Democrats Have Been Attempting to Re-litigate the 2016 Election.

Rather than press their on agenda, the party seems content to press forward, using the same tactics that cost Hillary Clinton the presidency — focusing on President Donald J. Trump’s many and very real personality flaws at the expense of a real, in-depth focus on the economy and the real fears of many Americans.

The Russia investigation fits this narrative. I’m not saying the Russia investigation is, in today’s Washington parlance, a “nothing burger.” (There’s a column in this debasement of language.) There is a lot of smoke and, as the saying goes, where there’s smoke there’s most likely fire. And if there is real collusion — whether it reaches into the White House or just consumes Trump’s advisors or cabinet — then action will need to be taken to defend and repair our democracy.

But the focus on Russia, along with Trump’s behavior — his tweets, his general boorishness, his unpredictability — is not an agenda, nor is it likely a winning strategy. The Democrats and Clinton herself focused on personality over the last three months of the campaign, to no avail. Yes, she won the popular vote — thanks to California — but she lost several states won by Democrats in every election starting in 1992.

Voter repression played a roll, keeping Democratic-leaning constituencies from the polls. But so did resentment of elite consensus and The Democrats’ broad abandonment of working-class concerns.

It’s true that a significant core of Trump’s support comes from the so-called “basket of deplorables” — racists and xenophobes — along with hard-core Republicans and a very real anti-Clinton vote that Democrats seemed unwilling to address.

But Trump also spoke to the very real fears of middle-class and working-class voters that the lifestyle and economic status they had grown accustomed to was disappearing. The Democrats’ answer since Bill Clinton — since Jimmy Carter, really — has been a mix of the technocratic/managerial and Republican-lite reforms, with a pinch of coded racism stirred in.

In the meantime, private-sector union participation is at its lowest point in decades. Deregulation — which started in earnest under Carter — has left consumers at the mercy of the market. Police have been granted unprecedented power. College-tuition and health-cost increases are outpacing inflation, wages are stagnant, industrial jobs are being replaced by low-paid service sector work.

And the Democrats are talking about Russia. They’re going hat in hand to Wall Street for campaign funding, to the very same people who cratered the economy in the first place. This is no way to win back voters who view the nation in decline.

Trump’s narrative, based on a dangerous nostalgia for a past that only existed for white families, speaks to these folks, even if his prescriptions will make the lives of these voters worse.

So, what would a new progressive agenda look like? Well, first, it would be far bolder than the tepid incrementalism Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer unveiled in a New York Times op-ed, which was little more than application of a new coat of paint on the same rickety rag cart. Schumer’s op-ed was a perfect encapsulation of everything the Democrats have attempted to sell voters in recent decades.

Schumer opens by acknowledging that Americans see both politics and the economy as “rigged against them, and they made that clear in last year’s election.” We feel your pain, as Bill Clinton used to say, the emotional appeal functioning the same way the street con uses misdirection in three-card monte to take the mark’s eye off the pea.

He then looks backward, a la Trump:

“There used to be a basic bargain in this country that if you worked hard and played by the rules, you could own a home, afford a car, put your kids through college and take a modest vacation every year while putting enough away for a comfortable retirement. In the second half of the 20th century, millions of Americans achieved this solid middle-class lifestyle. I should know — I grew up in that America.”

Then comes the rhetorical fulcrum: “But things have changed.” Passive voice. Non-specific. The blame here, according to Schumer, is on “wealthiest special interests (who) can spend an unlimited, undisclosed amount of money to influence elections and protect their special deals in Washington.” Government, he says, “has gone along”; government has been the problem, or some vague notion of an unresponsive government foreign not just to voters but also to Democrats, whose only fault here has been their hesitation.

Democrats’ only responsibility here is in that they were too meek — which is only partially true. Destructive policies on personal bankruptcy and banking, on welfare, on crime, on trade, were pushed through by Democratic presidents with Democratic votes. Democrats — Schumer, in particular — have been doing Wall Street’s bidding for a long time, taking Wall Street money to fund campaigns and then writing legislation that leaves the investor class whole.

Perhaps, Schumer is promising real change. Perhaps, the Democrats will move forward with a truly anti-corporate and pro-union agenda, will push single-payer healthcare and free college, will propose new rules that make union organizing easier, that attack corporate consolidation.

Perhaps. I’m just not ready to buy what he’s selling, and I fear that enough Americans will view this sudden shift to the left as the populism-lite it is.

Hank Kalet is a poet and journalist in New Jersey. Email; blog,; Twitter, @newspoet41 and @kaletjournalism;; Instagram, @kaletwrites.

From The Progressive Populist, September 1, 2017

Blog | Current Issue | Back Issues | Essays | Links

About the Progressive Populist | How to Subscribe | How to Contact Us

Copyright © 2017 The Progressive Populist

PO Box 819, Manchaca TX 78652