Is it more important to elect good people or remove bad people from office? That might seem like the same thing to a lot of people but the two are not always mutually exclusive. Through the Obama years and at an increasingly accelerated pace since the election of Donald Trump, many Democrats have lost their focus on policy issues. If you check Twitter (which admittedly isn’t necessarily reflective of reality), there is an almost unhealthy obsession with Donald Trump. It’s understandable, President Trump is an odious figure who has debased the presidency and is the human manifestation of bigotry. Yet, we’ve had bad Presidents before and this led Democrats to unite around bold ideas to change our country for the better. This doesn’t seem to be happening, instead we see Democrats united against Republicans (which is good) but substance is missing.
We are becoming a party driven by personality and that’s made clear by the current primary polling and issue polling. Currently clear majorities of Democrats support Medicare-for-All and other progressive policy positions. But if you look at primary polling a full 45% of Democratic support goes to candidates who either oppose Medicare-for-All or have no stated position. Stranger still, Democrats who don’t have much in common ideologically seem to be sharing supporters. More than 1 in 4 Biden supporters list Sanders as their second choice, more Sanders supporters choose Biden over Warren as their second choice, and Warren supporters have Harris as their second choice and the same is true vice-versa.
In some limited circles there is something happening, Bernie Sanders is championing Medicare-for-All, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is leading the way on the Green New Deal, and Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax would be a revolutionary step towards wealth redistribution. These are popular ideas among Democrats but there is a real question of whether we even care about policy anymore. Overall it’s good that we’re embracing these policy goals, but are Democrats actually lining up behind personalities and letting the policy come second?
It seems like the answer is yes. We have been so traumatized by the presidency of Donald Trump that we now believe that electing any Democrat by default is good. Republicans are bad and are elected by bad people which means Democrats are good and are elected by good people seeing as we all want to be good people then we must vote for Democrats. That’s the flawed circular logic that exists. Some of us are starting to believe that being a Democrat is enough, and if you follow that to its natural conclusion then we are dangerously becoming closer to the position Republicans found themselves facing in 2016. “Vote blue no matter who“ is the creed of many Democrats who have Ralph Nader pinned to a dartboard in their homes. Are we so craven in our desire to defeat Donald Trump that we would sell out the interests of working class people (especially those of color), civilians living in whatever nation shall suffer the next imperialist adventure, and anyone living on this planet who’d rather not suffer the consequences of climate chaos?
I know what you’re thinking, defeating Donald Trump accomplishes the goal of protecting those people or at least makes it easier. But that’s only partially true. A necessary condition for making our world better is defeating Donald Trump, but it is not sufficient. As we look to our nominating contests not just for the presidency but for Senate races and House races and governors races across this country we have to consider whether the people we are nominating should win rather than if they can win. We currently have representatives, many of whom are diverse in their identities and had inspiring candidacies, who have voted to give legitimacy to the president constructing concentration camps along our southern border. We currently have Democratic senators who have signaled that if and when the time comes, they will give President Trump authorization to launch an illegal war in Venezuela. There are candidates running for president, namely Joe Biden, who will negotiate the slow privatization of Social Security to make a deal with Republicans.
Many of those politicians are “electable“and poised to defeat Republicans in their individual elections. But our goal should be to not only defeat Republicans, or defeat Trumpism, but to also defeat the system that puts the interests of an elite class of people above the majority of Americans. This system lied us into war in Iraq, this system bailed out Wall Street, this system builds private prisons, this system kills public unions and this system is determined to put profits before people. Even if Donald Trump is defeated, the system that created him will continue to exist and will undoubtedly produce something worse than Donald Trump. This system is the persistent enemy of progress and we should focus on how to attack it. In order to do that though, we are going to have to have tough conversations about whether people we like are on our side and if we should allow them to compromise our livelihoods in pursuit of voters. We’re going to have to ask ourselves whether we are getting a fair deal and if this coalition that we’ve cobbled together can continue to exist.
But of course, some Democrats would rather discuss how many languages a candidate can speak or how cool it is that a candidate has legislative plans but no plans to win back the legislature. It’s less stressful to project your hopes and dreams onto your candidate of choice, developing this feeling of personal connection despite them never having met you and becoming personally offended when anyone challenges them on policy. We’d rather add hashtags to our Twitter bios like “resistor” and “ImStillWithHer” not to be outdone by “NotMyPresident”. We’ll still get together and laugh about “those people” and how they elected Donald Trump and remember how George Bush gave Michelle Obama candy, God don’t we miss him? We’ll compromise away every last value because Donald Trump is so gauche and offensive that we’ll do anything if we think we’ll win. Bret Stephens wrote that it’s rude to call racists out for being racist? Guess we mustn’t do that. Oh, and Ross Douthat said that being pro-choice turns off swing voters, well in that case I guess that’s done too. Now Neera Tanden says universal healthcare is bad policy, anything it takes. Then after all that, after we’ve been embraced every third way position and ignored policy for personality, we might very well beat Donald Trump.
But at what cost? It’s time to stand up for something or we will again, fall for anything and the country will continue to hate us, and they will be justified in that hatred.