down” policies barely do this at all, in actuality, and can be seen now as a fraud.
It is past time to make way for a true progressive movement.
For a large “wish” list of progressive New-Deal-type policies for America today, check here:
Resistance to Progressivism in the GOP-Controlled Senate Can Be Turned-Around and Used Against the Republicans
The Dems should use the House as a political Howitzer over the next 2 years, blasting-off a whole series of bills aimed straight at the GOP-controlled senate. These would be written to give immediately-needed aid to America’s middle class, and importantly, these must include the rural middle class who get nothing from Trump but false promises and a steady diet of nasty sadopopulism.
A continuous series of New Deal-type people-friendly bills could illuminate how the GOP (which would predictably push-back nearly every bill they get from Dems) actually DOES NOT WANT to give people affordable healthcare or college, or generate new jobs through infrastructure spending. The Dems could pass bills in the House that would STRENGTHEN SS and Medicare, and the whole country could watch as the GOP and Trump stop every single one of those relief attempts in it’s tracks.
It could be very educational indeed for the masses.
Of course, the main message the Democratic Party must send to the American People at this time, is this: If you put the Democratic Party back in power in all 3 branches of government, we promise to actually pass these bills to help re-build America’s middle class and help YOU.
Sincerity Is the Key to Long-Term Democratic Success
Many voters will be skeptical, given the party’s tendency to lean to the corporate right-center since the early 1990s. But large numbers of these voters probably can be persuaded to give the Democrats one more chance at power. If the Democrats can regain power and bring a group of these policies into reality, greatly helping the middle class, the masses’ trust in the party can be restored.
The GOP could be pushed back into irrelevancy, perhaps for decades.
Part 2. Obstacles to Progressivism -Can the Democratic Party overcome them?