The arena of politics is warfare.
For better or for worse, that seems to count doubly for American politics; if one side relents, if they let up on their assault, if they neglect to take full advantage of their opponent’s mistakes and weaknesses in order to dismantle them, they will lose. Utterly.
It’s a thorough lack of that understanding that places the Democratic Party squarely in that role.
Now, when I say “lose,” I don’t necessarily mean at the ballot box (though the Democrats have lost more than they’ve won in recent years, at the federal and the state level: 29 state legislatures are Republican-controlled, as compared to 19 for Democrats; six of 11 Congresses since 1999 saw a Republican-controlled Senate and a whopping eight of those same 11 Congresses saw a Republican-controlled House).
No, the losses the Democrats have suffered of late are more… existential than just elections, the most grievous of which is the very soul of the party.
The Democratic Party has never been a paragon of virtue and justice, but its members used to actually give a damn. Franklin Roosevelt achieved the New Deal and fought fascism face-to-face. John F. Kennedy, for all his failings, started to give an institutional voice to civil rights and anti-war ideals before his untimely demise. Even Jimmy Carter — a president often (and ahistorically) seen as ineffective — pardoned Vietnam War draft evaders, established the Departments of Energy and Education and won the Nobel Peace Prize. Democrats used to fight for something — and win.
Today, however, the Democratic Party seems timid. They either capitulate to or offer nominal resistance to Republicans, who have recognized the reality of politics-as-warfare and have embraced it. Whether it be the confirmation of Republican-appointed judges (200 judges nominated by Trump had been confirmed with little resistance as of July, according to NPR), the approval of a greatly increased military budget (Business Insider reported in Dec.2019 that House Democrats gave Trump “everything he wanted” on a $738 billion defense bill), or a refusal to pursue popular policy ideas that Republicans reject (Medicare-for-All and a Green New Deal have seen majority support in several polls, but veteran, establishment Democrats have balked at pushing them), Democrats have given ground to Republicans on nearly every front. All the while, Republicans maintain the attack, calling Democrats “Marxist-socialists” and accusing them of wanting to abandon America’s cities to criminals — despite the falsehood of it — and catching them with no effective response.
But the whole debacle goes deeper still. In my article published last week, I described several ways the Republican Party is responsible for the presidency of Donald Trump, how a president like him was always going to be the result of their militant bigotry and hate. In each of these ways, just as Republicans are responsible for Trump in what they have done, Democrats are equally responsible in their sheer unwillingness to mount an effective opposition — because yes, as hard as it may be to learn and believe, the Democratic Party rolled over and resisted not one solitary violation of human decency that came from Republicans.
Racism, as I established in my previous piece, was one of the Republican Party’s most deplorable offenses. But when faced with Republican racism, Democrats remained procumbent, offering no meaningful resistance. When Trump called for an end to federal anti-racism training, which Democratic politicians condemned him in the strongest possible terms? Which Democrats led marches or protests in the capital to show that Americans would not sit idle? Where was the necessary marshaling of the righteous?
When Trump downplayed the seriousness of Covid-19 for months, there was resistance from state-level Democrats — governors did impose strict policies to attempt to mitigate the virus’ spread — but what of the federal level? Where were the ads, repeating ad nauseum that the blood of every American dead of the coronavirus drips from the hands of Donald Trump? Where were Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, who could have been on television daily, crying out that our president murdered tens and then hundreds of thousands of Americans?
I know these are extreme and inflammatory tactics. Some would describe it as “playing dirty,” and imply that the Democrats shouldn’t reduce themselves to the same reptilian lows the Republican Party has. I would posit that they are not the same; taking advantage of Republican weaknesses and attacking them for their moral failings would not only be accurate, but would also be the decent and principled thing to do. It matters little how that manifests. After all, this is war.
On an electoral front, Democrats have left an entire voting bloc to their left untapped. They have committed to pursuing the mythical “moderate,” for whom they must compete with Republicans. What possible rationale could exist for ignoring — and often criticizing — voters for whom there is no competition? It’s arithmetic. It’s easy. And Democrats, for several successive elections, have left those voters on the table.
It seems the case that the Democratic Party are more concerned with maintaining their pool of corporate donors, with maintaining the status quo, espousing caution to a fault in order not to rock the boat. Their failure is not one of inability but one of courage. Republicans do not enjoy their current success because they occupy some fortified bastion of policy, but because Democrats utterly refuse to target the weaknesses in their façade.
I said in last week’s article that “the Republican Party laid bricks of racism, misogyny, homophobia, anti-intellectualism, dishonesty and so much more for the chariot of Donald Trump to glide over with ease.” If this is the case, then the Democratic Party stood to the side of the road, shovels and pickaxes lying to their side and said, “Well… I guess there’s nothing for it.”
Kyle Gombosi is a senior Music: Elective Studies major with a minor in journalism. KG806059@wcupa.edu