Days ago, the Democratic Party disappointingly caved to Republicans and President Donald Trump and ended the government shut down without achieving anything meaningful. They were promised the potential for action by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that could help 800,000-plus immigrants known as Dreamers avoid deportation, but there are few signs that will materialize.
Democrats balked at an opportunity to take a stand because they did not want to be divisive and disruptive. They did not have the fortitude to stick to a message that would communicate to Americans that the political party in power was shirking its responsibility to protect immigrants whose lives hang in the balance.
Enter the New York Times and its opinion section, which published an “online conversation” on January 24 under the headline, “Enough Trump Bashing, Democrats.”
What exactly do the editors overseeing the opinion section believe about Trump? Do the editors really think Democrats can negotiate in good faith or compromise with the president? What do they think Democrats can work on and get done with Trump when Republicans pay lip service to a policy change and then pursue a different and destructive policy?
It does not matter because in its role as the gatekeeper of political discourse on the establishment left the New York Times believes—like most Democratic strategists—that Democrats must pander to Republicans and avoid political messages, which are “strident” and may alienate them. The news outlet also discourages “party activists” from running in the Democratic primaries.
Forget the reality that this is the strategy, which Hillary Clinton’s campaign pursued against Trump in the 2016 election and how miserably it failed. Ignore the fact that Clinton was upset that her opponent, Senator Bernie Sanders, pushed her to the left, and instead of becoming a stronger candidate, her campaign resisted and Democratic voter turnout was lower than in 2012.
As Jim Naureckas of Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR) highlighted in October, the history of the Times newspaper is rooted in a Wall Street effort to protect the Democratic Party from populism—the kind which is prevalent among Sanders Democrats and threatens the “Big Money wing” of the party. The newspaper published an op-ed by Douglas Schoen, “Why Democrats Need Wall Street,” on October 18. It also published an op-ed by Steven Rattner about a week later, “Why ‘Medicare For All’ Will Sink The Democrats.”
In this episode of defending corporate Democrats from populism, New York Times’ Frank Bruni interviewed Deval Patrick, the former Massachusetts governor and managing director of Bain Capital Double Impact, and Joe Trippi, a longtime Democratic strategist who recently was consulted by Alabama Senator Doug Jones’ campaign. (Bain Capital is the firm co-founded by Mitt Romney, which Democrats spent the 2012 election cycle bashing for wrecking companies and ruining people’s lives.)
Trippi invokes the president’s historically low approval ratings, the energy among Democrats, and “exhaustion” among the Republican establishment, which he claims contributed to Jones’ victory in Alabama.
“Trump will drive both the energy among the Democratic base and the hunger among many Republicans to end the chaos. Strident Democrats could drive these Republicans home and squander seats that would be otherwise winnable,” Trippi adds.
But to censor one’s opposition to Trump in order to possibly win Republican voters will mean Democrats do not put forward much of an alternative to Trump and Republicans. It will once again allow the most vile aspects of Trump and Republicans’ agenda to reverberate. This may further animate the Republican base and stave off losses to Democrats.
“Stridency,” to Joe Trippi and other Democratic strategists, is taking a clear position on an issue that is not politically popular in Washington, D.C., and arguing for it in a campaign. For example, any Democrat who backs the expansion of Medicare to cover all Americans is “strident” because there is no appetite on Capitol Hill for a system that cuts out the health insurance industry and fixes the country’s health care crisis once and for all.
Trippi argues, “We need to focus less on what’s wrong with Trump and the Republicans and more on what’s right with us, and especially on how we as Democrats can lead us all to higher ground without fear and division.” But policy-wise, Trippi never articulates what that would look like.
Both Bruni and Trippi are concerned that the base will pull Democratic candidates too far left, and it will make races in so-called red districts or so-called red states exceptionally difficult to win.
“Democratic activists want someone who is going to attack and fight the Republicans at every turn. That will work great in a Democratic district — it may work to attract support and money and win praise from the base. But in marginal districts, particularly places that have voted Republican for years (like Alabama, for instance), that will squander an otherwise winnable district or state,” according to Trippi.
They completely overlook the success supporters of Sanders have had in red districts in recent elections.
Senators Jones, Joe Donnelly (D-IN), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Joe Manchin (D-WV), and Claire McCaskill (D-MO) voted with Republicans to keep the government open because they are from red states. They did not provide support to Democrats seeking to persuade the country that it was necessary to stand up for young undocumented immigrants, who enrolled in colleges or universities and have lived in the U.S. for several years.
Why should Democratic voters elect Democrats who will not stand up for even the most defensible progressive values or principles because they are afraid it will open them up to Republican attacks during their re-election campaign? Shouldn’t the idea be that one wins and then pushes strong ideas and that moves districts or states further away from the toxic politics of Trump?
Trippi’s advocacy worsens as he maintains “angry, bitter candidates on either side will be seen as adding to the chaos and fighting in Washington and are not going to do as well in many of these states and districts.”
Some kind of bubble around Trippi prevents him from grasping the fierce urgency of the situation. The Trump administration is actively dismantling any and all environmental regulations and reversing even minimal efforts to combat climate change. It is rapidly escalating attacks on immigrants and rounding them up for detention in revamped detention facilities or deporting them back to countries, where they face great risk. It is bailing out the richest and most wealthiest corporations with tax cuts to run up deficits and turn around justify slashing the social safety net. It is dismantling health care programs and imposing harsh work requirements if citizens want benefits. It is privatizing an increasing amount of the federal government to benefit the ventures of the wealthiest people most connected to the Trump White House.
Nevertheless, Trippi insists Democratic candidates not act angry or bitter.
It is true Democrats should refrain from bashing voters who may support Republicans. Calling them “deplorables” or any other name will affect the ability to win over people who could benefit greatly from progressive, or even socialist, policies. Yet, that does not mean one should hold back any opposition to Trump.
Patrick suggests, “All Americans understand that intentionally hurting innocents is not consistent with American values or character. If we let this issue or others affecting marginalized and vulnerable people to be ‘racialized,’ we’re missing the point that the character of the country is what is at stake in our politics right now.”
But do Americans really grasp that it is wrong to intentionally hurt innocent people? Do they really recognize the impact of racism? After all, Trump gained a lot of momentum in 2015 and 2016 and ultimately won. His campaign was a campaign built on nationalistic hatred for all who are not of the vanilla variety.
The only way to challenge that is to be strident and expose the nature of what Trump is doing. Do not engage in arguments over the merits of his disdain for black or brown people. Rather, show what the effect is on targeted communities. Tell the stories of people whose lives are destroyed and build empathy for them.
Democrats may think the secret to winning in November is ending the chaos, but when a white nationalist president wreaks havoc for more than a year and destabilizes everything, the following election cycle should be chaotic. There should be hundreds, if not thousands, of candidates clamoring to reverse the destruction.
Of course, the Democratic Party establishment cannot have that because it would pose a threat to their authority and influence so its affluent members turn to the Times for help in preserving their status.