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Are Democrats Smart Enough To Take Yes For An Answer?

Here's the fail-safe test for whether a political party is growing and strengthening or shrinking in size and prospects: Is that party spending its time, energy and effort seeking, recruiting and welcoming converts to its ranks, or is that party instead hunting down heretics within its ranks and, in the name of political purity, banishing them to some outer darkness?

Because American politics is always a matter of addition, not subtraction, the convert-seeking and convert-welcoming party is healthier and almost always has the better prospects of winning the November general election. Republicans understood that well in 1980 when the GOP presidential nominee openly courted and embraced converts, even giving them very own designation as Reagan Democrats. At the 2004 Democratic National Convention, the future Democratic nominee told the nation: "There is not a liberal America and a conservative America. There is the United States of America." Thus did Barack Obama become the first Democrat in 12 presidential elections to win 53 percent of the national Vote.

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As Trump Sinks, Times Narrative Is Still 'Dems In Disarray’

Reprinted with permission from PressRun, Eric Boehlert's essential media newsletter (subscribe today!)

The staggering weight of America's pandemic continues to come into view with each passing day, as the death toll and the number of lost jobs catapult to new heights. Politically, the carnage represents the worst possible news for the incumbent president, who now has to run for re-election against the grim backdrop of 50,000 deaths and 26 million unemployed, as consumer confidence collapses in record time.

Yet incredibly, the political press remains committed to its longtime 'Dems In Disarray' narrative, deriding Democrats as being forever confused and outsmarted. (They're not.) Specifically, the campaign coverage for November seems oddly focused on the supposed woes hounding Democratic nominee, Joe Biden.

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Can Democrats Define Their Own Cause — Or Will Trump Dominate?

Until Donald Trump’s tweet tirade against the “Squad,” I was getting pessimistic about the chances that Democrats could overcome their divisions for the 2020 election. Now, at least for the moment, Trump has solved that problem—nothing unifies Democrats better than a racist and xenophobic attack. But I’m even more concerned about how Trump continues to dominate the framing of America’s choices in 2020.

This is an election that ought to be about the climate emergency facing America and the world. It ought to be about the continuing economic insecurity of families at a time when the gains from growth—and from Trump’s tax cuts—flow overwhelmingly to the rich. It ought to be about the affordability of housing, health care, education, and other basic needs.

The election ought to be about the corruption that Trump has brought to Washington, his abuse of presidential powers, and the risk he poses to constitutional norms and democracy. It ought to be about the encouragement that Trump has given to authoritarians around the world, his embrace of Vladimir Putin, Viktor Orban, and Rodrigo Duterte, and the decisions he has made to withdraw the United States from arms control treaties and increase the risk of a new global arms race.

Perhaps most of all, the election ought to be about the likelihood that right-wing power will become entrenched if Trump wins a second term, with consequences stretching far into the future. The Supreme Court could go from a 5-4 to a 7-2 conservative majority, make radical rulings that stand for decades, reverse civil rights and other protections for racial and gender equality, and severely weaken the powers of the federal government in dealing with environmental risks, economic inequality, health care, and other challenges.

But if Trump has his way, no one will be focusing on those concerns. This will be an election in which the politics of fear and divisions over race and immigration dominate the national conversation.

Provoking outrage has been Trump’s strategy for years, and it has worked for him. His championing of birtherism put him on the road to power. Every time he stokes the fires of racism and xenophobia he puts Democrats in an impossible position: Ignore what he says at the risk of normalizing it, or answer back and allow him to define the terms of conflict.

Democrats are especially vulnerable just now. With the presidential nomination race wide open, they are effectively leaderless. Trump is taking advantage of that void to make the Squad the faces of the Democratic Party, calculating that they are the perfect symbols to drive his voters to the polls.

Some of the leading 2020 Democratic presidential candidates didn’t help their cause in the June debates by taking a series of unpopular positions, such as banning private health insurance, providing insurance to the undocumented, and decriminalizing border entry. They’re giving Trump and the Republicans plenty to work with.

There’s a real danger of Democrats getting ahead of themselves. Eventually, they should benefit electorally from the rising numbers of people of color and a younger generation with progressive views. But that emerging majority isn’t a majority of voters yet, and the sense that it is on the way is creating a panic among conservative whites. That’s one reason why white conservatives vote at so high a rate. In an article in The Atlantic last month, “The Electoral Time Machine That Could Re-Elect Trump,” Robert P. Jones points out that even as the proportion of white evangelicals in the population has fallen, their share of voters hasn’t. They dropped from 21 percent of the population in 2008 to 17 percent in 2016, but their share of the voters remained constant at 26 percent.

Moreover, Democrats can’t count on that rising new electorate because the presidential election will be decided in a handful of states, including the states in the Midwest with older, disproportionately white populations that gave Trump a victory in the Electoral College in 2016.

