The problem with the Democratic Party today

What’s the matter with the Democratic Party? Where is the backbone? Where is the fight? Why haven’t Dems taken a principled stand on issues of national importance that have been undermined since Trump’s declared electoral victory?

A blistering opinion piece in today’s New York Times accuses the Dems of rolling over in the face of Republican opposition. The Party could have sued over voting irregularities, supported recount movements in key states, and taken up the charge for electors to do their constitutional duty and not cast their electoral votes for Trump. More so, the Dems should be reminding us every hour of the illegitimacy of Trump’s election. He lost the popular vote by nearly three million votes, and evidence continues to mount that foreign interference swung the election in Trump’s favor.

Such apathy and inaction has characterized the Party for decades now. We let Republicans blindside us in the 2000 recount, and then graciously conceded the election to Bush. We took the White House and both Houses in 2008, yet squandered the victory trying to appease our most ardent detractors and allowed them set the message. Obama’s landslide in 2012 was used to try to build bipartisan bridges, which only hardened opposition. As the authors of this op-ed put it, even when we win an election, “Republicans behave as if they won while Democrats behave as if they lost.”

The problem with this generation of Democrats is that their belief in existing American political institutions overwhelms any commitment they have to a program for change. Unlike Republicans, who adhere blindly to an ideology of small government and low taxes, politics for Democrat leaders is merely a matter of best practices and proper management. If we can just get the right people into office, they say, then the economy will grow, jobs will be created, and the environment saved. If we happen to lose an election, they declare, then we can just wait patiently for the next one without the fear that too much will change because our political institutions are strong and checks and balances secure. Obama’s metaphor of the US government as an aircraft carrier not a speedboat sums up this position.

This belief has left us with no mantra and only a vague goal of responsible government. Rather than a program, Dems have a collection of issues that speak to different interest groups around which they form a grabbag of policies but no clear direction. We are thus content when our elected members can talk about what happens on “their watch,” as if there were natural developments that only needed a competent overseer to make sure the worst off didn’t suffer as much.

What is needed is for the Dems to develop a coherent program with clear aims, and for it to be pursued madly. Such a program must be compromised neither for electoral victory nor bipartisan cooperation, and it must be committed to structural change when existing structures and institutions no longer fulfill our ideals. We must act as if we are possessed. We must act as if we won.