ALEX DAHLEM ’20
Is Donald Trump a true populist? A recent book by Bob Woodward highlighting Trump’s rise in the American political ranks reveals that, as recently as 2010, Trump didn’t even know how to pronounce the word ‘populism’, constantly referring to it as ‘popularism’ when courting advice for a presidential run.
Trump’s ability to spearhead an underground movement and catapult himself to the presidency off the backs of hard working and frustrated Americans is the greatest political con of all time. His strategy of fear-mongering and tribalism led to a campaign that was not only unprecedented, but a false antidote for Americans who have fallen behind.
Almost worse than this great con, however, is the fact that Trump’s brand of ‘populism’ has been embraced by the staunchest swamp monsters: establishment-types who Trump railed against before and after his election. Trump populism has grown so out of proportion that basic promises and stances of conservative politicians past and present no longer matter. Trump, even though he has embarrassingly lied and contradicted himself when representing the country, is still considered to be the preeminent populist, or, to use his terminology, popularist.
If Democrats want to defeat Trump in 2020 then we need to stop whining and come up with an innovative yet feasible strategy. It is totally fine, in fact quite admirable and effective, to champion progressive values such as Medicare for all and restoration of the Glass-Steagall Act, but we must realize, as a national unified party, that winning is the name of the game. Broad-based coalitions are the currency of the realm. We can have the greatest ideas and purest intentions in the world, but none of it matters if we do not win elections.
As the Democrats get ready to choose a candidate and platform for 2020, they should hold progressive values and intentions while promoting, through both the candidate that they choose and the policies that they campaign on, unity and collectivism. It should not be an activist-driven message of progressivity, but instead a simplistic and peace-driven message that highlights the collective good that can be accomplished through progressive policies. The success of progressive values should never be judged by how loud they are screamed; they should be judged only after we have exemplified their universal and pragmatic effectiveness.
What many don’t realize however, is that a selection of the policies espoused by the activist left are the realistic remedy to the grievances of Middle-American Trump supporters. There is a possible bridge between these two factions-the problem is that both sides have become too blinded by pettiness and partisanship to find it.
Four core values make up the foundation of this bridge that Democrats must build. First is a fair tax structure. The rich are getting richer at much higher rates than the vast majority of Americans. The most recent Republican tax overhaul was both morally and fiscally irresponsible. It is not right for the most privileged Americans to get substantially richer while working class Americans struggle, and it is not fiscally responsible to escalate the budget deficit while subsidizing corporate welfare. Fiscal fairness for the working class must be restored.
Second, free trade, in its current form, is hurting working class Americans. When the United States trades with countries that have little to no labor regulations, that only hurts the average American worker. We need to strengthen “Buy America” laws and expose Trump for his hypocrisy on this issue. Trump’s business empire outsourced thousands of jobs in its quest for higher profits.
Third, health care is a God-given right, not a privilege. According to an August poll by “Reuters-Ipsos”, 70% of Americans and 52% of Republicans support Medicare for all. Democrats must commit to working towards this type of system.
Fourth, automation, not Mexicans, is the number one thief of American jobs. We need to provide free community college to all Americans with a high school diploma and make job training programs more financially accessible to those who have been pushed out by automation.
In order to win the Electoral College map, we need to meet people where they are, all the while recognizing that progressive policies, when presented correctly and responsibly, are uniquely compatible in Middle-America, states that Democrats must win.
If the Democratic nominee can avoid falling into Trump’s petty traps (Elizabeth Warren already failed with the Native American stunt) and focus on how the above policies will turn into tangible outcomes, then we will win. Up until now Trump has owned the “popularist” narrative. For the sake of our country and our world, Democrats need to reclaim populism and use it for good.