Once the Democratic nomination race is resolved, the party’s presidential candidate will be in a better position to define what the campaign and election are about. But that may not be for a long time because of the fragmentation of support among candidates in the primaries and the possibility that the race will go all the way to the convention.

In the meantime, the candidates need to avoid getting caught in Trump’s trap and do everything possible to turn attention back to the real stakes in the election. This has become a crucial test in the Democratic race: Who can compete most effectively in the attention market against the country’s master of outrage, chaos, and distraction? If Trump dominates what Americans are thinking about for the next year, he will have already won a big victory before the votes are tallied.

It’s Not Socialism — It’s What The People Want

“Socialism,” snarled Donald Trump at a recent pep rally of far-right Republicans. And the obedient crowd of faithful Trumpistas snarled back in unison: “So-shull-izz-ummm!”

And there you have the entire intellectual content of the GOP’s 2020 re-election strategy under Generalissimo Trump — slap Democrats silly with a scurrilous campaign branding them as Lenin-Trotsky-Stalin reincarnate. It’s not just Trump hissing out the socialist label in a frantic McCarthyesque attempt to make it stick by mindless repetition, but also Mike Pence, cabinet officials, Republican lawmakers, right-wing pundits and, of course, the extremist choreographers of Fox News.

Their incessant babbling has already turned clownish, with many babblers bumbling over their own ignorance and making ridiculous attempts to overplay their weak hands. Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), for example, compared Democrats who support ideas such as “Medicare for All” to Mussolini. Apparently, Cornyn is unaware that the brutish Italian dictator was no socialist, but a fascist! Mussolini’s ideology of ultranationalism, promotion of masculine authoritarianism, domination of society by big business and the wealthy, and suppression of democratic rights is the opposite of the Democratic agenda. Indeed, it describes the policies of — guess who — Trump and his acolytes, including Cornyn!

The real problem for the GOP, however, is not merely that squawking like Chicken Little about diabolical socialism makes them sound like old fuddy-duddies, but that the so-called socialism they’re attacking is enormously popular with the workaday majority of Americans. Government-backed health care for all? Sure. Why should CEOs and Congress critters be the only ones to get this? Affordable higher education and housing initiatives? Of course, for that helps all of America. A wealth tax on corporate giants and the superrich? Long overdue that they stop dodging the cost of the common good. Restore the rights of labor and restrain the rise of monopolies? Yes!

Far from socialism, this is democratic populism, reversing decades of government policies that take from the many to give to the wealthy few. It’s an honest, popular rebellion against the corporate plutocracy that seeks to usurp America’s democracy, promoted by Trump and Cornyn. Which side are you on?

And which side are some of our Democratic leaders on? Unfortunately, an exotic flu epidemic has broken out in Washington, D.C. Dubbed the “Canadian hot sauce flu,” it afflicts a particular group of Democratic officeholders and operatives.

Its name stems from the fact that CHS flu renders its victims weaker than Canadian hot sauce, leaving them unable to stand boldly for the workaday majority they’re supposed to represent. Instead, the afflicted — mostly old-line party leaders — are reduced to meek incrementalism, don’t-rock-the-boat corporatism and conservative appeasement when advancing policy ideas. They fear that anything stronger than a policy stew of watered-down leftovers will spook centrist and conservative voters.

This breakout of CHS flu is a reaction to the recent surge of younger, aggressively progressive voters and officeholders taking charge of the Democratic Party. Instead of vague lobbyist-approved ideas that only perpetuate America’s widening chasm of inequality, the upstarts are openly pushing real populist change, including a Green New Deal, taxing the obscene wealth of corporate profiteers, publicly financing our elections, breaking up monopolies, restoring labor rights, providing free higher education and tech training, and “Medicare for All.”

Far from alienating the electorate, these proposals are generating majority support and excitement precisely because they are bold and clearly would benefit … well, the majority. Yet the protectors of the old money-soaked politics-as-usual system are wailing that the party must move to the center rather than to the left. But wait! Their mythological center is way over to the right, hunkered down with corporate interests and blocking working-class progress.

The future of the party doesn’t require moving left, center, or right. Those are ideological positions. Instead, the Democrats should move out to the grassroots reality of ordinary Americans. People are envisioning, electing, and beginning to enact a true progressive agenda to advance our nation’s democratic ideals of economic fairness, social justice and equal opportunity for all. That is a politics of integrity — a politics that is worthy of our involvement.

Populist author, public speaker and radio commentator Jim Hightower writes “The Hightower Lowdown,” a monthly newsletter chronicling the ongoing fights by America’s ordinary people against rule by plutocratic elites. Sign up at HightowerLowdown.org.