It was fun while it lasted. President Obama understood the principles and mechanics of constitutional government and he approached the job with the highest ethical standards. And, although one may differ with his policy direction, it cannot be credibly argued that he failed to perform the job of President of the United States with distinction.
That is history. The Democratic Party is now faced with trying to regain a modicum of power in our tripartite system so as to be able to exercise the balance of powers the founders counted on to protect against the concentration of too much power in the hands of one person or party.
How did the Democrats lose power and what can be done to win back a seat at the table of American governance?
The loss of power is not something that happened suddenly in 2016. Although we will apparently be sorting through the problems related to that election for some time, we will not find the answer there in why Democrats don’t compete well in most states today.
Oddly, the question took on more clarity for me as I watched the Trump administration execute its zero tolerance immigration policy. And the revelation wasn’t just about how Democrats should stand on immigration. It was about how they should stand on the fundamental needs of human beings. Watching the families torn apart by our government, some after travelling over half a continent of dangerous terrain and under constant threat of violence, seemed to clarify how simple are the needs and desires of people all over the world. They want to be left alone; to be able to work honestly and survive with their children in health and dignity.
These are the fundamental products of good government. Watching these families being mistreated and humiliated by the land and people they saw as offering the promise of a better life somehow made the things we have battled over domestically seem a bit less important. What some have called identity politics, for one, seems to fade in significance compared with the suffering and mistreatment we have witnessed under this administration’s treatment of asylum seeking families.
Fair treatment is one of those things so fundamental that we shouldn’t need to break up into competing groups to advocate for it. And that is how much of the electorate sees the Democratic Party today, a potpourri of narrow interests that are so concerned about a self-interested sense of fairness that they forget to address the basic purposes of government.
This is not a fair representation of the Democratic Party; however, it is one that is repeated so often by the Republican Party that many voters have come to see the Republicans as the party that is interested in governing while the Democrats are only interested in securing rights and services for very particular segments of the population.
In 2018, Democratic candidates have a chance to turn the tables on the party of Donald Trump. While he addresses his appeal to a narrow sector of voters often described as his “base”, Democratic candidates can talk about the things that really matter: jobs, income and wealth distribution, fair taxation, tax code incentives, reasonable regulation of firearms, control of greenhouse gases and climate change, funding for public education — the kinds of things that make life on this planet and in this country liveable.
There isn’t one of these issues that the people would not be interested in talking about at campaign events. But they are not interested in seeing endless television commercials that insult the viewer as well as the opponent.
It’s time to talk about policy, the policies that interest ordinary people. You may think that the folks who don’t share your view about abortion rights, civil rights, gun control, etc. are simply in need of a little more education on your favorite issues. Maybe they are. But the chances are good that you can waste another election trying to educate the electorate to your way of thinking on some very particular issue while the Republicans firm up their hold on the government and we continue along our path to destruction.
People are open to making use of government for the things it was designed to do for us. Bring back regulation that made our lives safer, our products more dependable, and the environment we live in more sustainable. Do these things first. Talk about these things with voters. Talk about public education, teacher pay and treatment, corruption, and proper operation of the bureaus and offices of government.
Give some emphasis to mass transit. Unclog the highways and purify the air we breathe. Get reasonable about trade. Nudge our trading partners toward better labor and environmental practices. Make public service something to be proud of once again. Teach civics in the schools. Maybe our kids and grandkids will take our country and the world to better outcomes than we can even imagine in this dystopian age.
These are things Democrats can do if they don’t waste their time arguing with Fox News on Sean Hannity’s terms. We can be the party of a new America, a Twenty-first Century America that turned things around just in time to keep the world livable for humanity.
It’s our job and ours for the taking. I can guarantee you that the Republicans won’t have any part of it.