Monday, July 2, 2018
I have been a democrat for most of my life.
My first vote in a national election was for a democrat. I wrote essays for my high school and college papers in support of democratic candidates and policies. I crushed republican students on the debate team on both social and economic issues. I supported universal healthcare, gay marriage, open immigration, free college, and greater welfare spending for the poor.
Then I did some more reading. I traveled around the world. I grew up. I became an independent / libertarian. I went through an edgy atheist individualist phase in my early 20's and became disgusted with both major American political parties the more I came to learn how they operated. Living abroad allowed me to wash my hands of American politics. I wasn't happy when Obama won and I wasn't sad when Hillary lost.
Yet now, seeing the current state of the democratic party, I find myself troubled.
It is no secret that the party is moving further leftward. With the victory of Ocasio-Cortez in New York the party is beginning to coalesce around the idea of abolishing ICE. Democratic representatives openly call for harassment of Trump administration officials. Attempts to moderate the party's messaging so as to win back Trump voters that revolted in the last election are met with hostility. The message they have sent is clear: If you supported Trump, we don't want you back. You are no longer welcome in the democratic party. Given the numbers, this is a bold strategy.
Gone is the party of hope and change. In its place is a party characterized by intolerance and score-settling. With Trump on the verge of picking a new SCOTUS judge democrats are digging in their heels instead of reaching across the aisle. The purity testing has become more extreme than ever. Instead of offering people on the fence a way to feel good about supporting them, leftists now pounce on anyone who might have misgivings about their social agenda. You can get banned from tech conferences for retweeting "problematic" thinkers, you can get harassed at college for inviting non-leftist speakers to events, you can get kicked out of restaurants for wearing a MAGA hat, and you can have your livelihood threatened by internet hate mobs for voicing an unpopular opinion.
Will this aggressive new strategy succeed for the democrats? Some intelligent leftists think so. Many republicans however are salivating at the prospect of a midterm election bloodbath. They think the leftward march of the democrats will turn off middle America and strengthen their hold on Congress.
I am not so sure. There was a similar conventional wisdom about Trump in 2016. "He's too radical! People won't actually show up for him! Just look at the polls!" And yet here we are in the second year of his first term. The math is simply this: Will the leftward shift of the democratic party energize and attract more voters than it repels?
I really don't know. There are two other questions I would like to pontificate about though: Why have the democrats gone left and is it a good thing?
Why Have the Democrats Shifted Left?
I think there are three main reasons.
1. The democrats never got over the 2016 election loss. In their mind it was Hillary's "turn." Polls showed she had it in the bag. Much like the 2000 election they felt cheated. As a result they do not see Trump as a legitimate president, hence the #resist and #impeach trends. It is why they have clung so desperately to the Russian collusion / hacking narrative. The refusal to reconcile why Trump genuinely appealed to tens of millions of voters is the first driver of the democrats' leftward march.
2. Trump himself is going out of his way to antagonize them. His confrontational style invites response and anger. A year and a half after being inaugurated and he's still in campaign mode - still doing rallies, replying to celebrities on Twitter, still settling scores, still with the same chip on his shoulder I-need-to-get-the-last-word attitude. Many think it is deliberate. He may intentionally seek to further radicalize the democrats as a way to help the republicans in the midterms. 4D chess indeed.
3. The mainstream media has encouraged more militancy on the part of democrats. The inability of outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, or CNN to ever say even one positive thing about Trump works to strengthen the partisan divide. Whether it is Trump's recent pardoning of a nonviolent drug offender, his peaceful handling of North Korea, or the relatively strong economy - there is certainly room for a middle ground where a more balanced media could throw a bone to Trump's supporters. Instead the media has gone out of its way to program greater anger.
The illegal migrant family separation issue is the latest and best example. Simply by framing the issue the right way they have made Trump out to be a baby-eating monster. This has triggered the savior impulse in more militant leftists and now they feel anything and everything is justified to stop Trump. Many have now explicitly given up on dialogue. They openly state they are, "done trying to reason with racists." Trump supporters and indeed all non-leftists are now just Evil period. Evil is not to be argued with - it is to be eradicated. Thus where they can get away with it militant leftists now only seek to deplatform, censor, punish, shame, and harass.
Is it a good thing that the democrats are moving to the left?
Yes and no.
I have said before on this blog that I think it is good to see a wider spectrum of political thought. It is why I have had discussions with alt-right YouTubers, MGTOW advocates, anarchists, radical feminists, and Christian fundamentalists. We need more than just two variants of corporate globalism - we need to talk about fundamental ideas such as identity, nationalism, and human rights. So from that perspective I think it is good to see democrats genuinely entertaining the idea of democratic socialism, open borders, single-payer healthcare, and free college for all.
On the other hand, I worry that this trend is not a natural one. Because of the three reasons cited above, I don't think the leftward shift is a totally organic grassroots sort of thing as was the case for Obama in 2008. I think that mainstream news outlets and social media have gotten so efficient at generating outrage that calls for moderation and compromise get drowned out. Thus in a sense, the spectrum of debate is not becoming wider, rather for democrats, the spectrum is just shifting leftward and leaving out centrists entirely.
Furthermore, I don't think this will be good for the party in the long-term. I am skeptical that a leftward shift will help the democrats in the 2018 elections. Regarding the partisan shift, the idea that "Trump and the republicans did it in 2016" I think is a misdiagnosis. Trump didn't win in 2016 because he went super far-right. Other than immigration he was fairly moderate on most other issues. Trump won because millions of Obama voters switched parties. Polling data makes it clear that these "Trump democrats" were not looking for a hardcore conservative. Rather they felt that the democratic party had abandoned them. They felt like democrats no longer cared about the working class, particularly white working class people.
Ultimately I would like to see a healthy opposition to the republicans. One party rule is not a good thing. If the democrats get blasted in the midterms republicans will have a tight grip on all three branches of government. That's not necessarily a bad thing (it will depend on what they do) but it will make it harder to hold their feet to the fire.