The Democrats are in trouble. In 2016, they squandered a chance at a third straight term in the oval office, losing an election to the most unelectable serious candidate in American history. Yes, I understand that a country with the racist and xenophobic tendencies of the United States has the capacity to elect a bigot; that does not mean the Democrats should have lost. Since then, Trump has had a tumultuous first year in office, where his administration is under investigation for treason, fraud, money laundering and lying to the FBI, among other things. Even so, Republicans look poised to retain control over the senate and almost certainly the house for another two years.
Why are the Democrats failing so miserably? First, their leadership is old, white, and consequently out of touch with their younger, more diverse base. The legislative heads of the Party, Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi, are both beyond retirement age (67 and 77, respectively). The symbolic figureheads of the Party, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton, are even older (76 and 70).
For almost three decades, the party has pursued neoliberal economic policies. Under Bill Clinton and democratic control of Congress, NAFTA was passed in 1994. Five years later, with bipartisan support, the Glass-Steagall act was repealed. The repeal allowed commercial and investment banks to merge, and set in motion the decade of financial stupidity which would crash the world economy in 2008. Democrats have worked to strengthen the private sector through deregulation and the promotion of supply-side economics. These actions have left a sour taste in the mouths of leftists, which culminated in Bernie Sanders shocking primary challenge in 2016.
After Debbie Wasserman Schultz stepped down from her position as DNC chairwoman amidst a massive email leak in 2016, many leftists saw an opportunity to change the party from the top. Keith Ellison was the popular progressive pick, endorsed by Bernie and others, but he was defeated by a moderate, Tom Perez.
The Party is now split between two wings. In Bernie’s camp are the radicals, who propose relatively extreme change in the form of universal healthcare, free college education and campaign finance reform. The moderate wing, which dominates the party, does not do much of anything besides organize a shallow resistance to Trump and deliver snappy lines to their Republican colleagues in the hopes of becoming internet famous for a day.
Subsequently, we have found ourselves living in a world where Donald Trump, a man under investigation for collusion with Russia, may be reelected because the opposition party is dysfunctional and directionless. The conventional liberal wisdom for the past year tends to assume Trump should be easy to beat, considering his laundry list of scandalous, racist and inept moments. The question remains, who will step up to beat him? There is no consensus pick to challenge him in 2020. Promoting an established politician like Joe Biden could be political suicide, as the country will equate them to Hillary and recoil. The other options include young, talented senators like Kamala Harris, Kirsten Gillibrand or Corey Booker. Their model would be similar to Obama’s: be a young, fiery voice of the people who projects hope onto the masses. However, there is only one Obama, and it is possible his campaign and election was a singular moment in American history. Al Franken was a popular pick for many pundits, who saw him as a perfect “Trump foil,” who could go toe to toe with him in debates. He is out of the running now.
Maybe competition for the nomination will prove to be a boon. We do not know. What we do know is that in an era where Donald Trump is the President, where him and his administration is accused of everything from domestic violence to sexual assault to unethical business practices to collusion with foreign governments, the Democrats have done little to take advantage and improve their political clout. More than anything, this showcases the degradation of a once powerful political institution.
Harry Zehner is a contributor for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.