Robert Crohan/Staff Writer
It wouldn’t be controversial to say that the 2010s were a strong decade for the Republican party.
Yes, Barack Obama was handily reelected in 2012 and the Democrats took back the House of Representatives in 2018 in a blue ripple, but compare that to the monumental red waves of 2010 and 2014, the advent of the Tea Party movement and the takeover of the Republicans by the polarizing, electrifying, terrifying Donald Trump. The resistance to President Barack Obama’s progressive aspirations was extreme, and ultimately doomed what could have been an FDR-like administration, dashing Democratic hopes of building the future.
Now fast forward to our current decade, which is already resembling the 1930s more than the 2010s. Unemployment is sky high. Climate change is preying on humanity. A new disease has killed thousands. Instances of police brutality are creeping up. International tensions are boiling.
The response to President Trump’s failing economy is generating newfound excitement on the left. Coupled with demographic changes, might the 2020s be the comeback decade for the American left after half a century in the dust?
It is possible, but by no means a guarantee. Democrats are notoriously weak at campaigning and messaging, so challenges lie ahead. There are some things liberals must do to stay relevant, and the center-right status-quo isn’t going down without a fight.
Perhaps the good news for the left should come first: demographics. Democrats have long assumed that their time was coming. Today, that might become reality.
Demographics are changing fast, and where it matters most: it is believed that Texas, North Carolina, Georgia, Arizona and Florida could all be Democratic by decades’ end. Already, Nevada, Colorado, New Mexico, New Hampshire and Virginia are no longer swing states and have moved firmly into the Democratic column.
Yes, Midwestern states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania might be trending rightward due to declining diversity, but these states are only declining in population while southern and western states boom. If Republicans lose Texas, it’s game over.
Additionally, young generations are showcasing firebrand liberal passion. Millennials saw the worst of GOP economics in the late 2000s with the Great Recession, along with the failed War on Terror culminating in ISIL. Generation Z is facing climbing prices, stagnant wages and a depression-like crisis all at once, like a tunnel light turning into a train.
These young people are fed up with the status quo. In recent years, they have channeled their anger into organizing, educating themselves, getting the word out and even running for public office. Movements like Black Lives Matter, March For Our Lives and the Climate Strikes send a warning to the right: winter is coming.
Donald Trump alone has brought people, myself included, into the world of politics. Politics is now mainstream thanks to the anger his movement has generated, and outrage at him alone has kick-started social movements while moving conservative states like Texas and Utah to the left.
However, there can only be so much good news. Democrats, if they are to emerge in prominence, must heed some warnings.
First of all, nothing is guaranteed. With Trump’s victory came new excitement among the right and assurances that America is still a fairly conservative nation. Democrats have yet to effectively counter messaging and scare tactics regarding their policies and aspirations.
Republicans have proven remarkably effective at employing scare tactics to keep their hold on power and bring in new constituencies, and Florida is one such example. Despite being heavily Latino, Miami is a conservative city, largely due to fears of socialism and crises in housing as we see in California. By demographics alone, Florida and Texas should be nearly as liberal as California.
To counter this, Democrats must appeal to what people want and need. They must address economic anxieties and condemn race-baiting from the right that many conservatives have ignored here in Florida, while praising the virtues of hard work and religion and pointing out the statistical benefits of policies.
Problems exist in blue states that must be admitted and addressed. If Republicans can point fingers at the “Left Coast,” Democrats can point fingers at the Deep South. Additionally, the fact that GDP per capita is generally higher in blue states, along with overall well-being, should be touted as a success story. California is not the only blue state.
The GOP has recruited passionate populists (think Herman Cain and Donald Trump), and the left is starting to catch on with figures like Andrew Yang, who excite young activists.
Appealing to this should drive up voter turnout, but that is no shoe-in. Efforts were boosted with millions of dollars to drive up turnout for Andrew Gillum in 2018, but South Florida turnout lagged. Democrats must give people a good reason to vote, get them excited, and treat voters like people and not numbers. They cannot sit idly by while Trump and his cronies undermine our democratic process, and they must warn about the risks of allowing Republicans to win. Strong fighters are needed in Congress and local governments.
Not just voter suppression, but gerrymandering has allowed Republicans to cling onto power in diversifying states, essentially suppressing the voices of our voters.
The party, regardless of the outcome in November, will remain in shambles. The mainstream party has yet to abandon an economically moderate status quo as the progressive wing grows more frustrated by the day. Keep in mind that if Elizabeth Warren never ran for president, Bernie Sanders might have won the Democratic nomination. I know a number of progressives who are refusing to vote for Joe Biden.
To heal, the party needs open debate. I cannot stress this enough. The mainstream party should listen to the concerns of progressives and stop cheating in favor of “establishment” candidates. And members of Congress must prove, with action and not words, that they stand for the people. The recent disaster gridlock regarding pandemic relief is an example of what not to do. Something is better than nothing.
Maybe the Democratic Socialists—who are winning in terms of excitement—will become the Democrats’ Tea Party or Trump Train: a movement independent of the establishment that ends up taking over the party base. That will only happen if they behave more maturely without putting out the flame of inspiration and resistance.
The party must also listen to its constituencies without shoving predetermined agendas down their throats, as many supporters of Bernie Sanders did for black voters and Hillary Clinton supporters did for Latinos. If liberals continue to ignore Latino voters, they could lose that demographic to the Republicans with disastrous consequences.
Democrats must not shame voters who reject them, especially those of color. How can we claim to be the party of democracy if we cannot tolerate the other side? Outreach, not outrage.
An example of this emerged in the recent Massachusetts Senate race. Progressive supporters of Ed Markey mocked and ridiculed Ted Kennedy when he lost, highlighting an ugly tendency for political extremes to act childish. And I did not exactly appreciate Mr. Markey’s rebuttal to John F. Kennedy’s famous quote about service to the country.
There are tough decisions to make. If progressives push controversial (and oftentimes, seemingly straightforward) rhetoric regarding serious issues, they could turn off moderate voters. However, abandoning where the truth and passion lie could look sneaky and underhanded, prompting criticism of the party establishment. This is why debate and compromise are so crucial. It is said that vulnerability is key to attracting the right people into your life. The same might hold true in politics.
Even establishment darlings like Joe Biden and John Kerry have moved to the left pretty significantly. Likewise, presidential candidates who were initially progressive, like Pete Buttigieg and Kamala Harris, became more moderate.
If anything, the divisions sowed by the Trump era have allowed us to unite America in a fundamental way. The idea of Democrats praising Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT), or inviting John Kasich to the DNC seemed unfathomable just a few years ago.
Should Joe Biden win in November, he could lead the most productive administration since FDR to catch up on lost wages and livability from decades of Republican dominance. If he proves successful, the 2020s could be the best decade for Democrats and the left in general. Republicans dominated the 2010s by mobilizing their base and taking advantage of demographic groups in disarray from coast to coast. This is also partly why Republicans were winning by landslide margins during the Cold War.
By employing a similar strategy and truly being bastions for meaningful change, Democrats can accomplish so much this decade. Let’s turn this bad start around, one vote at a time.
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Featured image by Jernej Furman on Flickr.