Things Democrats Keep Bickering About:
- Whether Bernie or Hillary Should Have Been the Nominee and Why Can’t The Other Side Just Get Over It?
- Whether The Party Has a Compelling Message, and If Not How Can It Get a Compelling Message?
- Which Trump Nominees Should be Blocked and How?
- That One Time When Republicans Did That Thing To A Democrat That Everyone Thought Was Unfair and Also Probably Racist and Don’t You Also Think it was Racist?
Things Democrats Should be Worried About:
- The Electoral System That Is Dying a Very Public, Very Embarrassing Death.
Let’s address each of these in turn, and explore exactly how unhelpful each of these distractions is:
Bernie v. Hillary. This debate falls into one of two categories: people who supported Hillary and who wish that Bernie supporters would just move on with their lives and get back into lockstep with the party, and people who believe that being in lockstep with the party was the problem with this election cycle in the first place. Here’s the problem with these arguments: they are focused on these personalities, not on the systemic problems with the Democratic Party which permitted this debacle to happen in the first place. Say what you will about Hillary’s qualifications for the job (she had, by all objective measures, the most experience) but she was the wrong candidate for this time. Period. She lacked the populist zeal that America wanted in this election, and she lost because of it. Unless you’re into alternate history sci-fi timelines, it really doesn’t matter whether Bernie would have been the better option in the general election. He didn’t get there, and rather than focus on why, we should be focused on how the Democratic Party is going to become more responsive to the barometer of national temperament. Turn this argument into a productive one that moves past Hillary and Bernie and instead focuses on how the next generation of leaders will be chosen and make sure that the system includes mechanisms for responding to whatever meta-elements are winding their way through American politics at any given moment.
The Compelling Democratic Message. This is one of the more mysterious ones. Democrats can’t seem to reconcile what they “know” about the world with the fact that they’ve lost and they’re going to continue losing. Here in Houston, the local public radio station interviewed a local precinct chair about why her incredibly diverse precinct went for Trump. She simply claimed that this was impossible to understand. It’s blind adherence to these shibboleths of Democratic dogma that are going to continue to defeat the party from within. While Democrats are busy assuming that diverse = democrat, Republicans are no longer paying lip-service to their ideal of big-tent politics. Immigrants who have run the gauntlet of our immigration system find themselves agreeing with the law-and-order Republican message opposing amnesty. After all, they came to America legally. Why should others get to jump the line? It doesn’t matter whether this response is as empathetic as we believe it should be, it’s still a rational response to the experience of having come here as an outsider. Meanwhile, little is made of the Democratic loss among working class voters because it doesn’t fit the narrative the party wants for itself. If they didn’t vote for Hillary, it is because they’re sexist. Or racist. Or or or… Or maybe the Democratic Party platform looked to the future and left people wondering what they were going to do for a job today. High ideals
The Trump Nominees. Last week, Michael Flynn’s resignation was electrifying for people dedicated to opposing Trump. It came on the heels of Betsy DeVos’ demoralizing confirmation as Secretary of The School-To-Prison-Pipeline. But this ends up being less about the Democratic opposition and more about the ineptitude of a truly incompetent administration that may very well have won the election thanks to the meddling of the Russian government. This is not to say that protests are ineffective. Voters should continue to flood congressional phone lines with as much feedback as they can absolutely stomach. After all, a congress that is busy responding to angry constituents a) will think twice before embarking down a dangerous path and b) has little time to actually get to the time-consuming work of dismantling the US government. Still, the debate over how to block nominees centers too much on these personalities, and too little on the structural changes that Democrats (!) instituted which are making it easier for these unqualified people to take their place at the helm of the bureaucracy. Exercising the nuclear option only seems like a reasonable option in a deeply broken system. The fact that Democrats were willing to go there, and the fact that they’re suffering now for that shortsighted decision, should be enough to tell them that electoral reform – and not shortsighted political games – should be their priority. Otherwise, they may win a few battles but they will continue losing the war.
Doing That Thing You Do. Of course the Republicans are sexist and racist, as evidenced by their refusal to let Senator Warren read Coretta Scott King’s assessment of Sessions prior to his confirmation. Of course they are. But – and repeat after me – They. Don’t. Care. They, and their supporters, are engaged in a very clever attempt to paint Democrats as the Party of Racism, from context-free historical references to The Party of Lincoln, to reminding voters of Dixiecrats (while casually forgetting to mention that they all became Republicans). That Awful Gay is out and about on college campuses painting any acknowledgement of race as racism, and encouraging a narrative about race in America that rewards “colorblindness” and punishes those who would acknowledge the disparate treatment of racial minorities in our country. Righteous indignation, at this point in time, is a red herring. Allowing yourself the luxury of wallowing in the moral superiority of phrases like “nevertheless, she persisted” is a distraction from what the primary focus of any sane person should be right now: electoral reform.
Which gets us to gerrymandering, and the only thing that Democrats should be talking about right now. By now, everyone should have seen the many helpful bite-sized videos and infographics that describe what gerrymandering is and why it is a problem. But more than that, they should be looking at why Republicans have been so successful at it. Make no mistake: Democrats should not, under any circumstance, try to initiate a project that is the Democratic equivalent of REDMAP. Rather, they should live up to their name, defend democracy, and become a party of electoral reform even to their own detriment as a party. Safeguarding fair representation should be a bipartisan issue, but thus far the only bipartisanship that has been mustered has been one of collusion between the two parties. It’s time for the Democratic Party to break out of this, to make this their issue, and if they can manage to do that, then they can get back around to worrying about all the distractions above. Or, you know, actual issues of governance.